Jan 21, 2013

How different rabbonim consider voting in Israeli elections to be a mitzva for different reasons

The ability to vote in a free election and thereby to be a part of shaping our society into one that is the best possible, is a tremendous opportunity. it is an opportunity we take for granted nowadays, even though in just recent history many did not bear such a right or were unable to take advantage of it. And still today many around the world don't have such a  right. It is a right, it is a blessing, and it is even a responsibility.

And voting is also a mitzva and a religious experience. You might think I am crazy, and I don't think I ever thought of it that way before, but I am not making it up myself. Many rabbonim consider it a mitzva to vote, even a mitzva that one must prioritize for the day of elections. Different rabbonim give different reasons for the basis of calling it a mitzva, and perhaps the reason given is indicative of their approach to the State of Israel, but it remains a mitzva nonetheless.

For example, NRG has a piece on a Rav Moshe Yekusiel Alpert. Rav Alpert lived from 1895 until 1955, and he grew up in the Old City of Jerusalem and studied in the famous Eitz Chaim school under Rav Shmuel Salant, and he later taught there while he and his family lived in the Beis Yisroel neighborhood of Jerusalem.

In 1938 Rav Alpert was appointed as the Mukhtar of the Beis Yisroel neighborhood. Mukhtar was a position holding great power, and it means he was basically leader of the area, and everything went through him, especially any communication between the community and the British authorities (or the Turks before them). Alpert kept a diary of his activities, a diary that is being turned into a book, dealing with various perspectives such as political issues that arose, security, economics, national, and issues related to the coming Independence War.

An interesting tidbit found in the diary is regarding the first national elections that took place on January 25, 1949. Rav Alpert wrote in his diary that he and his wife, along with his son, his brother and brother in law, got up that day at 5:35 AM. After having coffee, they got dressed in their Shabbos finest in honor of the great and holy day, "for this day is the day Hashem has made, we will rejoice and be happy on it". After 2000 or more years of exile, one can say that from the time of the 6 days of creation until today we have never merited a day like this, that we can go to vote in a Jewish country, and he made the blessing of Shehechiyanu.

He continues to write that they went at 5:50 AM to the voting station and the entire way it was like Simchas Torah, because "I had the identity packet of the State of Israel in my hands. There was no limit to the happy and fortune that I felt.". Voting was meant to start at 6 AM, and they were the first to arrive. At 5:54 the people manning the voting station arrived and at 6:02 the head of the voting committee arrived. Alpert says he complained because by law the station should have been opened at 6.

It seems like nothing has changed with the bureaucracy...

To continue, the director apologized and asked him to witness the procedure of opening the voting station. They showed him the voting box, that was empty, and he sealed it and tied it with a rope, and then sealed it with wax, and wrote all the details on it. He then said to Rav Alpert "because you are the oldest one of all the people here, you will be the first to vote".

Alpert writes "with trembling of holiness and awe of holiness I gave to him my identity packet, and he read out my name. The assistant wrote my name on paper and gave me a slip with the number 1, an envelope and I then went into the second room that contained all the voting slips of the various parties. With a trembling hand and emotions of holiness I took the slip with the letter ב, which was for the united religious party, I put it in the envelope.. I went back to the room of the voting station and I showed everyone that I only was holding one envelope.  The holiest moment of my life had arrived, the moment that neither my father, nor my grandfather had merited to. Just me, in my time, in my life, merited to this moment of holiness. How fortunate am I and is my lot! I recited the blessing of Shehechiyanu and placed the envelope in the box. I shook hands with the director, the assistant and everyone else there and left. At 6:28 we returned home, and I went to daven, a day of great holiday."

That is a fascinating account of what happened, of how a rav and leader of the Beis Yisroel neighborhood looked at the opportunity to vote. Of course times were different back then. They had just gone through a miraculous war, and before that was the refugees form Europe sneaking into Israel, and prior to that the devastation of the Holocaust. Since then much has changed, and the attitude of the haredi rabbonim to the State has also changed. Yet even today, with all the changes, many of the haredi rabbonim still consider it a mitzva to vote, even if for very different reasons.

For example, as Kikar reports, somebody getting married on Tuesday night, after the elections (or technically while elections are still going on) went to Rav Shteinman to ask if he must make time during the day to vote, as he will surely be busy with wedding preparations.

Rav Shteinman responded that there is no question and he should of course go to vote on election day. It became a discussion among the others in the room, whether a groom on the day of his wedding really must bother himself and take the time to vote and perhaps one could be lenient for the chosson and not make him go vote.
Rav Shteinman asked  how much time it takes to go vote, waiting in line and whatever else it entails. When he was told that it takes on average about 15 minutes, Rav Shteinman said with a smile that a chosson on his wedding day can surely dedicate 15 minutes to fulfilling the mitzva of "k'chol asher yorucha" - following the instructions of the rabbonim.

So, Rav Shteinman too considers voting a mitzva, albeit with a different source and perspective.

Further, the Belzer Rebbe also considers it a mitzva to vote, because he considers it a battle that has the status of "milchemet mitzva" and everyone must participate, even a groom under the chuppa, such as the Rebbe's gabbai who recently married off his son, and the elections fall out during the period of sheva brachos. Yet, despite being in sheva brachos, the young couple will still go out to vote, in order to fulfill the mitzva of listening to the chachomim. The Rebbe added to the gabbai that when those who hate religion are ganging up on the haredi community, the election is a true milchemet mitzva and even a groom from his room and a bride from the chuppa must participate.

I don't think this mitzva requires a blessing, specifically of Shehechiyanu, like Rav Alpert's experience above. Perhaps if it gives any given person tremendous joy to vote and fulfill the mitzva, whatever mitzva he might consider it, then he should make a bracha. But it is a mitzva.

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  1. Funny, people keep quoting "k'chol asher yorucha". Are these people tzedukim? They don't know that this mitzvah only applies to the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas Hagazis?

  2. Shaul, you took the words right out of my mouth.

  3. yes, but we all know that this is nothing new. this reapplication of the passuk has been going on for a very long time...

    anyways, isnt that a fascinating story from 1949?

  4. thank you for shaing this moving account, it was fascinating. My friend's family is sadly sitting shiva in the gush this week, and have been told that they may go out to vote - not sure which rav paskened.

  5. Rafi, I'm surprised you didn't have anything on the Motzei Shabbos election "kennes" here in RBS A, held in Beis Tfillah (though Rav Kornfeld was mentioned as being the main mover in making it happen). Relevant to this thread, one of the speakers did come out explicitly that it was a chiyuv d'oreisa to vote (unless you are Satmer), and that anyone who said that the opinion of Rabbonim didn't apply to politics was an apikoros. We were warned that "after 120" those who didn't vote for the chareidi parties would have to answer why they supported things those parties did against the Torah. But if the chareidi parties did something wrong, don't worry - the gedolim have broad shoulders, so you can blame them. So there were definitely some scare tactics employed. But it happens to be that some of the speakers were very thoughtful and made their case for gimmel pretty well, so I'm surprised that there wasn't more discussion of it "locally". The organizers had it professionally videoed- I wonder where they plan to show it?

  6. I was not there and I do not know what was said. that is why i did not write anything about it. I go to very few political rallies. it is mostly preaching to the choir, which does not interest me. the only time I go is if I feel I will learn something new or if there is a speaker I am particularly interested in hearing.
    this time I did not go because I actually had other things scheduled (in addition to the lack of interest)

  7. בעזרת השם מחר יראה סוף לכל הבבל"ט הזה - עד לבחירות הבאות


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