Elections in Halacha

Elections in Halacha:

A. The mandate of power to elected officials:[1]

The Torah, and Jewish law, recognizes the concept of elected officials and the power that they contain to make binding decisions upon their governed body. Officials elected over a city have ability to make Takanos, decrees, and laws that are legally and Halachically binding onto the members of that city, as they see necessary for the benefit of the city.[2] The Torah also gives them a long arm of power to help counter crime, violence, and violations of Torah law, in ways that they see necessary, even if it does not abide by the Torah’s personal guidelines of punishment that were handed to Sanhedrin.[3] The Halachic term used for the elected officials is the “Shiva Toveiy Hair,” which were the seven elected representatives to the city council.[4] 

B. How are the city leaders elected?[5]

The officials who have the legal and Halachic mandate to rule and make order for the city residents must be elected by the city residents. The candidate who receives majority of votes from the residents of the city [who are eligible to cast votes], wins the position. [This is similar to the current democratic process of today, in which mayors and other city and government officials are elected through a majority vote of state and county residents. This democratic process of election is based on the Talmud and is recorded in the Rishonim.[6]] Irregularities in the election process, such as voter fraud, voter bribery, and unfair intimidation of voters, rend the outcome Halachically invalid, as the outcome does not truly represent the will of the city residents.[7]

Does the Rav of the city have a say regarding the elected officials? Although the Rabbinical leaders of the city are considered the Mara Diasra, and maintain certain powers over the city, they do not have the right to elect the leaders on behalf of the city, and the election must take place through the votes of the city residents, as explained above.[8] Furthermore, even the Rav himself is to be elected by the majority of the city residents for him to take his position.[9] Nevertheless, the Rav or city Beis Din does have the Halachic power to decide on invalidations in the election process, and of the candidates. Likewise, certain spiritual positions may be elected by the Rav, in accordance to the community custom. A Rav may also give guidelines to the city residents regarding the preferred types of candidates, and that they should represent Torah values. At the same time, the Rebbe advocated throughout the years the necessity for the people to make their decision on the vote and discouraged the intervention of Jewish leaders or Rabbanim from taking sides or aligning with a single party or candidate.[10] In the Rebbes words “One should vote for the most Torah observant party/candidate” regardless of that parties or candidates’ person sectorial affiliation. It goes without saying that the Rebbe discouraged the giving of directives or “Psak Dinim” to vote for one specific candidate, advocating that Rabbinical clergy should remain apolitical.[11]

Who gets to cast a vote:[12]  In previous times, only residents who paid the city taxes were allowed to vote for city council.

The validity of a candidate: Congregations would establish different criteria for the validity of a candidate to be elected. Some communities invalidated people who transgressed certain sins, such as sexually immoral behavior.

C. Who should I vote for?[13]

The chosen candidate of a voter should be based on virtuous and holy calculations, which will benefit of the city, and is to be done for the sake of Heaven. [Based on this factor, every voter has the democratic right to choose who he sees fit, and as stated above, voter intimidation or bribery is forbidden and can invalidate the outcome of the election.]

Must I vote:[14] Everyone who has the ability to vote in an election that contains matters relating to Torah values must do so.[15] One who does not do so, and causes the candidate who represents Torah values to lose a vote versus the opponent, is considered like a silent voter on his behalf, and possibly transgresses the matters explained below.

May I vote for a non-observant, or anti Torah value, candidate? Voting for a non-observant candidate, or a candidate who vouches to be an advocate for laws and values that are contrary to Torah and Halacha, contains several Halachic issues, of which the common denominator is that by voting in such a person one is giving a hand to the lack of Torah observance. The Halachic issues involved include:

  1. Lifnei Iver Lo Siten Michshol: It is Biblically forbidden to cause a Jew or gentile to sin. Nevertheless, practically, voting for a candidate who represents values contrary to Torah does not transgress the prohibition of Lifnei Iver as it lacks some of the legal criteria necessary for Lifnei Iver to be transgressed.[16] 
  2. Misayeia Lidvar Aveira:[17] One who votes for a candidate who advocates for anti Torah values [or does not vote at all] possibly transgresses the prohibition of Misayeia Lidvar Aveira.
  3. Hocheiach Tochiach Es Amisecha and Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh:
  4. Chillul Hashem: Voting for a candidate who represents values contrary to Torah can cause a desecration of G-d’s name both amongst the Jewish and gentile population.

The Rebbe’s directives: Practically, the Rebbe Rayatz and Rebbe directed throughout the years the obligation for one to vote for the party/candidate which is the most G-d fearing and advocates Torah values.[18] This refers to the truly most G-d fearing party/candidate and not to those who claim to be G-d fearing but in reality, simply cause discord and infighting.[19] The Rebbe directed that one should not suffice with simply voting, but should also encourage others to vote for the most observant party, so not even one vote goes to waste.[20] Nonetheless, one should beware from getting himself too involved in politics.[21]

D. Checks and balances on the power of the democratically elected official:[22]

Although the Torah gives the official elected by majority of city residents a great amount of power in decision making for the city, and he can force the minority of the city to comply, nevertheless, there are certain checks and balances in place which protect certain rights of the minority. For example, the majority vote cannot decide matters which only benefit them and remove benefit from the minority [i.e. funding for institutions].


