The airways and internet have been filled with the conversations of politics and political candidates for some time now. There are days when one might think there is nothing else happening in the world except for the election. And the candidates are treated like pop cult personalities…television stars. Sadly, substance is often lost to style.
You know that rabbis are warned by their congregants, “don’t talk about politics.” And rabbis know that people are really saying, “don’t talk about politics if they disagree with mine!” But most of us have learned our lessons, and stay away from partisan politics because we serve all of our congregants and don’t want to be divisive. Yet we are moved by values.
I’d like to look at a particular phenomenon in the Jewish community. There was a time when almost all Jews voted for Democrats. Why was that? I believe it was because we were an immigrant population, we were and our fathers and mothers were workers, and our concern was with the issues of the worker and labor unions, treatment of immigrants and minorities. Two generations later, we see a shift. And although polls show that the majority of Jews still vote as democrats, a growing majority vote for republicans.
I don’t think the pattern is a function of Jews voting in a way they think is determined by Judaism, Jewish values or the Jewish tradition. I think its much more closely linked to the changing circumstances to our lives as Americans; the growth of wealth and affluence; moving from the place of labor to the place of ownership; and our full acceptance in American society. There was a time when it was said that the Jews lived like Presbyterians but voted like Puerto Ricans. That’s less and less the case.
In the extreme orthodox communities, like some in Williamsburg, Jews vote pretty much as a block. And the way they vote is determined by the self interest of the community and the direction of their rebbes.
Policy toward Israel is also a fundamental issue in a Jews’ electoral decision. But our advocacy organizations have always attempted to make Israel a non-partisan issue.
As we get closer to the Florida primary, I’d like you to consider a few questions. I’d also love to hear from you about this.
I’d like to ask you what role does being Jewish play in your voting? Are there Jewish values that come in to play? What are those values? How does the religious language used by some candidates impact your decision?
We are defined by many different things. Our values have always been a part of our uniqueness. I wonder – as we are more and more comfortable in our environment – what are those unique Jewish values?
I put this out, only to inspire thought and conversation.
See you in shul and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Steinhardt
P.S. – We have a wonderful speaker this Shabbat, Dr. Donniel Hartman. I encourage your attendance!