Do We Live by Our Word?
Acheinu Bnei Yisrael currently find ourselves in perhaps the most precarious situation our people have faced in decades. After the ineffable massacre of over 1,200 innocent people at the hands of Hamas on October 7th, we have seen the unfolding of a war and the perpetuation of an existential threat facing the only sovereign Jewish state in modern history. This threat is most palpable in its physical manifestations, but the acuity of its socio-ideological development across the world — taking the form of mass gatherings of people calling for the ruin of the State of Israel — has begun to take center stage as well.
I presume that an article highlighting that this perilous moment in time is an inflection point in the trajectory of the Jewish people is not necessary. Instead, this article’s goal is to highlight and encourage an arena of civic engagement in which we can — and should — collectively do better to facilitate that this inflection point reinforces our trajectory, and not — God forbid — subverts it. This arena is that of voting.
Rambam, in his Hilchot Melachim (laws of war) identifies that one of the scenarios which triggers the harrowing reality of a Milchemet Mitzvah (an obligatory war) is “Ezrat Yisrael Me’Yad Tzar She’ba Aleihem” (assisting Israel from an enemy which attacks them). Undoubtedly, we find ourselves in the midst of such a description. As developed recently by Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig, what this scenario engenders is Halachic imperatives in the categories of Hilchot Taanit (laws of fasts), as well as Hilchot Melachim. The category of Hilchot Taanit — consisting of intensified teshuva, tefillah, Torah learning, fasts, etc — given our past and/or current educational institutions, is quite familiar to us. The responsibilities imposed by the category of Hilchot Melachim however, are both more amorphous and more foreign.
This discrepancy has naturally led to the response from many of us to be an amplified commitment to our Hilchot Taanit obligations — as it should be; the least appropriate thing to do right now would be to digress from our unwavering, undiluted, and immutable commitment to engagement and belief in the power of Talmud Torah and Tefillah. The Halacha however did not stop there in its calling upon Man to respond; our Hilchot Melachim obligations beckon. These obligations fall upon every member of the Jewish people, and for those unable to actively serve in combat, these obligations still include the paradigms of “arranging battle implements” and “providing (the army with) necessary sustenance.”
While opportunities for engagement in these obligations are many, one that is abundantly clear is the responsibility to register to vote and participate in elections. The practical arguments for voting are clear and simple: at best, it is an opportunity to ensure that candidates who will best represent your values are elected. At worst, voting in elections is a way to ensure that politicians are aware that your voice is potentially consequential at all; elected officials pay close attention to the demographics of who is registered and who participates in voting. They heed large voting blocks even after being elected — they must if they wish to retain their position come next election cycle. Moreover, this point serves as an important counter-argument to the claim that since we are not in election season, there is no point in registering. To anyone thinking this, I reiterate: the willingness of politicians to work on certain projects is heavily impacted by the demographics of registered and likely voters; make sure that you are doing your part to influence that willingness. High voter registration and voter turnout will ineluctably lead to our community’s needs being taken more seriously now and in the future.
As for the argument that a single vote will not make a difference, this has long been a misguided conclusion. First, it should be understood clearly that it always takes a group of individuals to accomplish anything for which a group of people is needed. If 290,000 individuals decided that they wouldn’t be needed for Nov. 14th’s pro-Israel rally in D.C, no one would have been at the rally. Secondly, the importance of being a part of a voting block and the opportunity it offers cannot be overstated. We are all responsible for ensuring that the Jewish community’s block reaches its maximum strength. Countless other rejections of this argument exist.
The possibility of combatting the societal trend mentioned in the opening paragraph begins with ensuring that our voices are loud and heard, decisive and formidable. If our voices fade to silence then the vacuum of space we once maintained will soon be filled by those who oppose the values so dear to us. If those advocating for a ceasefire are likely voters, but we are not, the political support for Israel may begin to wane. If those justifying the actions of Hamas are likely voters, but we are not, can we truly defend the comprehensiveness of our commitment to support of Israel? If those who participate in moral relativism are likely voters, but we are not, can we expect that our ideals will have political representation? The stakes are clear, we ignore them at our peril.
We hold a moral and religious obligation to do all that we can to elect politicians who will make it their responsibility to, among other things, pass bills ensuring that Israel receives the financial aid and public political backing that it needs to do what it must; that is the least of what we can do to fulfill our obligation of “providing (the army with) necessary sustenance.”
The ability to vote has long been an opportunity that has received heavy attention and encouragement from Rabbinic authorities and communal leaders in both America and elsewhere. Among them was R. Moshe Feinstein who, in a celebrated letter, argued that due to both the value of demonstrating Hakarat Ha–tov for the United States government, as well as the need to “contribute to the continued security of our community,” voting is a “fundamental obligation.” Furthermore, R. Hershel Schachter maintains that voting is an obligation as part of our responsibility to exercise personal effort (Hishtadlut) in affecting positive change. To add to the picture, R. Jeremy Weider has argued that “if you have the opportunity to vote, and don’t exercise that opportunity, it’s a Keffiyat Tovah (rejection of kindness) to the Ribbono Shel Olam”.
Despite the apparent unanimity of this sentiment — one echoed by religious and non–religious authorities — in surveying 100 Wilf students, only 62 students were registered to vote. That number, six points below the national average of 68% eligible voters being registered, is not only unsettling but is tantamount to negligent Halachic, civic and moral responsibilities; worst of all, it reflects missed opportunity. Given what is at stake as well as the potential benefits of voting registration — both articulated above — merely matching the national average should not satisfy anyone. More than being 6 points below the national average, we are 38 points below what we should expect of ourselves.
To those who are already registered, thank you. For those who have yet to, I implore you to take the time to register.
B’birkat V’Natatei Shalom B’Aretz, U’shechvatem V’ein Machrid
Photo Caption: Ballot Box
Photo Credit: Unsplash