On tap: Jewish ethics and the presidential election

On tap: Jewish ethics and the presidential election

Young adults gather to seek guidance in casting ballots

Rabbi David Vaisberg said deciding which candidate to vote for can have a “definite foundation in Jewish values.”
Rabbi David Vaisberg said deciding which candidate to vote for can have a “definite foundation in Jewish values.”

With the presidential election just weeks away, a group of young adults gathered in Metuchen to take part in a discussion of Jewish law and ethics whose aim was to help them reach a decision on how to cast their ballots on Nov. 8.

The Sept. 29 program at Hailey’s Harp and Pub was conducted by Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple Emanu-El, a Reform congregation in Edison, as part of the monthly Torah on Tap program, which engages 20-somethings in Jewish learning in an informal setting.

The new program has clergy of various denominations leading a discussion on a variety of topics at locations throughout Middlesex and Monmouth counties the fourth Thursday of each month. The series is sponsored by the Rabbinical Association in the Heart of NJ and receives funding from the Jewish Federation in the Heart of NJ.

Vaisberg told the Sept. 29 gathering that deciding how to cast their ballots can have a “definite foundation in Jewish values.”

While for Jews such concerns as the Iran nuclear deal and ensuring Israel’s security can be more significant than for other voters, Vaisberg said, there can be a divergence of opinions among Jews.

He pointed to such sources as a policy statement released earlier that day by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America delineating characteristics expected of public officials. Among other points, it states that candidates should eschew hate speech and refrain “from engaging in language and ad hominem attacks that diminish the dignity of the office they hold or seek to hold.”

Vaisberg also cited references from the Torah, Talmud, and Shulhan Aruch, or Code of Jewish Law, dealing with such matters as assistance to the poor, granting forgiveness, and welcoming the stranger, which, he said, in modern terms could be interpreted as a willingness to accept refugees and immigrants in this county.

For Ilana Silverman, 22, of Highland Park, those words seemed to resonate. “As a Jew, I feel it’s important to do tzedaka,” she said. “As a Jew, I believe a democratic government has the responsibility to take care of people.”

She said she had been a Bernie Sanders supporter, but is now firmly behind the Democratic party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton.

“I am a diehard Democrat,” acknowledged Silverman, an East Brunswick elementary school teacher. “I embrace [Clinton’s] values and the Democratic party platform. She has spent her life as a public servant and is by far the most qualified and the one most dedicated to the welfare of the American people.”

In fact, everyone asked by NJJN voiced support for Clinton over her opponent Donald Trump.

Jenn Resnick, 21, of South Brunswick said she finds Trump’s rhetoric expressing his attitudes toward women and minorities “unacceptable for a president,” as well as unpatriotic.

“It’s his whole temperament and the lack of inclusion,” said Resnick, a recent college graduate who is looking for a job. She said that during this election season she attended events to see former President Bill Clinton, vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, First Lady Michelle Obama, and President Barack Obama.

Andrew Shapiro of Woodbridge, 24, the operations manager of the Woodbridge Community Center, will also cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton, although less enthusiastically.

“I feel that Hillary is the lesser of two evils,” he acknowledged, but said a Trump presidency scares him.

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