11/03/2008

On Voting

With local and national election in Israel coming up, bunched so close to election in the States, voting is very much on my mind (and that doesn’t even include online voting for players of the week in the NFL). I’ve already cast my ballot for the U.S. elections, but it doesn’t really matter. My ballot will not even be opened. I am registered to vote in one of the bluest (because it’s one of the blackest) states in the country, Maryland. Regarding national elections, I’ll be voting Likud unless something drastic happens. This is not my first time writing something like that here. That leaves municipal elections, which deserve a post on their own, if not several.

I wanted to express by feelings about voting in general, though. There is a range of attitudes toward the right and obligation to vote. NeoHasid has penned a special Leshem Yichud prayer to be recited before voting (HT: HotGK). I must admit, I find the entire concept to be awfully silly. It seems to reflect the typical American-Jewish attitude that voting is some kind of mitzvah de-orayta, and that glorifies the democratic process as some kind of holy ideal.

The opposite approach is one that I heard from R’ Moshe Stav of Kerem B’Yavneh. He explained it as a duty akin to going to the bathroom – something that needs to be done, but that should be done quickly and quietly without fanfare. You do what you have to do. I may have supplied the further details – you go by yourself into a little booth, you do what you need to do, and you pull a little lever to get rid of the evidence for the next guy (this worked much better with the old-style voting booths). Granted, one says a blessing after using the bathroom as well, but we do not glorify the act itself.

I think this difference of attitude toward voting reflects a broader attitude toward democracy in general. As is well known, the American and European models of democracy are vastly different. Amercian democracy grew from the ground up, from Puritan town halls who believed that the will of the community as a whole is the best indicator of God’s will. In America, democracy originated – and remains, to a degree – a religious ideal.

In Europe, democracy grew out of an overthrow of the old monarchies and aristocracies of Europe, a diminution of the power of the church, and the implementation of Enlightenment ideals of the rights of man. It grew from the top-down, and has a definite anti-clerical ax to grind. Those who instituted democracy – similar to some members of the contemporary Israeli left – did not actually believe in democracy, only “democratic values”. It is that type of thinking which can take away human rights in the name of democracy, as we Jews remember full well. In this context, voting is a right granted as a somewhat grudging acknowledgement that the alternative is far worse, and not because the unwashed masses actually have valuable opinions.

However, while this dichotomy can account for American attitude, is cannot explain the attitude expressed by Rav Stav. To do so, we must posit a third type of democracy – Middle Eastern or “Shuk” democracy – which gets its own post.

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