Voting, Sacred Duty, and, Prayer

Chances are pretty good that most of you reading this have already cast your votes for next week’s election. For those who haven’t, it’s probably fair to say that you have all the information you need to decide how you are voting. And, for those very few who are still undecided, if it’s Ranked Choice Voting (Question 2 in Massachusetts) that you are undecided about, give me a call this weekend if you are interested in hearing a case for #YesOn2.

With the debate over “who to vote for” largely behind us, I’ve been thinking about how we relate to our vote as a sacred civic duty, and contemplating the prayers we say for our governments.

I was recently reminded at a Hartman@Home Symposium of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a singular Orthodox authority and a giant of Torah scholarship; an immigrant who came to New York seeking refuge from the antisemitic oppression of the Soviet Union. Rabbi Feinstein was asked by the New York JCRC in 1984 about the obligation to vote. I still recall the impression that his letter made on me when it was read at my high school. He wrote:

On reaching the shores of the United States, Jews found a safe haven. The rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights have allowed us the freedom to practice our religion without interference and to live in this republic in safety.

A fundamental principle of Judaism is hakaras hatov – recognizing benefits afforded us and giving expression to our appreciation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon each Jewish citizen to participate in the democratic system which guards the freedoms we enjoy. The most fundamental responsibility incumbent on each individual is to register and to vote.

Therefore, I urge all members of the Jewish community to fulfill their obligations by registering as soon as possible, and by voting. By this, we can express our appreciation and contribute to the continued security of our community.

I love this articulation of our sacred duty, the sense of obligation to community and to society, the responsibility to protect the freedoms and benefits that our society provides us, and to regard voting as an act of guardianship and appreciation.

In this spirit of the sacred mindfulness we bring to our voting, I appreciated the recent JewishBoston compilation of Prayers for Voting. Different ones will resonate with different folks, so I encourage you to check it out, but allow me to excerpt from a prayer composed by David Seidenberg for My Jewish Learning:

With my vote today I am prepared and intending to seek peace for this country, as it is written: “Seek out the peace of the city where I cause you to roam and pray for her sake to God, for in her peace you all will have peace.”

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

Finally, a word about prayers for the government. Whole volumes have been written on this subject, and suffice it to say that Jews have been saying such prayers for some 2,500 years. The prophet Jeremiah began this practice after the loss of  our self-government, to implore God to guide our foreign rulers. Over the last 600 years or so, these prayers evolved and developed in different countries, for the monarch, for the state and in keeping with the spirit of the times and places. Most synagogues in our American diaspora continue to say some form of such a prayer each Sabbath till this day.

And so, in what will be my last blog post before we begin counting the votes this year, let me conclude by offering an excerpt from the “Prayer for the United States of America” that we say in my congregation every week. It was composed in the 1990’s by Dr. Ester Fuchs of Columbia University for the Modern Orthodox think tank, Edah:

God, who commanded all humanity to create just governments, may you preserve and protect our democracy. Bless the elected and appointed officials of the governments of the United States to carry out their duties consistent with the Constitution…

Place in their hearts devotion to justice, truth and equality for all who live in our great nation.

Let their actions reflect compassion for the poor, the defenseless, and the needy among us. Inspire them with the courage to use the might of the United States for good throughout the world…

May this be your will, and let us say, Amen.

These are the prayers that I will be saying this week. I invite you to share yours with me.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy