Elections in Halacha

Elections in Halacha:

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]  


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]


[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 MarCheshvon 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.

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  1. Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein

    7. Question: [Monday 24th Tishreiy, 5781]
    Is one halachically obligated to vote in a presidential election, mayoral election, etc?

    In this specific case, the American elections, are there any instructions of how to vote and for whom?

    Thank you

    *Please note: The below is the Rav’s personal opinion, and does not reflect a Pesak Halacha on the issue. In case of doubt, each individual should speak with their Rav.
    Should one vote: It is obviously important for one to take part in the voting process and so has been done by our Rebbe’s who have likewise encouraged their followers to do so. While there are a number of reasons for why one should take part in a vote, from a Torah perspective it should be done in order to effect policies that are more in line with Torah values.
    Who to vote for: Obviously one should vote for whichever candidate they feel will most benefit their lives and religious values. Regarding the American election, traditionally Orthodox Jews tend more to vote Republican although this matter is not set in stone and therefore one is allowed to vote according to his conscience in accordance to who he feels will better lead the country for the things that are important to him and who he things will help greater promote Torah values and seven Noahite based laws. We should never vote simply based on identity politics.

    To put it simply, regarding the coming up presidential election one can choose either the Republican or Democratic candidate for president in accordance to what he feels would be personally better for him or for his country and there is no Halacha that can dictate one way or the other and this is left for each person’s discretion. I think election choices are very personal and are affected by various factors and everyone has a right to choose whom they want.

    Many people are turned off by the personality of the current president and would desire to choose the other candidate to return normalcy to our presidential system. Others view our current president as a threat to Public health due to his mismanaging of the Corona crisis, and therefore want another candidate to be chosen. Others view our current president’s track record on Israel as the most mitigating and deciding factor and push that one should vote for him due to that. Others like the toughness and sternness of our president, Applaud his economic success, and want it to continue. There are also other pros and cons that people may and should consider, although whatever the case, it will always remain your choice and Halacha does not dictate whom you should vote for.

    On that note let me mention a few points that I believe should be kept to:
    • One should minimize discussion about politics as much as possible especially if it is going to come in the expense of Torah learning. One should do his research and make his decision on whom to vote for and leave it at that. there’s no need to turn it into the main mitzvah of the generation which must take up all of one’s time and mind. if we invested as much energy into our other decisions in life in which we are in sole control of as much as we invest in politics, perhaps we would make much wiser decisions.
    • Many people take sides in politics and besmirch the candidate that’s not theirs. In my philosophy, with exception to extraordinary cases, we should respect both candidates and choose the one who is more aligned with our beliefs. There is no need to turn it into a religion with your candidate being the side of holiness and the opposite one the side of evil. Thus, regarding the current election, I think both candidates are viable options and should be respected regardless of whether one agrees with him or not.
    • After the election takes place, all citizens should accept the results and pray for the safety and success of the elected official regardless of whether they chose him or not. Jewish Americans should be patriots to our country and according to Torah we all need to pray for its success and that of our leaders. Believe it or not this was the philosophy of the Rebbe’s of Chabad. The attitude of hating on the candidate that we did not choose, calling him an anti semite etc without real basis, I think is both inaccurate, foreign from Jewish philosophy, and sews more division within our country and fellows. We must respect the seat of the presidency and those who hold that position. This holds true whether Trump wins or Biden wins, and it held true likewise in the Obama era in which while I certainly did not agree with many of his policies, I felt that there was much unjustified hate and rhetoric said regarding him, of which contradicts the above philosophies and patriotism that I believe a Jew should have for his country and its chosen leaders, as was always traditionally done. To fiercely oppose and protest his policies is legitimate and is part of democracy, however to character assassinate the individual and turn him to a villain with glowing animosity in my opinion is contrary to our upbringing.
    • As to Lubavitchers, they must keep in mind the Rebbe’s opinion written in a Letter on the 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.” In light of this philosophy. The Rebbe always showed respect to all leaders, including those on the far left, and did not character assassinate them as individuals and simply negated their ideas. With that said, it is unclear on what basis official Chabad Mosods and Rabbanim have come out with recent statements promoting one candidate over the other in the 202 presidential election, and seemingly they should keep to the Rebbe’s standards of not mixing into politics, as is followed by Beis Din Rabbanie Chabad in Eretz Hakodesh who never ever issue a statement of whom to vote for, despite the election being far more sensitive for people with Jewish and pro Israel values.

    Sources: See the following article and all sources mentioned there regarding elections:
    See the following article regarding the philosophy of our Rebbes on patriotism to ones country: https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/elections-in-halacha/

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