It was the rabbis who first introduced the concept of democracy to Judaism when, over 2,000 years
ago, they took a verse from Torah completely out of context, inverted the meaning, and installed it as
a guiding principle of our tradition's decision-making process. The Torah in Exodus 23 tells us 'Do not
follow after the mighty - rabbim - to do evil'. But the ever-clever mind of the rabbis, empowered by their
mastery of literary innovation and creative interpretation, chopped off the front and the back of the
verse and flipped the meaning of the word rabbim - 'mighty', to its other possible translation -
'majority'. Thus we are given a Talmudic maxim that serves as the basis for majority rule in religious
decision-making -'follow after the majority.' The biblical period of Judaism was a theocratic monarchy.
The rabbinic period was a meritocratic democracy. And we are better for it.
We have entered the final stretch of an election season that has been amongst the most contentious
in American history. The pandemic and the racial strife in America have only added to the already
existing belief by many that our political climate, due to Russian interference, impeachment, claims of
disenfranchisement, and now the Supreme Court nomination fight, has turned from polarizing to toxic.
Social media amplifies extreme views because algorithms like clicks, and people click on the
sensational. Truth has been consistently distorted by the White House, or the media, or both,
depending on who you trust. Everything feels dramatic and even cataclysmic. On November 4 it will
draw to its climax.
Our rabbis believed that letting a majority decide was sacred - it was even ordained from on high.
Simultaneously, we American Jews have learned of the value of democracy firsthand, as the citizens
of the freest and most tolerant nation to our people in the history of the world. The Jews have believed
in democracy because democracy has been exceedingly good to the Jews.
Democracy, however, is like all principles and ideals - it is fragile and requires vigilance, not
complacency. Jews must vote. Jews must be civic-minded. Jews must keep a close eye out for fraud
and manipulation. Jews must do their sacred duty to democracy by ensuring that every voice is heard,
and that our nation truly inclines after the majority.
It is also the season of Sukkot - that time of year when we venture outside and build a somewhat-
shaky structure to dwell in temporarily, before ultimately returning inside to our well-constructed
domiciles. Democracy is a fragile structure, too, but one that, with constant maintenance upkeep, and
improvement, will continue to stand for another 244 years. Ensuring the American system of checks
and balances, of majority rule, and the right to vote for all Americans, and of continually pressing for a
more fair, transparent, and functional political system is not just our patriotic duty - it is our sacred
4/4/2023 06:10:51 am
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Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.