Michael Knopf

Michael KnopfCommunity Contributor

Rabbi Michael Knopf is the rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Virginia, and a member of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

6 Jewish Voting Issues — According To A Progressive Rabbi

The 2018 Midterm elections are arguably the most significant off-year elections in our nation’s history, and they come as Jews are still reeling from the shooting of 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.

While there’s been no shortage of discussion about what’s at stake this year, here are six issues to consider from a Jewish perspective as you prepare to vote:

Anti-Semitism, Racism, Hate and Bigotry:

Before you vote for a candidate, ask yourself: Does the candidate stand up against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry? Did he or she condemn the neo-Nazis and other white nationalists who marched with guns and torches in Charlottesville in 2017? Does he or she speak out against or do anything to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism in this country?

It goes without saying that failing to fight anti-Semitism is bad for the Jewish community. But stoking bigotry against other minority communities emboldens those who are less discerning in their hatred, amplifying the danger of hatred against all minority groups, including Jews.

Healthcare and Taxes:

As my teacher Rabbi Elliot Dorff,= explains in Matters of Life and Death, Jewish tradition teaches that healthcare is a fundamental human right and, therefore, a communal responsibility.

Does the candidate’s record or stance on health care issues move us closer to or further away from the goal of attaining universal access to adequate healthcare?

Similarly, Jewish tradition argues for enough redistribution of wealth from those who have the most to those who have the least so that “there shall be no needy” (Deuteronomy 15:4). A candidate who wants to cut taxes for the wealthy and slash the social safety net to pay for it moves us further away from the Jewish vision of a just society.

Guns:

The Mishnah calls weapons “an embarrassment” for a person. Jewish law prohibits its adherents from hunting animals and owning a weapon to do so. But more importantly, a primary Jewish value is the sanctity of life and the obligation to save life. Guns are responsible for over 35,000 deaths in America each year. Does the candidate support, at the very least, common sense initiatives to regulate the widespread availability of these instruments of death?

Immigration:

Does the candidate support extreme restrictions on immigration and draconian border policies? Such views are antithetical to Jewish values and an affront to the Jewish historical experience.

The Torah makes explicit our moral responsibilities toward migrants and refugees through an appeal to Jewish historical experience: “You shall love the migrant as yourself, for you were migrants in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). The Bible invokes our collective immigrant experience 36 times, harnessing our history over and again so that we connect the crises others face today with our crises yesterday, to see their story as our story, to experience their reality as personally as we would our own. Most of the people Jewish Americans claim as ancestors were able to settle in the United States by virtue of the lenient immigration laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If the candidate’s proposed immigration policies were on the books back then, would your ancestors have been able to immigrate?

Law and Order:

According to our tradition, our officials — even kings — must be held accountable to the laws of the land (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Given the fact that, in a manner virtually unprecedented in American history, high-ranking government officials have acted in ways that are hostile to and undermine the independence of law-enforcement and the judiciary, and that high-ranking government officials are under serious investigations for crimes ranging from corruption to conspiring with foreign adversaries, this election calls upon us to consider whether a given candidate will be steadfast and vigilant in holding themselves and other elected officials, even of their own party, accountable to the law, up to and including the President of the United States. Where does the candidate you’re considering voting for stand on holding leaders, even and especially those of his/her own party, accountable to the law?

Israel:

Most mainstream American politicians of both major parties are publicly pro-Israel.

Thankfully, the right of Israel not only to exist but to thrive as a strong, secure, and sovereign nation is a matter of broad bipartisan consensus.

But it’s not enough simply to give lip-service to being pro-Israel, or to endorsing policies that support Israel’s security and the American-Israeli partnership, as important as those positions are. A just peace with the Palestinians through a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s long-term security, stability and status as a moral exemplar.

Does your candidate support policies that undermine the peace process and threaten Israel’s future, like supporting new Israeli settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian villages in the West Bank, or supporting dismantling the UN agency that supports schools and hospitals in Palestinian communities? If your candidate opposes the Iran Nuclear Deal and/or supports policies that undermine the peace process, he or she is putting Israel’s very existence in jeopardy.

Of course, I recognize that not every Jew will agree with that these are the most important issues facing Jewish voters in this election, and many will dispute my conclusions. Passionate disagreement is part of our Jewish DNA.

But as a rabbi who believes in the enduring relevance of the Jewish tradition, and as a human rights advocate whose activism is rooted in and propelled by my Judaism, I pray that my fellow Jews will consider our traditional values when they enter the voting booth tomorrow.

If you wish to further sanctify the day, I encourage you to recite T’ruah’s Meditation for Election Day.

However these considerations persuade you, don’t forget to vote tomorrow. Regardless of who you vote for, the act itself is a mitzvah.

This story "6 Jewish Voting Issues According To A Rabbi" was written by Michael Knopf.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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6 Jewish Voting Issues — According To A Progressive Rabbi

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