Progressively Speaking: How much should Jewish values inform how we vote?

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General Election 2017

Progressively Speaking: How much should Jewish values inform how we vote?

Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz reflects on the importance of faith in making political decisions

Polling station
Polling station


As an EU national, I’m not eligible to vote in the general election, but I do have a unique outsider’s perspective.

Of course our Jewish values should inform our civic conduct. The Jewish mission is to both maintain our unique destiny as a covenantal community, and to fully engage in our world and work towards repairing it.

As the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish exiles carried away by Nebuchadnezzar to Babylonia: ‘Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Eternal on her behalf, for her peace shall you have peace’. (Jer. 29:7)

Likewise, Pirkei Avot cautions us to ‘pray for government’s welfare, for without fear of it, we would swallow each other alive’ (Mishnah Avot 3:2).

Voting according to Jewish values doesn’t necessarily guarantee consensus on what those values are. Even so, makhloket leshem shamayim (disputes for the sake of Heaven) are interwoven into the fabric of Jewish life and a hearty debate is welcome.

What matters more than policy is intent. We are called to practice the divine values of kindness, compassion, protecting the vulnerable and loving the stranger. We may disagree on how this is done, but it is clear these are our sacred obligations.

The Board has issued The Jewish Manifesto to guide voters, and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism, has joined The Values Manifesto, a non-partisan interfaith initiative to ‘detoxify the debate’ through diversity, fostering understanding, protecting the vulnerable and acknowledging the importance of religious values in the electoral process.

No Torah verse and no rabbinic authority will or should tell you how to vote. What happens in the voting booth is between you and your conscience. The Jewish tradition does  stake a claim on that conscience: May it guide you to a choice with integrity, love, moral courage and justice.

υ Esther Hugenholtz is assistant rabbi of Sinai Synagogue in Leeds

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