What would Maimonides say about voting?
Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, defined eight levels of giving charity. For example, we can give reluctantly and with regret, or we can give a large loan to help someone escape poverty entirely. Maimonides ladder of charity sets forth an important principle – there are levels of doing good, and each rung we climb brings us closer to heaven. Inspired by Maimonides ladder of charity, Mussar can guide us to create a ladder of voting.
What might a Mussar ladder of voting look like? Each rung will bring more mindfulness, and a greater positive impact. And, each rung would be more about others, and less about ourselves.
The Mussar Ladder Of Voting.
- Vote in the most important races. Given the length of the ballot, you may not have time to research every race. Rather than not voting, cast your ballot for what you deem to be the most important races. For example, you vote for the President and Senator, but don’t vote for the ballot measures or local officials.
- Vote in every race based on third party recommendations. Here, you are using party affiliation, and/or a voter guide to vote for each and every issue on the ballot. You are making your voice heard more widely, and thus taking on more responsibility for the outcome of the election. This approach also includes people who vote no on every ballot measure unless they have a very good reason to vote yes.
- Vote every line of the ballot based on personal research. Here, you are taking your responsibility to create a just society very seriously. You research each candidate, and make an informed decision for each one.
- Vote according to the totality of your values. Not only are you making an informed decision, you are making a moral one. Rabbi Ira Stone reminds us that Mussar is a practice to learn to bear the burden of the other. Consider the impact of the laws passed by your candidates on “the other”. Elections have consequences. If you are thinking only about yourself, you are missing the fundamental imperative of living a moral life.
Bringing morality to voting can be tricky. For example, some Fundamentalist Christians only vote for candidates who oppose abortion. And some Orthodox Rabbis have told people to vote against any candidate who supports gay marriage. While each of these positions are heartfelt and grounded in values, they run into the danger of idolatry. There is no one single Jewish value that encompasses them all, except for Rabbi Hillel’s teaching which says “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.”
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto wrote, “Just as Enthusiasm can result from an inner burning so can it create one. That is, one who perceives a quickening of his outer movements … conditions himself to experience a flaming inner movement.” May your zeal for a just world inspire you to climb the Mussar ladder of voting.
Where do you land on the Mussar ladder of voting? Should there be other rungs, like voting for other Jews, or people who share your ethnicity/religion; voting against anti-semites; or enabling others to vote? Please comment below and let me know.
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