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The Priorities of the Jewish Voter

September 9, 2012 12:38 pm 11 comments

Shofar at demonstration for Israel in Prague, 2009. Photo: Martin Kozák.

Next week, Jews in this country and around the world will celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, just 50 days prior to the U.S. Presidential elections. Traditionally, it is a time of introspection about decisions made in the past and of considered resolutions for the future. For many Jews, especially the undecided, it may also be a time to answer the question of which candidate would best serve the community, and reflect Jewish values, earning the congregational vote.

Typically, discussion over a candidate’s reflection of Jewish values, and thereby worthiness of Jewish support has revolved around the mishnaic tikkun olam (repairing the world) concept.  Largely co-opted by the Democratic Party, and interpreted in practice to relate to social justice inspired initiatives, the term is referenced on the Obama campaign’s website and is a prominent theme in the literature of the National Jewish Democratic Council. On Dec 16th 2011, The President himself referenced the rabbinic dictum in a speech before members of the Union of Reform Judaism. “American Jews have helped make our union more perfect……They pursued tikkun olam, the hard work of repairing the world,” he said.

Recently, a strong case was made by former George W. Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner, in an article for the Jewish Daily Forward, that in fact Mitt Romney is the real tikkun olam candidate. He writes, “(Mitt Romney) has shown through his own example of voluminous giving of charity….that prosperity and success breed far more tikkun olam than can be achieved through the taxing power of the state.” The insinuation earned him a rebuke from liberal Jewish columnist Bradley Burston, who was of course eager to retain the treasured tikkun olam crown for the liberal camp.

However, whilst perhaps the most highly publicized Jewish tenet, the truth is that students of Jewish law and tradition will be well aware that there is a hierarchy in the precedence of principles, and there is one above all, that in all cases, save three, overrides the others, including tikkun olam.

The concept of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) is inferred from the biblical verse in Leviticus 18:5 which states, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them.”   The preservation of life is granted such dominance in Jewish law, that even if there is minimal reason to believe that one’s life may be endangered, such Jewish fundamentals as eating kosher or observing the Sabbath are readily discarded.

Living as we are today in perilous times, surely a candidate’s tikkun olam credentials shouldn’t serve as the primary Judaic principle guiding the Jewish vote. In the days since Obama has led this country, Jews have witnessed unspeakable horrors in places like Toulose, Burgas and Itamar among others. Syrians are being slaughtered daily, and the threat of a nuclear armed Iran carries with it the Ayatollah’s promise of Israel’s attempted annihilation. Shouldn’t pikuach nefesh be the first consideration?

It is true that there are some limitations to the application of the law, which usually must be applied to a specific individual as opposed to an abstract beneficiary, but some of the greatest rabbinic authorities of modern times have applied the concept in a grander, geo-political context.

The Rabbinical Congress for Peace which represents more than 350 prominent Israeli rabbis calls itself the pikuach nefesh committee, and issues recommendations to the Israeli government on the basis of rulings resulting from the application of the law.

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the late leader of the highly successful Chabad movement which was described by Newsweek as “sprawling and influential”, routinely applied the principle to Israeli political decisions. “I am completely and unequivocally opposed to the surrender of any of the liberated areas currently under negotiation, such as Judea and Samaria,” he wrote in a letter to former United Kingdom Chief Rabbi, Immanuel Jakobovits in the 1980’s. He continued, “I have repeatedly emphasized that this ruling has nothing to do with the sanctity of Israel……but solely with the rule of pikuach nefesh.”

As Jews stand wrapped in prayer shawls absorbing the piercing sounds of the shofar blasts, it may be time to consider, “who is the pikuach nefesh candidate?”

The author is the editor of The Algemeiner and director of the GJCF and can be e-mailed at


  • Most American Jews live in cosmopolitan areas of the Northeast..South Florida,and the suburban area of a few dozen cities.. My wife and I live in still almost-rural Georgia.We have seen a lot..but never this much blatant incursion of religion into politics..specific religious ideologies. I have followed politics for over sixty years a latecomer…my wife has been active and voting since the 1930s..Wars,depressions,civil rights..But nothing has ever been this threatening.

