"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Sunday, January 20, 2013

On Voting in Elections in the Land of Israel

The remains of the shul in Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif,
may it be speedily rebuilt

On voting in elections in the Land of Israel

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver

Someone wrote to the Rebbe concerning someone who had written to him, encouraging him not to vote in the Israeli elections. This was the Rebbe’s response.
... Anyone who has a passport in his hand automatically has the ability to vote. By registering for the passport he acknowledges, and not under coercion, the [political] leadership there. If after this he does not participate in the elections, and others see and do likewise, and this is liable to affect the determination of a “major” law or even a minor one, when they [the politicians voted in] vote for the legislation incorrectly, then he shares the blame for the calamity of many.  I have not yet found the person with the “broad shoulders” to be able to take responsibility for such a calamity.

Of course, the above words are not directed at those who give no recognition at all to the [political] leadership, or who don’t want to travel to the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, for this reason, etc. However, those who are there, and who take part in whatever manner there,[1] but only when it comes to taking part in the elections, they parade their zeal, should know that the opposite is the case [i.e., true zeal is expressed by voting]. 

Moreover, they do damage to the many, as mentioned above. Especially after they have tangibly seen over the course of the years that have passed how the vote of one political representative could have prevented a stumbling block to the many that constituted violation of a rabbinic prohibition and even of a biblical prohibition. This will suffice for the understanding.

It is self-evident that you have permission to write all that I have written here concerning the elections to the one mentioned above, and you may also add sharpness, because no matter how much you add, it will not do justice to the matter.

[1] You should ask him whether he benefits and pays—and thereby assists them—for water service, electricity, and the like. Does he pay taxes, some of which is also given to support the Ministry of Religions—in the plural—and its goals, and so on, and so forth. That constitutes actual assistance, not merely participation. How many times was he or one of his colleagues imprisoned for not paying taxes? If he is truly on the level about which which he writes, why doesn’t he fulfill the ruling of Rambam in Hilchos Dei’os, 6:1 [requiring one living in an environment of wicked people to move away]?
Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 168.

In my own words: Yes, it is indeed very worthy to oppose Zionism (see herehere, and here). However, that opposition is not applicable in this case. First, if opposing Zionism means not acknowledging the state, the one who refuses to vote in the Israeli elections with the claim: “We don’t want to participate and lend endorsement to the anti-religious Zionist state in any way” has not solved his problem, because he has chosen to be a citizen of the state, and in so doing he is already participating in it regardless: 1. he benefits from government services; 2. he is actively supporting causes that are antithetical to Torah simply by paying taxes.

Now that he is already part of this objectionable system, benefiting from it, and even assisting it, he has a moral and halachic obligation to at least exert a positive influence, and if he doesn’t, he is in fact causing harm to his fellow Jews.

Moreover, the voter is the true anti-Zionist zealot, because he uses his ability to vote and to influence others to vote to thwart the anti-religious legislation that the state would otherwise pass, or at least to lessen the amount and severity of such legislation.

Elsewhere the Rebbe elaborates on the importance of even a handful of votes to the political system as a whole:
The ruling of our holy Torah is known: “One should always view oneself as in an equal balance, and the entire world as in an equal balance” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah, 3:4). With regard to the elections, sometimes a small number of votes can affect, over the course of time, that a decree [harmful legislation] not be passed, or even revoke the existing decrees. Who is the one in our time who can say: “I saved my own soul, and the community in the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, let it be as it may be. If they issue a decree, what does that matter to me?” Especially since he pays taxes to all the government offices, which constitutes assistance, and in a direct manner, to their agendas. He registered for their passport, and when he writes letters he certainly knows that what he spends on the stamps goes to the tax offices, and some of that money goes to various objectionable causes. 

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 253.
Moreover, the Rebbe specified how one should vote (ibid.):
Obviously, one should vote for the most charedi [G–d-fearing] parties.
And again, this time in a letter to Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the Chabad umbrella organization:
I have come to emphasize ... the holy duty and privilege, that everyone of those who tremble and fear the word of Hashem should take part in the elections. He should do so himself, and he should influence others, to vote for the most charedi parties, so that not even one vote goes to waste. I hereby give permission and authorization to publicize my opinion with full vigor and full force: Every single male and female among those who fear Hashem and think about His Name should do all in their power to increase the number of voters for the most charedi parties.

 Igros Kodesh, Vol. 4, pp. 345-346.
The Rebbe also stressed the disastrous spiritual effects on the country of simply failing to vote for the most charedi party:
... Refraining from this [voting for the most charedi party] automatically augments the strength of the parties who oppose Hashem, His Torah, and its Mitzvos.

Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 279.
Not going to the elections automatically leads to several more representatives ... from the heretics, and they declare in the Diaspora, and also in the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, that this is solid proof that this is the majority in the Holy Land [i.e., this supports their claim that the majority in the Land of Israel don’t believe in Torah], and there is no greater desecration of Hashem’s Name than this.
Ibid., p. 357.
What does this all mean to us? Well, if you live in the Diaspora, as I do, it might mean to influence your friends in the Holy Land to vote, if you think that they might not be.

