Before every presidential election there is an understandable temptation to ask, “who is best for the Jews?
However, to focus on this concern during the “Days of Awe” and a busy holy day season that ends with Shemini Atzeret is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, a “chet” (a sin of missing the mark) that distracts one from the commandment and opportunity presented by this season of Awe, reflection. tzedaka and teshuva. The privilege of praying for the betterment of oneself, family, the Jewish people, and the world is too important for it to be diverted by partisan politics. If you feel compelled to have politics as part of your holiday agenda, I would suggest the best thing you could do is pray that Hashem gives whoever is elected to public office the wisdom to make the right decisions. That advice also applies for whoever serves as Prime Minister of Israel and as a member of Knesset. For God’s wisdom in infinite and ours is limited.
I understand the sentiments of those who would argue that the ultimate purpose of Judaism is “tikkun olam” and as American Jews we must make decisions that benefit Israel, America, and humanity (or any combination thereof). But we cannot achieve these and other laudable goals unless we first challenge ourselves spiritually and intellectually as individuals within the context of our Jewish peoplehood. Introspection and serious meditation regarding what is really important must precede action. In raising our level of spiritual awareness we at least have a chance of achieving greater, loftier understandings, a higher level or awareness from which we can view the wonder of the Almighty’s creation that will hopefully challenge our preconceived notions, open our hearts to God, our minds to Torah and our hands to all those in need. It may even change your view of politics and how to make the right choices in the political arena, and understandingly frightening prospect for those afraid of growth and change.
Furthermore, politics requires Western-based linear thought; Judaism’s requires a more nuanced, complex, and arduous universal reasoning. For example the “classic” Jewish perspective on abortion would disappoint those on both the political left and right.
While there may be a “Tao of Steve” there is no Torah of Obama, Romney, Netanyahu, Mofaz or Yachimovich. Unfortunately, some rabbis (and congregants) will waste the opportunity to engage the spiritual potential of the High Holy Days by expressing their political stands. Rabbis have a first amendment right to express their political views, so long as they don’t run afoul of IRS rules on political endorsements by nonprofits. But they have a higher calling and responsibility to bring all who hear their teaching closer to God and Torah, and to provide an atmosphere where all congregants feel welcome, regardless of party affiliation, vote, or secular ideology.
Instead of dispensing political advice, they should remind congregants of their civic responsibility to vote and that as clergy they have great respect and admiration for their choices.
I think in this regard of my rav, Rabbi Albert L. Lewis of blessed memory. The onetime head of the Rabbinical Assembly, he devoted his life to Torah, family, the Jewish people, America, and Medinat Yisrael. Every congregant felt loved by him. While his politics were always a mystery wrapped in an enigma, his deep commitment to justice was clear and unequivocal.
During these “Days of Awe” may our collective and individual teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka prove worthy to the Almighty. May our year be filled with Torah, divine service, and acts of lovingkindness.
And come this November, may the best candidate for the Jews, America, and the world win.