A Non-Partisan Jewish Voting Guide

1. Anti-Semitism, racism, hate, and bigotry. Does the candidate stand up against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry? Did s/he condemn the neo-Nazis and other white nationalists who marched with guns and torches in Charlottesville in 2017? Does s/he speak out against or do anything about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in this country? It goes without saying that failing to fight anti-Semitism is bad for the Jewish community. But stoking bigotry against other minority communities emboldens those who are less discerning in their hatred, amplifying the danger of hatred against all minority groups, including Jews.

2. Health Care and Taxes. Jewish tradition teaches that healthcare is a fundamental human right and, therefore, a communal responsibility. As Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes in Matters of Life and Death, “Jewish ethics…demands that American Jews work to ensure that the United States, as a society, provides healthcare to everyone in some way.” Does the candidate’s record or stance on health care issues move us closer to or further away from the goal of attaining universal access to adequate healthcare? Similarly, Jewish tradition argues for enough redistribution of wealth from those who have the most to those who have the least so that “there shall be no needy” (Deuteronomy 15:4). A candidate who wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and slash the social safety net to pay for it moves us further away from the Jewish vision of a just society.

3. Guns. The Mishnah calls weapons “an embarrassment” for a person. Jewish law prohibits its adherents from hunting animals and owning a weapon to do so. But more importantly, a primary Jewish value is the sanctity of life and the obligation to save life. Guns are responsible for over 35,000 deaths in America each year. Does the candidate support, at the very least, common sense initiatives to regulate the widespread availability of these instruments of death?

4. Immigration. Does the candidate support extreme restrictions on immigration and draconian border policies? Such views are antithetical to Jewish values and an affront to the Jewish historical experience.The Torah makes explicit our moral responsibilities toward migrants and refugees through an appeal to Jewish historical experience: “You shall love the migrant as yourself, for you were migrants in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). The Bible invokes our collective immigrant experience no less than 36 times, harnessing our history over and again so that we connect the crises others face today with our crises yesterday, to see their story as our story, to experience their reality as personally as we would our own. Most of the people Jewish Americans claim as ancestors were able to settle in the United States by virtue of the lenient immigration laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If the candidate’s proposed immigration policies were on the books back then, would your ancestors have been able to immigrate?

5. Law and Order. It goes without saying that one of the primary purposes of government is to preserve law and order within society. This principle is not only enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution, it reflects a core Jewish value: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes…and they shall govern the people with due justice” (Deuteronomy 17:18). However, while Jewish tradition sees law and order as crucial, it insists that it must be administered fairly. The very next verse clarifies: “You shall not judge unfairly.” The rabbinic tradition insists that, for justice to mean anything, it must be executed justly. So, we must ask of candidates for elected office not only what they will do to preserve law and order, but what they will do to ensure that our system of law and order — our law-enforcement practices, our judicial system, and our penal system — is as just as it can possibly be. Moreover, the expectation of law and order must apply equally to our leaders. According to our tradition, our officials — even kings — must be held accountable to the laws of the land (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Given the fact that, in a manner virtually unprecedented in American history, high-ranking government officials have acted in ways that are hostile to and undermine the independence of law-enforcement and the judiciary, and that high-ranking government officials are under serious investigations for crimes ranging from corruption to conspiring with foreign adversaries, this election calls upon us to consider whether a given candidate will be steadfast and vigilant in holding themselves and other elected officials, even of their own party, accountable to the law, up to and including the President of the United States. Where does the candidate you’re considering voting for stand on holding leaders, even and especially those of his/her own party, accountable to the law?

6. Israel. Most mainstream American politicians of both major parties are publicly pro-Israel. Thankfully, the right of Israel not only to exist but to thrive as a strong, secure, and sovereign nation is a matter of broad bipartisan consensus. But it’s not enough simply to give lip-service to being pro-Israel, or to endorsing policies that support Israel’s security and the American-Israeli partnership, as important as those positions are. A just peace with the Palestinians through a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s long-term security, stability, and status as a moral exemplar. Does your candidate support policies that undermine the peace process and threaten Israel’s future, like supporting new Israeli settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian villages in the West Bank, supporting America’s withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, supporting moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem in the absence of a negotiated agreement, or supporting dismantling the UN agency that supports schools and hospitals in Palestinian communities? Does your candidate support the Iran Nuclear Deal, which American, Israeli, and international military security experts agree has been effective in neutralizing a major existential threat to Israel, namely the specter of a nuclear-armed Iranian regime? If your candidate opposes the Iran Nuclear Deal and/or supports policies that undermine the peace process, s/he is putting Israel’s very existence in jeopardy.

7. The Environment and Climate Change. One of the Bible’s first commandments is for us to be stewards of our planet, to protect the environment and the other species with whom we share this earth, to bequeath a world fit for habitation to our children. Does the candidate accept the reality of human-induced climate change? Where do they stand on the question of embracing policies that would protect our planet?

8. Education and Civil Rights. From the fundamental Jewish principle of human equality flows the command “You shall have one law” (Leviticus 24:22), that all people should have equal status, privilege, and protection under the law. For that reason, American Jews have always been passionate advocates for the availability of a quality education for all Americans, the enforcement of civil rights laws, and the expansion of voting rights. Is the candidate a champion of those historically Jewish issues?

9. Responsiveness to Constituents, Gerrymandering, and Voting Rights. Does the candidate listen to the voices of his/her constituents? Where does s/he stand on gerrymandering and voting rights? Jewish tradition insists that every human being is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Additionally, the Bible asserts that all human beings can trace their ancestry to one parent, Adam, a teaching that the rabbinic tradition understood to mean that we all have equal value (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). From the fundamental Jewish principle of human equality flows the command “You shall have one law” (Leviticus 24:22), that all people should have equal status, privilege, and protection under the law. Furthermore, Jewish ethics dictate that leaders must be concerned about and responsive to the will of their constituents. When, for example, Pharaoh ignores the cries of the oppressed Israelites (see, for example, Exodus 5:17-18), God responds by sending ten plagues, devastating Egypt, and liberating the Israelite slaves. Moses, too, is severely punished for lashing out thirsty Israelites rather than providing them water (Numbers 20:1-13). Even God, according to rabbinic tradition, governs through popular assent (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 88a). Jewish tradition guides us to insist on a political system and leaders who feel beholden to the needs and concerns expressed by the governed, and issues warning after warning of the inevitable consequences that ensue when officials cease to care about what their constituents have to say. If a candidate effectively says that some people in his/her district or state matter less than others, is inaccessible or unresponsive to constituents, and does not support measures that ensure full, expansive, and equal access to the ballot for all citizens, their stance runs counter to bedrock Jewish democratic values.

A version of this was published in the Forward on Nov. 6, 2018: https://forward.com/scribe/413655/6-jewish-voting-issues-according-to-a-progressive-rabbi/?fbclid=IwAR01nge6hewjFqV9jbB0DhsYrciYGGp8RgVp3C2R1tnRdwqt47SD6wtKy0g

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