Before the elections for the First Knesset in January 1949, a number of leading rabbis issued a ‘Kol Koreh,’ urging their flock to participate and stating that it is a “mitzvah to vote!” The Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Rokeach, was approached by one of his chassidim who asked, “Is it really a mitzvah? A mitzvah like eating Matza?” The Belzer Rebbe thought for a moment and quipped, “Maybe more like eating Maror!” (See Yosef Israel, Rescuing the Rebbe of Belz, p. 497).
The current Knesset, elected on April 9th, was disbanded less than two months later after Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. This is the first time in Israel’s history that two elections will be held in the same year, with new elections scheduled for September 17th.
For many frustrated Israelis, voting a second time feels like 'eating Maror.' But is participating in Israel's electoral process just a mere civic duty, or is it a mitzvah?
The Torah commands: "You shall surely set over yourself a king whom Hashem, your G-d, shall choose..." (Devarim 17:15). In fact, according to the Rambam, appointing a king is one of three mitzvot to be fulfilled upon entering the Land of Israel (Sanhedrin 20b; Sifrei, Re'eh; Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 1:1; Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh #173).
But what about electing a body to govern the modern State of Israel?
In a Teshuvah written to Rav Shlomo Zalman Pines in 1916, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook defends the creation of a modern democratic state in Israel, even without a king or Sanhedrin (Mishpat Kohen 144).
Rav Kook argues that in the absence of a Sanhedrin or a prophet, a king can be appointed by “consent of the Jewish Nation” (See also Radbaz to Radbaz to Hilchot Melachim 3:8, who also assumes a king can be appointed by the consent of Israel). Rav Kook continues and writes, “When there is no king, since the laws of government concern the general welfare of the Nation, the rights of government return to the Nation.”
According to Rav Kook, the Jewish People have the right to self-determination, and have the authority to create a government at all times. He goes as far as saying that “any lawmaker that arises in Israel has the status of king concerning governing the state.” He cites Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin 4:13), who rules that the Exilarch (Reish Galuta) in Babylonia had the status of king, and writes, “all the more so when there are leaders chosen by the Nation when she is in her sovereign land.”
Based on the above, it would appear that according to Rav Kook, electing a body to govern over the Jewish Nation is indeed a fulfillment of the mitzvah to appoint a king. (See also Rav Shaul Yisraeli, Amud Hayemini, 7).
In addition, the Torah (Devarim 16:18) instructs us to "appoint judges and officers in all your cities," establishing a just and equitable society. This mitzvah includes creating a central supreme court and local district courts, as well as officers to enforce the law. Without a government, there would be total anarchy.The Mishnah (Avot 3:2) states: “Rabbi Chanina, deputy High Priest, said: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for fear of it, people would swallow one another alive." A democratically elected government ensures that no one "swallow one another alive."
Among the many contemporary authorities who rule that it is indeed a mitzvah to vote are Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rav Ratzon Arusi, and Rav David Stav.
Voter turnout for Israel's first elections in 1949 was 86.9%, but recent years have seen a significant decrease. In September, only 68.5% of those eligible voted, and it is anticipated that voter turnout will be even lower this election. With so many crucial issues hanging in the balance - safety and security, education, economic stability, to name just a few- it should be a sin not to vote!
In His great kindness, Hashem has granted us the zechut to establish a State in our ancestral homeland. Exercising our civic duty by voting is an opportunity and an obligation to build the Jewish State together, and ensure a bright future for our children and their children.
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