The Political and Religious Imperative to Vote
The middle of August marked a significant anniversary in the history of American voting. On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was officially ratified to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote. 100 years later, we face an unprecedented election for both men and women. As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, the 2020 ballot is unique, to say the least. We face a controversial election in a period of unique precedents. Washington is buzzing with political tension of party divisions, with politicians not wanting to cross party lines to solve pressing issues. Even in a time of quarantine, when many people rely on them, mail-in ballots have turned into a controversial political issue.
At the top of political issues facing American voters today are the economy, health care and Supreme Court appointments. President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden stand at the front of these issues and as distinct opposites. When it comes to Orthodox Jews, the question of Israel is at the top of our ticket. In a recent study, 71% of Orthodox Jews report that Israel is a critical political issue for them. That same number, 71%, of all Orthodox Jews report an approval of President Trump’s treatment of Israel. Nonetheless, this does not give President Trump the Jewish vote as the majority of Jews tend to vote for the Democratic candidate. Moreover, according to the study, 52% of Modern-Orthodox Jews identify as liberal and 37% identify as conservative.
In that same study, 18% of Modern-Orthodox Jews say that Israel is not the single decisive issue for the 2020 ticket. This shows that most Jews are not one-issue voters. One of the beautiful things about Judaism is that each Jew is given an opportunity to create their own voice. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chayim is more than a halakhic concept, it rings true in political spheres as well. With regards to policies like Israel, immigration, gay rights and abortion, to name a few, each Jew is given a chance to form their own opinion and speak up for what they think is right. But a muted voice does not bring about positive change. This coming election is the time to speak our voice. On Nov. 3, we decide the results that will set the precedents for the next four years, determining the future of the United States.
Beyond the political standpoint, there is a religious imperative for all of us to vote. There is a story about Rav Avraham Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, that goes as follows: On election day in Israel, he saw a man and asked him, “Did you vote yet?” The man answered that he had not. “Why not?” the Chazon Ish continued to ask. “I don’t have enough money to cover the voting tax,” the man responded. “Do you own a pair of tefillin?” the Chazon Ish persisted. “Of course,” the man replied. “So go sell your tefillin to pay the tax and vote,” answered the Chazon Ish.
The Chazon Ish explained that the man was met by two mitzvot: wearing tefillin and voting. The former can be fulfilled by borrowing a pair from someone else, so there was no worry he would not be able to perform the mitzvah. However, the latter could only be done by that man on that day, which prevailed over his need to own a pair of tefillin.
Whether political or religious, we all have an obligation to vote. This November is a crucial time for each person to fulfill their responsibilities. Each side of the political spectrum needs each and every voter to show up and support what they believe. Each vote is counted and each vote matters. I urge all of you to register to vote and let your voice be heard this coming November.
For a checklist for first-time voters please go to https://www.vote411.org/first-time-voter-checklist
Photo Caption: Ballot
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