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The High Holy Day of Election Day

10/23/2020 06:00:20 PM

Oct23

Rabbi Samuel Gordon

Rabbi Sam Gordon Headshot

We are in the Hebrew month of Heshvan. Traditionally this month is seen as different from all the other months of the year because, unlike all the other months, there are no festivals, holidays, or observances that occur in Heshvan. At least not within the Hebrew calendar. But our American secular calendar contains the High Holy Day of American democracy— Election Day. It does seem, especially this year, that Election Day is actually election season. So many of us have already voted or will vote before Tuesday, November 3rd, but that does not lessen the importance of that day. Indeed, we should consider it a day of sacred obligation and observance.

I have often turned to the words of the prophet Jeremiah, teaching in Babylon during the exile following the capture of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. This was a time of great crisis for the Jewish people. They had lost their sovereign state. They were now subjects of the great Babylonian empire. They might have given up their own identity or been in permanent revolt against their conquerors, but Jeremiah spoke on behalf of God, saying:

Seek the well-being of the city to which I have sent you in exile and pray to the Eternal on its behalf; for in its prosperity, you shall prosper.” (29:7)

American Jews have always found in these words of the prophet Jeremiah the foundation for our contract with America. Our security, well-being, and freedom are inextricably dependent on America’s stability and success. We are committed to this nation’s well-being and peace.

Judaism is not an ascetic religion. It does not turn its back on the real world. We do not seek our religious meaning as hermits rejecting the messiness of the society as it is. Rather, we are commanded to engage in the Here and Now of our world.

This is not just an issue of the Reform or Progressive Jewish community with its commitment to Tikkun Olam and social justice. Even the greatest Orthodox authority on Jewish law—halakhah—the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, wrote:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon 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. Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.”

This is not a Reform or Orthodox issue nor partisan. We can be Democrats, Republicans, or independents. It is certainly not my role to endorse any specific candidate or party, but we should all vote our values. Jewish Americans have always been engaged in the political life of the United States. That activism went beyond whatever political divisions existed among us. We must remain fully engaged in all aspects of our society, but at this moment, this election calls all of us to participate and vote. Many will do even more than that by campaigning, helping others register, poll watching, or acting as election judges. At a minimum, it is up to all of us to vote, and to insure our family and friends do so as well. We must do as much as we can to ensure the right to vote for all.

November 3rd should be observed as a Holy Day in our calendar. America has been a unique home for us. In 1790, George Washington promised the Jews of America that, “the Government of the United States...gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

The Jews of America have always repaid that promise and assurance by fully engaging in the political life of our nation. Let us act on that promise by voting during this election season.

Thu, February 25 2021 13 Adar 5781