Leap of faith: Voting is a Jewish obligation

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Leap of faith: Voting is a Jewish obligation

We must ensure we are registered to exercise our right in the local elections on 2 May

If you want to vote in the forthcoming local elections on Thursday 2 May, and are not already on the electoral roll, you will need to register by Tuesday 16 April. If you don’t have an accepted form of voter ID you will now need a Voter Authority Certificate, available from the gov.uk website. Applications close at 5pm on Wednesday 24 April.

But why do I, as a rabbi, feel the need to share this information? Why include this in a column dedicated to religious life?

Our early texts come from a period when political democracy was definitely not the norm. Nonetheless, there is a compelling case that our tradition considers exercising our vote a modern Jewish obligation.

A number of authorities, including the American Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in a famous responsum from the mid-1980s, associate voting with the Jewish ideal of hakarat hatov. As Jews, we are obligated to recognise and be grateful for that which is good in our lives. We benefit from being part of a society that provides us with safety and freedom, so we express our appreciation for this by exercising the right to vote.

Similarly, there are some Jews who choose to recite a blessing of gratitude before voting, often one with particular resonance for an election soon after Pesach: “Blessed are You, Eternal God, Ruler of the Universe, who has made me free”.

As Jews, we are also obligated to engage with the world around us. We are bound by the laws of the country in which we live. The Talmud tells us that “the law of the land is the law”, so we should play our part in shaping this.

We are also asked to pay a broader attention to the way that the society in which we live is governed.

In the sixth century BCE, the prophet Jeremiah instructed the exiles to Babylon: “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you.” Seven hundred years later, the first century CE sage, Rabbi Hanina, who was deputy High Priest, echoed Jeremiah when he instructed: “Pray for the welfare of the government.”

The Midrash Tanchuma expresses this idea more clearly than perhaps any other text. It states: “If a person secludes themselves in the corner of their home, declaring, ‘What concern are the problems of the community to me? What do their laws mean to me? Why should I hear their voices? I will be well without them’, this one destroys the world.”

In the modern world, one of the ways in which we express our obligation is by the use of our vote.


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