September 23, 2014 · 28 Elul

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Jewish Values

The Sage Hillel taught "Al tifros min hatzibur, Do not separate yourself from the community" (Pirke Avot 2:5). Moreover, it is our responsibility to play an active role in our community and choosing its leaders. Rabbi Yitzhak taught that "A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted" (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). Rabbi Yitzhak further explained that in the Torah, Bezalel could be chosen to build the Tabernacle only with the community's approval. Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, said: "A story is told that a Jew approached the Chazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yishayahu Kareletz of B'nai Brak Israel) and informed him that he did not have the money to pay municipal taxes. At that time, one could not vote if [he] did not fulfill [his] civic financial obligations. The Chazon Ish directed this man to sell his t'fillin and pay his taxes. You can borrow t'fillin from someone else, the Chazon Ish explained, but the privilege to vote you cannot borrow from someone else. It seems clear from this, the Chazon Ish viewed voting as a mitzvah." This deeply embedded ethic of political participation has guided Jews to enthusiastically participate in the American electoral process.

More than any other segment of the white population, Jews played an active role in the dramatic civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, a movement that ultimately granted citizens of color unfettered access to the franchise. Indeed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, under the aegis of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Given our historical role in the civil rights struggle, allegations of voter disenfranchisement and evidence of higher numbers of disqualified votes for citizens of color compel us to speak out. It is our duty to ensure that all citizens are afforded the opportunity to vote and have their votes counted.



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