Voting is a Mitzvah
Did you know that Jews were not allowed to vote, in any country, until 1789? In Europe, Jews were forbidden to be citizens of any European country until the French Revolution. Here in America, that same year, 1789, was the first American national election and the tiny Jewish community of barely 2,500 souls was allowed to participate. For thousands of years we were marginalized and disenfranchised because we were Jews. We should never take for granted our right to vote.
For Jews, democracy is practically in our DNA. In Bible times, in the Ancient Kingdom of Israel, the opinion of the general population was a deciding factor in selecting new leaders. Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted” (Talmud Berachot 55a).
The reason today’s Israeli Keneset (Parliament) has 120 members is because the founders of the modern state were inspired by the ancient Jewish democratic tradition of the “Keneset HaGedola,” (The Great Assembly,”) which was composed of 120 members and was founded in 520 BCE, in response to the vacuum of governance following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. About 300 years later, electoral reform in the land of Israel led to the creation of the Sanhedrin, a democratic institution that lasted for nearly 700 years until it was shut down by the Christian Byzantine rulers.
For the past 2,000 years Jewish Synagogues have practiced democratic self-government. We have never had a Pope and there is no central hierarchy for our ritual practice. Each community chooses its own leaders and develops its own Minhag (customs).
Democracy, has always been and is, a Jewish thing. This week Israelis voted in their 5th election in four years. Next week is the American election. As your Rabbi, I ask you to vote. We were denied the right to vote in national elections for thousands of years. Every vote matters. Please exercise your civic rights and participate in the democratic process.
Rabbi Hillel taught “Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot). This means we have a responsibility to be active in choosing our leaders.
It is a Mitzvah to vote!
Rabbi David Wilfond