But if you are reading this in the Holy Land, then a very simple, practical question arises: What is the exact  meaning of the phrase, “the most charedi parties”?

What I’m about to say may seem obvious to many, but I believe that it needs to be spelled out. (See some Hebrew letters from distinguished Chabad rabbis here making the same point.) Being charedi is not about dressing very differently from the non-Jews, speaking in Yiddish, and so on. As proper and worthy as those (and many other praiseworthy pious) practices are, they are superficial. Being charedi is about being genuinely afraid to go against the word of Hashem in His holy Torah, and devoted to following it without compromise, starting with refusing to compromise one iota on basic halachah.

With regard to Israeli politics, unfortunately the so-called religious and charedi parties have betrayed us in this regard. In recent decades, this holds true first and foremost with regard to the issue of ceding land. As the Rebbe declared and even screamed in pain from the depth of his heart countless times, Jewish law forbids the surrender of land or even autonomy to non-Jews, or even discussing and admitting the possibility of such a course of action. This is categorically forbidden because:
  1. this land is vital for security, and thus surrendering it endangers the safety of all the Jews living in the Holy Land, may G–d save us; 
  2. Hashem gave the Jewish people the entire land as an eternal gift, and so it is forbidden to give any of it away to non-Jews; 
  3. doing so causes tremendous damage and loss to Jewish property and livelihood;
  4. doing so emboldens the desire of the enemy to demand more and terrorize us more, seeing that we are weak and concluding that their threats and attacks are effective
  5. when Jews publicly violate the ruling of Torah, spurn the Land Hashem gave us, etc., it desecrates Hashem’s Name.
Yet parties that call themselves religious and even charedi, whose names are infamous, chose time and again to remain in the government coalition and thereby helped unforgivably heinous, wicked deeds to be done (remaining in the coalition in such a case is forbidden, as the Rebbe states in Igros Kodesh, Vol. 11, p. 168), and some even actively voted for such laws, may G–d save us, which of course makes it forbidden to vote for them, “religious” or otherwise (Karasi Ve’ein Oneh, Vol. 2, p. 422). To be specific, the Camp David Accords, the Oslo Accords, and the “Disengagement” were all only able to be passed because of the “religious” parties that chose to enable them by staying in the coalition, and in some cases, even vote for them.

Although there are obviously many other considerations in promoting Torah observance than this one, Torah rules clearly that “pikuach nefesh [danger to life] overrides the entire Torah” (Yoma 82a). As the Rebbe said many times, if one has a choice between a government grant to support Yeshivos, build shuls and mikva’os, and a matter related to securing the Land of Israel, one should forgo the government grant and not compromise on Jewish safety (see Karasi Ve’ein Oneh, pp. 378, 405, 463, etc.). On another occasion (ibid. p. 473), the Rebbe spoke very harshly, declaring that “one cannot base education for Torah and fear of Heaven on funds stained with Jewish blood. Not only is it forbidden to build Yeshivos with such funds, or to teach students fear of Heaven with such funds, it is even forbidden to build a bathroom with such funds (see Avodah Zarah 17a).”

Rather, the meaning of charedi in our time is simple: Vote for parties whose platform includes a clear, principled opposition to any involvement whatsoever in such treacherous schemes, and whose candidates have demonstrated a consistent example of doing so in their public career. 

Since everything we see and hear should teach us a lesson in our service of Hashem, below are some suggested lessons:

1. If you happen to be in an imperfect situation and part of a faulty system, as long as you choose to remain in it, don’t hesitate to have the maximum positive influence on those around you as you can, and influence others in your situation to do likewise. Yes, the system is deeply flawed, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a force for significant good as long as you’re in it (of course, with the proviso that one is not actually violating Jewish law, which is never permissible). 

2. As important as it is to dress as a chossid should (see here and here), the main thing is to be G–d-fearing, and the dress is encouraged because it is another method of reaching that goal. But if one is not G–d-fearing, the pious dress and other trappings do not help. (Along similar lines, see here, and Yeshayah ch. 1.)

3. Even if one’s intentions are supposedly very worthy, any choice of action that comes at the expense of basic Jewish safety is indefensible and contemptible.

(For a great Hebrew article on this topic, see here.)


  1. Yasher koach on posting this amazing article. I have always wanted to know the Rebbe's response on voting in Israel.
    I don't live in EY, but since the Chareidi parties are guilty of allowing the gov't to cede land for 'peace' which party should Chareidi Jews vote for? Bayit Yehudi? Likud? Am shalem? Bayit Yehudi is for taking away control of marriage, conversion and kashrus from rabbinic authorities. I think Am Shalem is also for taking away control of marriage from rabbinic authorities. Again, who should Israelis vote for? What do you think the Rebbe would have advised?

    Also, did the Rebbe refer to the leftist parties as heretics when he made the statement: "... from the heretics, and they declare in the Diaspora, and also in the Holy Land, may it be rebuilt, that this is solid proof that this is the majority in the Holy Land..."?

  2. As of now, Otzmah LeYisrael is the only party whose candidates have all agreed to sign a declaration to Rabbonim not to take part in any land surrenders, relinquishment of autonomy, or the like.

    Heretics can be right-wing, too.


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