I’ll vote for a party of Torah values that fosters unity, shared purpose, honest dialogue, and a common destiny among different types and stripes of Jews
Rabbi Kenneth Brander 23/02/2021
As I prepared for my aliya to Israel in 2018, among the many things I looked forward to was the opportunity I would have to take part in Israeli elections, exercising my right as a full-fledged citizen and contributing my voice to the shaping of our shared destiny together in the Jewish state.
I could not have imagined then that in a span of just two and a half years I would vote six times – four times for the Knesset, and twice for the mayor of Jerusalem.
Perhaps more significantly, I also could not have envisioned how much my own personal approach toward voting would evolve, as we now face yet another round of parliamentary elections, hoping for the changes so necessary for improving the future of our country and, by extension, world Jewry.
But from the perspective of a veteran religious Zionist, albeit a new immigrant, it seems Religious Zionist parties have created a parochial approach, narrow-mindedly focused on a small subset of issues. A truly redemptive Religious Zionist view, the I studied, admire and embrace, does not confine itself only to local concerns.
Torah personalities such as Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and elaborated upon by Rabbi Yehuda Amital and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (all of blessed memory) as well as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Yaakov Medan (may they have a long life) were visionaries who demanded that we think broadly about the needs and aspirations of the entire nation, and about our capacity to engage world Jewry and redeem society.
I ask myself: will the politicians that I vote for in this round invest in building a better, more just society founded on the broad ideals of the Torah and committed to the well-being and unity of the entire Israeli populace?
I will be excited to vote for a party that demonstrates a clear commitment to serving as a bridge between the various sub-populations of this country without threatening the values each holds dear. We need to return to our Religious Zionist roots and engage in fostering unity, shared purpose, honest dialogue, and a common destiny among different types and stripes of Jews. A truly Religious Zionist party will turn over every halakhic and political stone to seek ways of recognizing and celebrating the Jewish identity and heritage of all Jews, regardless of their level of observance or political affiliation; to seek solutions for citizens who came to Israel under the Law of Return and yet are not considered halakhically Jewish; to assist those struggling to navigate the current state conversion protocols.
If Religious Zionism seeks to share the message that Torah values can be a balanced way of life in the public sphere, it needs to dust off parts of the Torah that have been stagnant for 2,000 years and proclaim its relevance for the entire Jewish nation. We should be aiming to create a country that promotes the Torah’s vision of a just society, including finding solutions to the agunah crisis, asserting that the requisite protections are in place for the orphan, the widow, the impoverished, the migrant, the worker, and minority populations. Religious Zionists should be on the front lines of protests against domestic violence, racial discrimination and human trafficking – not because it is politically correct, but because it is halakhically mandated.
A party that portends to protect the interest of all Jews should also safeguard the wellbeing of LGBTQ Jews, who continue to live in a spiritually suffocating environment endorsed by numerous religious politicians. Such figures bear the guilt of Ona’at Devarim (‘verbal abuse’) for encouraging the loneliness, shame, and self-harm these members of our community inevitably face. While perhaps certain politicians believe that such a stance might earn them favor at the ballot box, this is clearly at odds with the view of the great visionaries of Religious Zionism (as well as other significant halakhic authorities), who believed that even Jewish observance with a hint of imperfection is holy and has its rightful place in our community.
Politics is the art of the possible, not the ideal. No party will ever complete my wish list. Yet we must ask ourselves which values we see as paramount, and what evils are we willing to tolerate in exchange for some greater good.
I see it as an enormous source of pride to be able to cast my vote in a democratic Jewish state. But it is also a great responsibility.
To go to the ballot box with nothing but a focus on our own community’s local concerns in mind would be to abandon the vision of Religious Zionism. To be a party that looks out only for its own community rather than the whole nation may be appropriate in other parts of the world, where local concerns and issues are paramount. But here, in the modern Jewish State of Israel, such an approach is parochial in nature and flies in the face of authentic Religious Zionist ideology – regardless of whether it is wrapped in an Israeli flag. If we are to inspire our children, we must offer them a vision that is worthy of their engagement and sacrifice – one that is broad-minded, inspiring, and redemptive.
For all these reasons, on March 23rd, I will enter the polling location with pride and joy as a Religious Zionist, voting for the people/party most committed to bringing light and unity to our nation, and to building a society that tolerates and celebrates the full tapestry of Torah in a manner that is just and welcoming for all members of the remarkable mosaic that is our modern Jewish world. I believe it is upon us to prioritize these ideals as values, and I pray that a political party will be willing to do the same, as so many of us hope for.