Get out and vote
by Jonathan Rosenblum
August 12, 2004
The Lithuanian yeshiva world was justly famed for its rationality and straight thinking. But these qualities are not passed down automatically. They too can atrophy from too little use.
The daughter of one of the greatest figures of the pre-War Lithuanian yeshiva world, and like her father someone renowned for her deep emunah, used to express amazement over the way that people today run to a gadol before taking every step in life, as if doing so is an insurance policy that nothing can go wrong. In the old days, she would say, someone would go to a gadol for a berachah when he or she faced a very difficult situation, and one would seek advice when confronting a drastic problem.
As for the rest of the hundreds of decisions that every person faces on a regular basis, one would consult with those wiser and more experienced, discuss the matter, think about it. But someone who took a kleinekeit (small thing) to a gadol was the subject of wonderment. The natural response was, "Ehr hat nit ken eigeneh seichel? – You don’t have your own seichel?"
I was reminded of this wise woman’s strictures the other day when a friend told me of his attempts to convince an American citizen living in Israel, with over a dozen eligible voters in his immediate family, to register to vote in the upcoming American elections. This particular man and his family also happen to be eligible to vote in what promises to be one of the key battleground states in the next election.
Yet the man showed no inclination to apply for an absentee ballot. Why not? Because he had not yet seen a proclamation from a gadol telling him to vote, and in the absence of such direction he did not consider himself capable of evaluating the pros and cons of voting. Therefore he would do nothing.
It is true that there are many things that require a shaylah. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein used to complain that too many people confined themselves to only asking him shaylahs about mixtures of milk and meat, but failed to consult him on some of the most crucial life issues. (The issue of whom and when to consult a rav or a gadol, in general, is a big one, far beyond the scope of this piece or the capabilities of this author.)
But I would submit that the question about whether to register for the American elections is not one requiring the time of a great Torah authority. Rather it falls into the category of a shaylah that, as one of my teachers once described one of my shaylahs, embarrasses both the one who asks and the one asked because the answer is so obvious.
The last American presidential election was decided by 535 votes in Florida. President Bush’s victory in Florida was clinched on the basis of the 5,700 more absentee votes he garnered in Florida than his opponent. After the 2000 election, it will never again be possible to say, "There is no point in my registering to vote because my vote will not make any difference."
Assuming that the American policy towards Israel has a potentially large impact on the physical security of more than 4,000,000 Jews living in Israel – al pi derech hateva -- and that there are solid reasons to believe that the approach towards Israel of a second Bush administration and a Kerry administration would not be the same, then registering to vote and voting would seem to be imperative.
The number of potential Orthodox absentee votes in Israel is huge. Families that moved to Israel 20 years ago have, in many cases, eight to ten potential voters today. The total of such voters numbers in the tens of thousands, almost as large as all the absentee ballots cast from Israel in the last election. To be sure, most of these voters would be registered in New York, where the presidential voting is not likely to be close, but there are plenty from states with a rich harvest of electoral votes, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Florida where the vote is likely to be quite close.
Even for those from New York there are important reasons to register. One would be showing hakaros hatov – e.g., to President Bush for the major shifts in policy towards Israel from the Clinton years or to Senator Kerry for his strong support of the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, against many vested interests in the Democratic party and even some mainline Jewish organizations.
In America, young Orthodox Jews are becoming increasingly involved in politics, mostly on the Republican sides. And both parties are awakening to the fact that the Orthodox constitute an identifiable voting bloc distinguishable in many ways from the general Jewish population. The Orthodox tend to hold radically different views from the general Jewish community on many social issues. And with respect to Israel, the Orthodox are far less likely to be content with pro forma expressions of a "firm American commitment to Israel’s security" or even a long voting record of supporting aid to Israel in Congress. They are more likely to consider the implications of the candidate’s overall foreign policy views vis-à-vis such issues as Palestinian terrorism, Middle East peacemaking, Israel counter-terrorism actions.
Anything that brings home to the American political echelons the existence of Orthodox Jews as a large, active, and distinct voting bloc can only increase our political influence on both the local and national level. Registering and voting are the obvious places to begin. (The arguments in favor of voting apply with equal force to Orthodox Jews living in America, who tend to have lower rates of voting than other Jews.)
Hopefully someone will take the initiative of obtaining letters from gadolim with knowledge of America urging American citizens in Israel to vote. But in the meantime, the clock is ticking for those living in Israel. To be sure of requests for absentee ballots being processed in time, they must be sent either via Internet or mail no later than the end of this month.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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