This sometimes brings up the question of whether it’s appropriate to bring “religious” considerations into the public square in this way. To me this really isn’t much of a question. My environmental activism, for instance, is largely based on my understanding of what Jewish texts and traditions have to say on the subject, and the idea of separating those spiritual values from my work in this area would be like asking me to go outside without my heart. Just as it would have been for some of the faith-based activists I so admire, such as A.J. Heschel, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi.
What is inappropriate, and where there is a church/state separation issue, is when someone asks for their religious practices to be legally enforced upon someone else. (If you see me the line!) One could argue separation is violated when on says “no person of faith could support such and such a position on such and such an issue,” but actually, that’s just foolishness. God is not partisan; people can come to different conclusions from the same texts, and that’s as it should be.
Having said that, what Jewish values can or should we apply when we go to vote in the upcoming election?
One value that springs to mind is the admonition, repeated over and over in the Torah, to care for the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. The questions to ask here would be: Do the policies being proposed by the candidates make it more or less likely that the less-fortunate among us will be cared for, will have access to food, to housing, to medical attention, to educational and economic opportunity – and not five years down the line, but today?
Which candidate’s policies are more likely to allow an opportunity for people to earn a decent living with dignity? On Maimonides’ ladder of tzedakah, the highest form of “charity” is giving someone a job.
What policies are more likely to balance the call to promote peace in the world with the responsibility to protect our citizens? And whose policies will better help Israel make that same balance? For as the Torah tells us, “Seek peace, and pursue it.”
Which policies are more likely to protect our environment, to address issues such as biodiversity, availability of resources, and climate disruption? As the Midrash tells us, “Be careful that you don’t spoil or destroy my world — because if you spoil it, there will be nobody after you to fix it.”
An openness to consider- ing what Torah and tradition have to teach us can’t help but have an impact on the way we see the world and the issues and choices before us.
One more thing: I talk a lot about brachot, about blessings that sanctify our daily acts. At RRC (my rabbinical school) they developed a brachah that is appropriate for acts under- taken in the public interest:
Blessed are you Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has made us holy with your mitzvot and instructed us to occupy ourselves with the needs of the community (la’asok b’tzorkhay tzibur). I encourage you to make your voting a sacred act by saying this bracha in the voting booth.
~ Rabbi Moti Rieber