By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

This past government in Israel has not been so good in terms of keeping Israel both safer and in Jewish hands. And, let us make no mistake, there is a clear halachic obligation to keep our communities safe. While there may be debate as to what keeps us safer, there is no question that the obligation exists. The results of the election in Israel are encouraging along those lines. Let’s remember that the last coalition included members who had openly praised terrorists who killed innocent Jews as martyrs. This is dangerous and a violation of halacha to allow such a government to not be voted out.

Which brings us to a very pertinent question—not only pertaining to this last Israeli election, but the upcoming New York State election for governor: Is there an actual halachic obligation to vote?

The short answer is yes.

The Obligation: Rav Feinstein’s View

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, discusses the obligation to vote in an English letter, and finds the source of such an obligation in the notion of hakaras hatov—expressing our gratitude. In 1984, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York was conducting a voter registration campaign. Rav Moshe Feinstein was approached and responded that, in fact, Jews should vote.

Subsequently, a letter was released signed by Rav Feinstein delineating the obligation to vote. The letter stated:

“On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

“A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov—recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent on each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

“Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.”

Rectifying An Urgent Matter

On the other hand, the Steipler Gaon, zt’l, seems to view the obligation of voting as a means of fulfilling the need to rectify an urgent matter. Indeed, he is cited in Orchos Rabbeinu p. 141 in Cheshvan of 5726, as even having permitted a mourner within the seven days of mourning to vote when the need to vote is urgent.

Respecting The View Of The Gedolei Torah

The Slonimer Rebbe, zt’l, and others (See Bais Yaakov Yerichon L’Inyanei Chinuch 027-028 p. 30) have proposed an entirely different reason for the obligation. They write that the obligation to vote stems from the obligation to respect the view of Gedolei Torah.

Strengthening Torah

The Vishnitzer Rebbe writes that the obligation to vote in Israel stems from the obligation to strengthen Torah (Michtevei Kodesh #238).

Do These Reasons Apply In The US?

Rav Feinstein’s reason was stated here, so for that issue there is no question. But what about the other three reasons?

It would seem, from the proliferation of letters from yeshivos and shuls that it does. One should also vote in every election that effects such matters as well. It would also seem that it is worthwhile to investigate or to perhaps at least ask around as to which candidate would help support the Torah way of life most.

In conclusion, there does seem to be a halachic obligation to vote either stemming from hakaras hatov, according to Rav Feinstein, zt’l, rectifying an urgent matter according to the Steipler, zt’l, respecting the view of the Gedolei Torah according to the Slonimer Rebbe, and from the obligation of strengthening Torah according to the Vishnitzer Rebbe.

We also do not see any indication that the above reasons are mutually exclusive. In other words, there could very well be four different general halachic reasons that we should be voting. When there is danger involved, there is a new group of mitzvos too.

These mitzvos are predicated upon the verse, “venishmartem me’od bnafshosaichem—And you shall be very careful regarding yourselves (Devarim 4:9).” Having terrorist supporters in the government is a clear and present danger.

Two More Mitzvos

The mitzvos here are not just limited to “veNishmartem” (Devarim 4:9). The verse later on (Devarim 4:15), “Rak hishamer lecha” is understood by most poskim to actually comprise a second mitzvah (See Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita Shaar HaTeshuvos #25). There is also a third mitzvah, “V’chai bahem—And you shall live by them” (Vayikra 18:5).

The Ben Ish Chai writes that a person should make every effort to ensure the general safety of both himself and those around him (Parashas Pinchas year cycle #2). The Turei Zahav in his commentary to Choshain Mishpat (427:10) cites a Midrash on Shir HaShirim that when one does this and protects himself from dangers and damage not only is he protected, but he receives extraordinary credit for the mitzvah too.

Davening

The Ramban in his hasagos to sefer haMitzvos (Assei five) is of the opinion that davening during an eis tzarah, a period of difficulty for the Jewish people, is also considered a Torah mitzvah. This is how the Mishnah Berurah actually rules.

To Know

It seems that there is also an obligation to either investigate the matter oneself and come to a determination as to what constitutes a danger, or that one could rely on another person who has adequately investigated it. Not to know, however, may be a negation of several of these mitzvos

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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