season is upon us in the United States. What political guidance does Jewish
Democrats take note: Judaism recognizes the importance of private property
and warns, in I Samuel 8, against the dangers of “big government” and the
tendency of those in authority to expropriate persons and property for their own
Republicans take note: Torah recognizes the need for periodic redistributions
of wealth to minimize income disparities between rich and poor. In Leviticus 25,
it calls for taking radical steps—cancelling debts every 7 years and returning
land to its original owners every 50 years—to limit those disparities.
Both sides need to be careful when drawing inferences from Torah about the
political issues of the day. In truth, Judaism does not endorse any specific
political organization, party, or program.
This does not mean that politics is to be avoided; it means that partisan
politics is to be avoided. If you say that Judaism makes you a Democratic or
a Republican, you are mistaken; but if you say that Judaism has something to
contribute to a political matter, you are likely right. Judaism, after all, is
about the application of ethical teachings to the moral dilemmas of our world.
Judaism responds to the misuse of power, oppression of the weak, and everyday
injustices in society.
In short, Jewish tradition offers us an ethical framework to guide our
political thinking. And the values it teaches are clear: dignity of the
individual, mentschlikeit (acting with integrity), and, above all,
rachmanut (compassion). God is addressed as El Male Rachamim (God
who is full of compassion). Compassion is what enables us to go beyond ourselves
to the beating pulse of the rest of the world, to feel the pain that is not our
Every time we hear a politician speak, whether about illegal immigration, or
economic hardship, or human rights, let us ask ourselves: Are his/ her words
consistent with the values of our Jewish tradition? The application of these
values to actual problems is never simple, but nonetheless the effort must be
made. After all, the prophets, and the rabbis as well, were “non-partisan” but
never uninvolved. For them, a synagogue or house of study could never be a place
of escape or an excuse to avert one’s eyes from the problems of the real world.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie
President, Union for Reform Judaism
Your thoughts are welcomed. Add your comments: www.rj.org/Yoffie and/or send a