A Time to Weigh Words and Build Bridges

In fewer than eight weeks, Americans will flock to the polls to cast their ballots and play their part in choosing the next U.S. president, bringing to a close a campaign that is unprecedented in recent history. The result of this election is very important, and it is fully understandable that the positions, past statements, and affiliations of the respective candidates are of keen interest to many in our community.

An open and respectful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses, merits and faults of the candidates representing the two major parties — as well as those running on the smaller, third-party tickets — is perfectly appropriate.

However, personal attacks and nasty generalizations about either candidate is something no self-respecting American should be engaged in, and is certainly the type of conduct that Torah Jews should stay clear of.

We are deeply grateful that America is an ultimate malchus shel chessed, a nation with a long history of protecting free speech. At the same time, it is vital that we do not forget who we are and where we are: We are Jews in exile, entrusted with a specific mission and set responsibilities. The fact that under American law we have a right to say or write something does not mean that as Torah Jews this is what we should be doing.

In recent months, numerous harshly written articles authored by various individuals fiercely attacking one of the major candidates have been published in several outlets and floated throughout cyberspace. Presumably, these writers, who ostensibly are from within our community, mean well. But to say that they are sorely misguided would be an understatement.

We will leave the accuracy of their statements for others to decide. It is the tone reflected in these written works, and the type of language used, that are most troubling. In reality, the approach taken by these authors — and those who see fit to publish and circulate their writings — is not a new one.

From the days of Roman occupation of Eretz Yisrael, and throughout our sojourns in exile, there were always those who advocated a hotheaded, confrontational way to deal with whichever government was in control. Throughout the centuries, Gedolei Yisrael vehemently opposed this reckless approach, consistently choosing instead the age-old method of shtadlanus. Again and again, history has proven just how prescient their views were.

Those who truly care about the interests of our community and of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael should recognize on their own that the last thing we should be doing is burning bridges with an individual who will very possibly be the next president.

Establishing positive relationships with government officials has always been a key part of our requisite hishtadlus for us to survive as Torah Jews, and this is just as relevant in 5776 as it was throughout our centuries in exile. There is a time, a place, and a way to raise legitimate concerns we have about a candidate, and ultimately each of us should vote for whoever we think is most suitable for the position. Throughout this process, we must always bear in mind that each and every one of us is an ambassador of an entire people.

The famed saying that “not everything one thinks should be said, not everything one says should be written, and not everything that is written should be published” has always been true. But in the age of social media and instant communication, the obligation to carefully weigh each word has taken on a new, extraordinary urgency. Whatever is placed in the public domain, whether it is in print or in cyberspace, is being closely followed and analyzed. When a talk show host makes nasty comments about a candidate in an attempt to boost his ratings, he reflects only on himself. When individuals who identify themselves as Torah Jews do so, they reflect on the entire community. While candidates generally understand when a certain group voted against them, and are prepared to mend fences after an election, they rightfully don’t understand — or forgive — nasty personal attacks.

It is vital that we recognize our responsibilities both as a community and as individuals. Ultimately, it isn’t to the pundits and the pollsters that we will give a din v’cheshbon for every word we have uttered and written and how it has affected Klal Yisrael, but to the Ribbono shel Olam.

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