I am not endorsing a candidate for the November 6 election. I do have a strong opinion but that opinion is personal.
The reason for this message is because I sense a great deal of emotion – actually, anger – in the Jewish community as it faces a critical choice for America. The anger is beneath the surface but every once in a while it reveals itself in vituperative and mean-spirited language that is expressed between otherwise well-meaning people.
A short time ago, a Middle School class at the Ramaz School was discussing how they would vote in the forthcoming election were they of age. One of the children indicated that she and her parents would vote for President Obama. Her announcement was greeted by a classmate who said: “No Jew should vote for Obama.” A few minutes later, after the session was over, this same student was approached by another classmate who said: “Anyone who votes for Obama is not a good Jew.”
There are several problems with these exchanges. First of all, the charge is not valid. One can be a very good Jew and vote in favor of the President in his bid for re-election. One might disagree about whether this choice is good for the Jewish people or not, but that disagreement is between people who are very concerned about the well-being of the Jewish people and the safety, not to mention survival, of the State of Israel. Reasonable people can disagree strongly on who is the better candidate as far as the Jewish people – or for that matter, the American people – are concerned.
These are honest disagreements that deserve to be treated with respect even when two parties have very different views. Each party feels that its choice is for the good of America and for the benefit of Israel. They simply disagree on which choice is better.
A second problem is the reverse of the first. I have personally heard charges that voting for Romney is contrary to Jewish values. It means support of the rich and indifference to the poor. It is a sign of moral callousness that ill befits a follower of the prophetic message that God wants us "to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God." The unstated reason that a Jew would not vote for Obama, this view maintains, is that the voter is a racist – a ridiculous charge. Both candidates express concern for the poor and the disadvantaged; they simply have different views about how to ensure that this concern should be realized in practice by creating a more robust economy.
A final problem is the human one. How does a child feel when confronted by a classmate and, in effect, told that she is not a good Jew. This is very destructive and unacceptably demeaning for anybody, let alone a Middle School child. What concerns me is that this is not just an unkind comment by a classmate; the classmate is picking this up from the anger in the adult community, an anger that is unfortunately expressed by both sides in this election.
I would like to quote Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohen Aviner, a great talmid chacham in Israel, who is somewhat to the right of me both politically and religiously. However, his ahavat Yisrael is absolutely uncompromising. He spoke on Israel radio in October of 1995 about the hateful words being spoken about the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, a man with whose views and policies Rav Aviner disagreed very strongly. The title of his talk on the radio was “Chilukai de’ot – kein; chilukai levavot – lo” – differences of opinion are fine; divisiveness between people is not. By all means, people should express to each other their disagreements, their concerns and their views on politics. There should not be, however, hatred between us as Jews or as people. When there is such anger and hatred, bad things happen. Sometimes, very bad things happen. One week after Rav Aviner’s radio talk, Rabin was assassinated.
Thank God, we are not dealing with such destructive behavior. It is important, however, to remember that as critical as the issues are in the forthcoming election, we should never let our differences of opinion divide us one from the other by the way in which we speak and behave. “Chilukai de’ot – kein; chilukai levavot – lo”.
Let each of us make sure to vote his or her conscience and may we all feel passionately about the privilege that we have to vote in a democratic country and about the views we hold on the candidates running for election, but let us remain united as people who love each other and respect each other regardless of our differences.
This message is important not only for our decisions on November 6, but for our relationships in the future.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.