  • One has only to remember the Joe Straus affair.Straus,a Republican Jew,was elected Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, however there was virulent opposition from the Evangelical wing of the Republican Party..far more than the final vote tally. Every voice against Straus because he is a Jew..was also an outspoken”champion” of Israel
    Bear in mind that the opposition to Joe Straus was by “Educated” legislators.
    There are many areas of America where Jews are still an oddity
    Alabama 8850.Alaska 6150,Arkasas 1725,Iowa 6240,Mississippi 1575,Montana 1350,Nebraska 6100,North Dakota 400,Oklahoma 4200,South Dakota 395,Utah 5650,Wyoming 950….Twelve states 24 US Senators ..about a quarter of the total
    ..and a combined Jewish population of less than 45,000 and almost all of them are concentrated in a very few population centers in each of these states.. It is in this vast area nearly devoid of Jews that the Evangelical political base has its strength..To say nothing of the deep rural South that your Jewish parents avoided driving through because of anti-Semitism.
    The long,generations long,struggle to live in a secular state is in Jeopardy..The Republican Party has for over a year argued as to which of their candidates is most Christian and thus better to serve as President.Where does that leave Jews in this land of equality.
    The priority is to not be a ONE issue of Israel must go hand in hand with the security and future well-being of American Jewry.

  • The semi-Semite

    I am born of a Jewish mother, but I am a practicing, devout Catholic. Nonetheless, I have a great affinity for the Jewish people, because I look and think very much like a Jew. It saddens me that so many Jews support Obama, a man who parked his tuchess 20 years in a church led by such a vile and vicious anti-Semite.

  • The problem with Jews voting is the same as Blacks and any other demographic… many are uninformed and resort to stereotypical closed-mindedness about conservatives and a lack of interest in learning anything other than their world view.

    It’s a shame and while Jews are supposed to be ‘smarter’, the reason for a lack of intellectual curiosity isn’t fully clear to me and causes me great frustration about my own people, with whom I cannot bear to have political conversations.

  • Elizabeth A.Even

    Talk in US political campaigns and/or party platforms regarding Jerusalem being the capitol of Israel …is rhetoric, nothing more. Candidates of both parties state during campaigns that the US embassy will be re-located from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but nothing changes once in office. Bush even said that this would take place on his first day in office but somehow couldn’t find the time in 8 years.
    It was a mistake to alter, or try to alter, the 2008 language in the Democratic platform regarding Jerusalem. I’m not going to vote for Romney over this. But then, when I become an Israeli citizen, I won’t vote for a Bibi government either.

    • What about the fact that Obama was on the executive board for the million man march, with louis Farrakan, the anti-semitic, anti white, leader of the Black Muslims in Chicago.
      What about Obama being a member of Rev. Wrights church for 20 years and attending his church just about every Sunday.Rev. Wright performed his marriage ceremony and Baptized both his children. Do you think he would have done all that if he didn’t believe the same as Rev. Wright?
      For just those two associations I can’t understand any Jew voting for the president.

  • The problem is most american jews (non-orthodox) dont know what jewish values are, or whats worse have completely perverted ideas of jewish values and the subjects in the article, and up until recently most american orthodoxy were so out of touch with the political world they had no idea they were being conned by the democrats.

    The good news dems and otrauma have gone so overboard that religious jews have woken up, as we made clear voting in Turner in NYC.

    However liberal jews are generally so far off the derech that they continue to worship at the idol of government and secular humanism.


    RECENT POLL: Obama has lost almost half of his Jewish support in New York according to a June 2012 poll.

    Recent Anti Jewish vote in Charlotte at the DNC convention is certain to lower Obama’s support among Jewish community even more.

    A Video EVERY Jewish voter should watch:

  • American Jewish voters need to understand that Mitt Romney is the candidate of principle and the real friend of Israel who has demonstrated his charity to the world by the example of his personal life. The current POTUS will say anything, promise anything, do anything for the expediency of the moment – the rhetoric of his words are lofty, but cannot be trusted. I cannot imagine why any American Jewish voter should trust P. Obama when they have the clear choice of Mitt romney – vote the man, not the party.

  • I hope that the Romney campaign will emphasize what the democrats tried to do at their convention. They wanted and I am sure Obama went along with this to say
    that Jeruseleum is not the capital of Israel. They took it out because they knew it would cost them votes. There
    has not been much publicity for what they left in which
    says that Hamas is not a terrorist group. They also said that the Palestinians should be allowed to return to Israel. This is so anti Israel that every Jewish person should be made aware of it. Get your Jewish surrogates to get this information out. Just because we have always voted Democrat as a group does not mean that we cannot change. I know that Mitt Romney will stand with Israel.

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