June 14, 2024
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A Torah Perspective on Civic Engagement

Two generations ago, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote:

“A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov (gratitude)—recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent on each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.”

These words were undoubtedly true in 1984, and in today’s climate, they are even more relevant as we battle an unprecedented rise in antisemitism in our beloved country.

Jewish historical consciousness demands special gratitude to our great country. However exasperated we may be with local and national politics, we continue to experience prosperity, to enjoy freedom and to take great pride in our country’s story and its values.

Reflecting on Rav Moshe’s words in the context of a national election, South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein said:

“God has blessed us to live in a free democracy, albeit with its struggles and challenges, where we thrive as a proud and vibrant Jewish community with Torah values, which is not something we can take for granted. We are the exception in Jewish history—not the rule. During the last two thousand years of exile and dispersion, the vast majority of Jews did not live in free societies.”

When voices in foreign capitals and upon university campuses cynically discredit democracy and damage the rule of law by equating our system to repressive authoritarian regimes, our votes do more than protect our immediate interests. Our votes proclaim that we still believe in America. We appreciate our blessings, our freedoms and our fellow citizens. Our votes protect justice and peace.

A strong showing from our community at the polls demonstrates the two truths we live with simultaneously as American Jews: We are proud of our country’s freedoms, principles and mission—and we contribute to our country by using our voices and energies to help our country more fully realize its ideals. It can be hard to know where to start when the news can be so disillusioning, but I humbly recommend a simple and quick trip to your polling place. As it is written in Pirkei Avos, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” It is our duty to begin the work of assuring our community’s interests are heard on every level, and voting is one way for each of us to contribute. A vote is not a privilege we can take for granted.

Today, we must show our gratitude and appreciation for the rights we enjoy by actively participating in the democratic system. It is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to vote in every election, and we have the responsibility and opportunity to exercise our right to vote next week. This year’s primary election is on June 4, and early voting is underway at the Rodda Center, where all Bergen County residents may vote until June 2.

Please join me and vote.


Rabbi Chaim Strauchler is the rabbi of Congregation Rinat Yisrael and associate editor for Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought.

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