[1] Rama C.M. 2:1 “So is the custom in all places that the Tuvei Hair of the city is like the Beis Din Hagadol”; See Michaber O.C. 153:7; Choshen Mishpat 2:1; Smeh 2:9 that the elected officials are elected to be like a Beis Din for the city; Rashba Meyuchasos 279-280 “Every congregation has permission to make decrees and institutions for their city, just as the Sanhedrin can do for the entire Jewish people”

[2] Rashba ibid

[3] See Rama ibid

[4] See Megillah 26a; Michaber 153:7 regarding selling shul; Admur 53:23 regarding chazan; Choshen Mishpat 2:1; Rashba 1:617; See M”B 153:29 that there must be seven elected officials for the body to have power to make decisions for the city

[5] Brachos 55a “One may not appoint a community leader without discussing the matter with the community [and receiving their subsequent approval of the candidate]. As did Moshe with Betzalel”; Rama C.M. 163:1 based on Maharam Merothenberg Sefer Kinyan 27 and Hagahos Maimanis Tefila 11:2 “All the needs of the public that cannot be decided unanimously are to be decided through a vote being cast Lisheim Shamayim, and they are to follow the majority”; Tur 2 “The seven Tuveiy Hair which the majority elected upon them”; Smeh 2:9 in explanation of Michaber 2:1 “The seven Tuvei Hair which the congregation elected to be like a Beis Din upon them”; Rosh Klal 6:5 “All matters relating to the community must follow majority opinion; Rashba 1:617, brought in Rashdam 175 and M”B 153:29  “The Sheva Tovei Hair are not the wisest or richest, but those whom the community have appointed upon them.”; Rashba 7:490; Shut Mabit 1:84; Chasam Sofer C.M. 19 “How can anyone be appointed to any position without receiving the approval of the majority of the congregation”; Chasam Sofer C.M. 21 brings the wording of the Teshuvah of Maharam “We made a decree that no person be elected to any position unless majority of the congregation elects them. One who transgress this is in Cherem and his wine and bread is like that of a gentile…this letter was signed by the Rashbam, Rabbeinu Tam, Ravan and 150 Rabbanim”; Aruch Hashulchan 163:2 “If the city residents elected officials to represent them in the decisions making of the city, then we follow the majority opinion of the elected officials.” Koveitz Al Yad 4:157 “If the officials are elected by the congregation, as is accustomed then I would accept their words, if however, they bought the position with money and power…”; Tzitz Eliezer 3:29

[6] See previous footnote!

[7] Chasam Sofer regarding a Rav who was elected by the majority of voters, and it was discovered that some of the voters were payed off to vote for the Rav, the Chasam Sofer ruled that the elections are invalid even if the Rav would have won without the bribed voters. He also ruled that the voters who accepted the bribe may never be appointed for this or other positions.

[8] See Poskim in previous footnotes!

[9] Chasam Sofer ibid; See Sichas Matos Maaseiy 5746 “It has never been heard of amongst the Jewish people that a select few decide who will be the Rav of a community..or the community council. Let it be known, that whoever interferes with the elections, he is to be greatly pitied, and more than this I do not want to elaborate”

[10] Letter written 15th Teves 5714 “As is known, Lubavitch is very careful to avoid any political affiliation. This applies to Eretz Hakodesh as well as other countries. This was a directive from the Rebbe Rayatz which I upkeep.”; Sicha 6th Mar Cheshvon 5714; Meeting by dollars distribution on 6th Nissan 5750 with a reporter from Kol Yisrael “I do not mix into politics”; Tzadik Lamelch 6:19 “It goes without saying that you should not involve yourself in the local politics”

[11] The one exception to this was in 1989 when the Rebbe directed the public to vote for the Agudas Yisrael party in Israel, due to extraordinary and mitigating circumstances. Immediately after the election, which was a great success for the Chassidim, the Rebbe directed for all Chabad institutions to return to the party line of non-political affiliation.

[12] Rama C.M. 163:1; Maharam Merothenberg Sefer Kinyan 27 and Hagahos Maimanis Tefila 11:2

[13] Rama C.M. 163:1 “All the needs of the public that cannot be decided unanimously are to be decided through a vote being cast Lisheim Shamayim; Maharam Merothenberg Sefer Kinyan 27 and Hagahos Maimanis Tefila 11:2

[14] See Rama ibid “One who refuses to cast a vote..”; Igros Kodesh Rayatz 10:32 “It is certainly an obligation on each person to vote”;  Igros Kodesh 4:58 regarding municipal elections; 4:279; 11:167; 385 “It is obvious, and I made my opinion well known to the public, that whoever has ability to vote, is obligated to do so.”

[15] The reason: As whoever has ability to protest one from doing an act against Torah and does not do so, is held responsible. [See letters of Rebbe ibid; Shabbos 54b]

[16] The reason: a) It is most likely for the elected official to reach his post even without the individual vote of the person, as 99% of elections are not decided by a single vote. This is similar to the law of there being two passage ways for how the perpetrator can commit the sin, in which case Lifnei Iver does not apply. B) The elected official does not personally perform the sin, but allows others to do so. This is considered Lifnei Dilifnei Iver.

[17] See Admur 347:3; M”A 347:4; Rosh Shabbos 1:1; Tosafus Shabbos 3a; Avoda Zara 55b; Mishneh Gittin 61a; Rama Y.D. 151:1; Shach 151:6; Degul Merivav ibid

[18] Igros Kodesh Rayatz 10:32; Igros Kodesh 4:58 regarding municipal elections; 4:279; 345, 380, 392, 395; 11:167; 385; Telegram of Rebbe sent to Israeli elections on the 24th Iyar 5737; Shabbos Mevarchim Tamuz 5741

[19] Rebbe Rayatz ibid

[20] Igros Kodesh 4:345

[21] Igros Kodesh 11:253

[22] See Chazon Ish Bava Basra 4:15

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