Keep ‘Pirkei Avot’ in mind when you vote




As this crucial Election Day approaches on Nov. 8, we can turn to some ancient words for modern inspiration. Pirkei Avot, a renowned collection of Jewish ethical precepts, is often cited for these glittering gems:

  • “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And, if I am for myself alone, then what am I? And, if not now, when?” (1:14)
  • “On three things does the world stand: On justice, truth, and peace.” (1:18)
  • “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (2:21)

Pirkei Avot’s guideposts beckon us to cast ballots that favor facts over falsehoods, veracity over hypocrisy. We are called upon to cling to good causes, to care for those less fortunate and to act with an unselfish heart.

In other words, when we vote, we must Pirkei a-VOTE.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who safeguard, not deny, election results.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who work to expand, not suppress, the vote.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who respect, not dismiss, a woman’s bodily autonomy.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who advance, not oppose, gun-safety laws.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who boost, not blame, vaccines.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who combat, not deny, climate change.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who champion books, not bans.

We must Pirkei a-VOTE for candidates who treat immigrants as people, not pawns.

The litany of these and other pressing political issues is profuse, and the failure to pursue a conscionable agenda is profane.

Yet we are not without remedies. Rather than wringing our hands in despair, we can engage and opine and join and march and petition and advocate and support. Most of all, we can vote.

In the gubernatorial contest in my home state of Pennsylvania, Pirkei Avot actually gets a prominent shout-out from Democratic Jewish nominee Josh Shapiro. Grounding his campaign in the famous line about the obligation to do one’s part, he paraphrases it as “Get in the game.”

Jewish heritage has everything to say about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Sukkot and Simchat Torah, and it can inform the next red-letter day as well: the November midterms.

In the face of mounting threats to our democracy, what better way to honor the promise of Pirkei Avot than to Pirkei a-VOTE.

@JanZauzmer is a past president of a prominent Reform Jewish congregation in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the author of two children’s books.

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