The Election from a Jewish Perspective

       Many of us, myself included love politics. As a rabbi I have always been blessed to serve a “mixed” congregation, full of Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents. It is a blessing to be in community with those we disagree with, as we both challenge and bolster one another’s perspectives.

          Often politics is eschewed by rabbis because by its very nature it polarizes us. We often lose sight of the humanity of others, believing that “everyone’s entitled to MY opinion” or failing to believe that someone with diametrically opposed views is just as caring and compassionate a person as we are. Personally, I have experienced this on multiple fronts: in rabbinical school, where I was more conservative than the majority of my peers and in a previous synagogue where some felt I was a “bleeding heart liberal.” I take it in good stride, believing that if I displeasing people on multiple sides, I’m doing my job 😊.

Some are worried about the implications of this election regardless of the outcome. There is fear of a civil war or of the results not being accepted no matter what they are, undermining our country’s democratic foundation. As I hear these comments, I think what happened to “Mahloket L’Shem Shamayim,” arguing for the sake of heaven? What happened to the days when people vehemently disagreed and (as lawyers on opposing sides still sometimes do) shook hands and broke bread together? Has one’s political party really become his/her tribe or religion, a club for those who agree to be “in” and for those of opposing views being “out”? As one who strives to be an independent thinker and not succumb to peer pressure, I ask these questions frequently.

As we prepare to vote (or reflect on our previously casted vote) I want to share a poem and a prayer. May they give us personal insight and a feeling of being “at peace” regardless of the outcome of this coming election. The poem is by Israeli poet-laureate Yehuda Amichai and is titled The Place Where We Are Right:

The Place Where We Are Right
by Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.

  The prayer is A Prayer for Voting

by Rabbi David Seidenberg:

Behold, I am intending
    through my vote | through my prayer
    to seek peace for this country,
    as it is written (Jer. 29:7):

“Seek the peace of the city
    where I cause you to roam
    and pray for her to YHVH (Hashem/Adonai/God),
    for in her peace you all will have peace.”

May it be Your will, YHVH, that votes
    be counted faithfully
    and may You count my vote
    as if I had fulfilled this verse
    with all my power.

May You give a listening heart
    to whomever we elect
    and may it be good in Your eyes
    to raise for us a good government
    to bring healing, justice and peace
    to all living in this land
    and to all the world, and upon Jerusalem,
    a government that will honor the image of God
    in all humanity and in Creation,
    for rulership is Yours.

Just as I have participated in the election
    so may I merit to do good works
    and to repair the world through all my efforts,
    and through the act of… [fill in your pledge]
    which I pledge to do today
    on behalf of all living creatures,
    in remembrance of the covenant of Noah’s waters,
    to protect and to not destroy
    the earth and her plenitude.

Give to all the peoples of this country
    the strength and will to pursue righteousness
    and to seek peace as unified force
    to uproot racism and violence
    and to make healing, good life and peace flourish
    here and throughout the world
    and fulfill for us the verse (Ps. 90:17):

“May the pleasure of Adonai our God
    be upon us, and establish
    the work of our hands for us,
    and make the work of our hands endure.”

I pray that regardless of whether your candidate(s) win that each of us acknowledge the common humanity of the other and build bridges so that we can together constructively make a difference in our community and in our country.


I’ve put off writing this article because of its political nature but I can do so no more.

What is negligence? According to Webster’s it is “failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in life’s circumstances.”

When President Trump’s Chief if Staff Mark Meadows bluntly said “We’re not going to control the pandemic” it solidified the negligence of the Trump administration. Over 80,000 Americans and 1,000 deaths per day over the weekend from Covid and over 225,000 deaths since the pandemic began. We know Judaism’s primary value is pikuah nefesh, safeguarding life. To know measures which work to curb covid, such as masking and social distancing, and deliberately not advocate, worse make fun of, people who wear them is negligence of the first degree. We know there are measures that can slow the spread yet the presidents chief of staff wants no part in them.

Thank God I live in Miami where I can spend a sufficient amount of time outdoors in the winter. I feel for those in Denver where it’s currently 7 degrees or Missoula where it’s 1 degree. This cold winter is not going to stop people who need to from going to work in multi story buildings or from essential business travel. Having an administration who admits they will do nothing to combat Covid, essentially advocating for the herd mentality, and which advocates for “learning to live with it,” is committing negligence of the first degree.

The Torah states “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” An administration which purposefully withheld information in January and February so as not to “cause a panic” has placed a massive stumbling block which led many people I know to become infected with covid. The Torah also states “build a parapet for your roof” so that those in danger of harm will be protected. Where’s the parapet protecting the “essential” meatpackers or our essential teachers risking their lives day after day going into work?

While in the end I became a rabbi and not a lawyer, this administration is clearly guilty of negligence. I am tired of being a guinea pig in it’s futile experiment to “do nothing” and see how many get Covid.

Stop Burning Masks: Choose Life Over Death

In seeing footage of members of the Orthodox Jewish communality in Brooklyn publicly burning masks has filled me with outrage and disgust. It reminds me of when Hitler burned Jewish books in Nazi Germany. I recognize that this came in reaction to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s increasing restrictions on what is largely Orthodox Jewish communities where COVID is spreading like wildfire. Yet I cannot get over how something that is life-affirming can be treated with so much anger. Wearing a mask is so important it even has a blessing, creating by my colleague Rabbi Michael Knopf בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל שְּׁמִירַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ which he translates “You are bountiful, Infinite our God, majesty of space and time, who has sanctified us with divine commandments and has commanded us about protecting life.” How can something that protects life, that is invaluable to our stopping COVID-19, be treated with so much derision? How can masks be burnt in the streets of Brooklyn, just as the Nazis took our holy works and publicly burnt them?

There is a larger lesson here as I see it. Leadership beings at the top. When our President steps out of a helicopter after being released from the hospital and takes off his mask, it sends a message to others. As Orthodox anti-mask activist Heshy Tischler told The Forward, “When I’m on the street, I don’t have to wear a mask, just like the president.” Our leaders either affirm the importance of life through the wearing of masks in this pre-vaccine era or they use the mask as a political weapon to be discarded on a whim.

Similarly, seeing ads saying “My Body, My Choice” as a way for people not to wear masks fill me with rage, especially as many of these same people don’t respect a women’s right to her own body. I am grateful that the President received a speedy recovery with a treatment that contained fetal tissue. In Judaism, the life of a person supersedes the life of a fetus. At the same time, I would hope that he and his followers would consider the maxim of pikuah nefesh, the safeguarding of a human life at all costs, and how wearing a mask helps us do this. Wearing a mask is not a wussy thing for the “macho man” to avoid; rather it sends a message that I value your life equally to my own and will do whatever I can to safeguard it. It sends the message that each of us is responsible for our actions towards each other.

Let us appreciate and be grateful for all our measures of safeguarding life, masks being a crucial one. May we also be appreciative of the rapid progress in vaccine development and pray that the day comes soon when we see at least one vaccine. If we are angry, stressed or frustrated with how our lives have been upended since mid-March, let us try to find a constructive way to handle that anger, rather than burning masks. In the end, creativity, resilience and constructive activity will win out over those who act destructively.