Is Voting Strictly For Our Interests The Torah Way?

The 2010 election campaign is over, but many more will come. I’ve often seen Jews encouraged to vote solely to bring back the goodies (funding, favorable policies…) to our own communities. The general welfare becomes a minor consideration, if that.

What do our sources say about this?

What do you think about this?

Bob Miller

14 comments on “Is Voting Strictly For Our Interests The Torah Way?

  1. To correct that last statement, the US only gives about 3 billion a year to Israel. Cumulatively over the years that number is in hundreds of billions. My error.

  2. I don’t know what the sources say, Bob.

    First, I acknowledged that we are entitled to assert our own interests: that’s what a democracy is about. Only, we’re not supposed to assert our own interests at the expense of the whole.

    Like I said, Bob, I’m not arguing that America’s and Israel’s interests aren’t aligned,only that it isn’t necessarily the case.

    There’s also often a distinction/tension between practical American (or Jewish/Israeli)self-interest and “the right thing to do.”

    That is to say that, for example, it may be the case (and to be clear, I’m not arguing that it is the case)that it is not in America’s practical interests to continue to give hundreds of billions of dollars a year (more than any other country) in aid annually to Israel when we have such hard times/massive debt/budget deficits ourselves, and when doing so alienates/angers such a large percentage of the world’s population, (and when the Jewish world pop. is such a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of world pop.)and thus contributes to the spread of anti-American sentiments and actions, and when the governments of many of those people hold so much clout because of the natural resources they command; it may however still be the right moral thing for the US to do. (Again, I’m not arguing the point.) But if it is the right moral thing for the US to do, despite practical self-interest (possibly) indicating otherwise (and arguments can be made for that position), then similarly American Jews also need to put self-interest aside to do the right thing for America.

  3. Eric,

    I guess one counterargument is that, in an environment where other large blocs of American citizens do vote selfishly, who are we to take the broader view all by ourselves and get pushed around?

    So this issue is tricky. That is why my main initial question was “What do our sources say about this?”

    Maybe this is the wrong forum, but I was hoping for more discussion about that.

    As for voting here in a way that advances Israel’s interests, I’d like you, Eric, to tell us in detail where you believe Israel’s current interests differ from America’s (and I don’t mean Obama’s personal interests) .

  4. Bob,

    This is a great question.

    I’ve always been very put off by the way that we’re often urged to vote solely for what appears to be in the best interest of Jews and of Israel, neither of which are necessarily synonymous with the best interests of the United States, our state, or city, despite the myriad facile arguments to the contrary. (Sometimes these interests may indeed be aligned -all I’m saying is that it ain’t necessarily so.)

    I believe that the obligation of a US citizen is to to vote for what is best for the commonweal: for the whole of the US, or for his town, state etc. This isn’t to say that self-interest need be neglected: part of being a citizen of a democracy is having one’s interests made known and represented, but the best citizens let the good of the whole trump their own narrow interests, should they conflict.

    I think too that Jews who have made aliyah really shouldn’t vote in US elections. Yes, they’re legally entitled to do so, but dual-citizenship is really an ethical/loyalty mine-field, where the unabashed exhortations by Jewish leaders to vote for Israel’s perceived interests are, I think, really shameful. They reveal, or at the very least, create the very strong impression, that really, all the Jews care about is themselves/Israel, and only see America in the context of what it can do for us. It is just ugly. Yes, other nations also have dual-citizenship arrangements with the US, but Jews have long (I think justifiably) been suspect as being fully vested as citizens of the nations they’ve been living -long before modern Zionism, and after. Before, because we were waiting to be taken back to the Land, expressly declaring this every day, and we preferred our own court systems and governing mechanisms to those of the places we lived, and after, because many of us are already there, and have established a state, and continue to declare our desire to leave exile,and continue to believe it will happen. This tension is inherent in the design of Judaism, and so surely the tendency of our hosts to suspect/fear/ and even hate us is one that was also intentional from the origin, and just putting aside our interests and voting for the good of the whole is no guarantee of not continuing to be suspected etc., but it’s just the right thing to do as an American citizen.

  5. Where should New Yorkers move to, New Jersey? From what I’ve heard, Trenton is almost as bad as Albany. The problem is that cheaper housing and an easier lifestyle is usually found in places where the salaries are proportionately lower and the unemployment rate is higher.

    Certain things voting doesn’t help. You can vote all you want to make your own state more business-friendly and to attract jobs, but if those jobs are already out the door to cheap facilities in Sri Lanka or Congo, it’s not going to make a difference.

  6. Part of the NY State problem is that few people are in a position to migrate to a better-run state—but, as they do, revenue will drop further.

  7. With a $9 billion deficit, New York State isn’t going to be handing out money to religious schools or charter schools anytime soon, Constitution or not.

  8. tractate Avot, chapter 1:

    יד) הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי
    לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי:

  9. Judy,

    It doesn’t matter whom you elect, there will be no meaningful governmental support any time soon for religious schools, at least in New York State. The state constitution contains an explicit prohibition against such.

  10. By the way, this Indiana organization, recently founded by members of our shul but already having participation from around the state, is a good model for Orthodox engagement in setting priorities for public policy:

    The group recenly had a good discussion meeting with Brian Bosma, soon to become Speaker of the Indiana State House of Representatives. People like him appreciate Orthodox involvement to protect traditional values.

  11. Judy, of course we should vote for our interests. My question was more about the extent of our additional responsibility to consider other people we live among.

  12. It is critically important for frum Jews to vote, and yes, we should vote for our own interests. Don’t underestimate the power of a few votes (remember the 2000 presidential election).

    My own neighborhood, Far Rockaway, is predominantly Black. In a hotly contested Democratic primary where two extremely well-qualified Black candidates are facing off against each other, the united frum Jewish vote makes a difference.

    There are many Catholic parents in New York State who find the cost of parochial school tuition far too high and would like some tuition relief for religious and private schools. If you add the votes of Catholic parents to the votes of Orthodox Jewish parents, you get a sizable number, possibly enough to tip the election in a close contest.

    Don’t forget that Muslim voters in Dearborn, Michigan, and in Paterson, New Jersey are working to elect representatives who will vote against Israel in Congress. The famous “Jewish vote” could easily be outnumbered one day by the infamous “Muslim vote,” as American Muslims probably now outnumber American Jews.

    In South Africa, the governing party opposes Israel, and South African Jews are a badly outnumbered minority who cannot do anything about their country’s support of the Palestinians.

    As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, then who am I? And if not now, when?”

  13. Just to amplify a little:

    Our doing things to promote the welfare of the whole society we live in has several aspects:

    1. We want to help other people for their sake.

    2. We, as HaShem’s Mamleches Cohanim, want to be seen as being helpful, as opposed to selfish, to elevate the glory of HaShem in this world (that is, not only to keep ourselves out of trouble).

    3. If the world around us crashes and burns, our mission is automatically put in jeopardy.

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