Voting Our Values: Nonpartisan Guide to Election Issues

Voting Our Values: Nonpartisan Guide to Election Issues

Judaism & American Life
“To be is to stand for.”
—Abraham Joshua Heschel

Judaism & American Life
Elections offer us the opportunity to reflect upon, and
to recommit ourselves to, our core values. This Jewish
non-partisan election guide is intended as catalyst for
thought and action during the 2008 election season.

The guide includes seven topics that the Righteous
Indignation staff has identified as key election issues
based on our research and in consultation with religious
and political leaders across the country. In addition, the
guide also contains several questions for discussion. We
recognize that this is not a comprehensive document,
but one that we hope will be helpful to readers as they
make important voting decisions this year.

“According to the generation, so goes the leader.”
—Babylonian Talmud, Arakhin 7a
After years of debate, there is now broad consensus in the
international scientific community that human actions are
severely damaging the earth, and threatening the ability of
life to survive on the planet. The concentration of carbon
dioxide in our atmosphere has risen 35% since the Industrial
Revolution, and global temperatures have increased by more than 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century.

Experts say that these changes will result in an increase of forest fires, floods, drought, and other natural disasters. The negative social and economic consequences that such changes will bring in the form of hunger, conflict, and political instability cannot be underestimated. We must take immediate steps to address the environmental crisis before it is too late.

One day Choni was walking down the road and he saw a man
planting a carob tree. Choni said to him, “Since the carob does not
bear fruit for seventy years, are you so sure that you will live seventy
years and eat from it?” The man replied: “I found a world that was
full of carob tress. Just like my ancestors planted for me, so I plant
for my descendents.”
—Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a

Just as in the time of the ancient rabbis, so today must we
think carefully about the long-term consequences of our
actions. The carob tree planter reminds us of our obligation to care for the earth so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy its bounty. During this election season, we must
honestly assess our behavior as individuals and communities, and dedicate ourselves to making positive and sustained environmental changes.

The Environmental Crisis
• Begin a rigorous process
leading to the reduction of
U.S. emissions by at least
80% by the year 2050.
• Transition our country to a
clean energy economy. Not only
will this help limit the negative
effects of climate change and
decrease our dependence on
foreign oil, it will also create
millions of new jobs and
generate significant investment
in the American economy.
• Initiate a process that will
lead the U.S. to produce at
least 25% of its electricity
from clean and renewable
energy sources by 2025.
•Work collaboratively with
world leaders to protect
endangered ecosystems and
communities at greatest risk
from environmental abuses.
• Learn more about the
environmental crisis and join
the following organizations
working on this issue:
Climate Crisis Coalition,;
Coalition on the Environment
and Jewish Life,;
Sierra Club,;
the Shalom Center,;
Teva,; and
environmental change. This process of teshuvah (repentance) also
requires that we call on our leaders to create rules and regulations
that will protect the earth now and in the future.
Over sixty years ago, Jewish survivors of the Holocaust let
out the piercing cry of “never again.” Tragically, the world
has not yet internalized that cry deeply enough to prevent
genocide. After Auschwitz came Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and now Darfur.
Responding to a rebellion in 2003, the Sudanese
government and its proxy militia, the Janjaweed, launched
a campaign of destruction against the civilian population
of ethnic groups identified with the rebels. The Sudanese
government’s genocidal campaign has claimed hundreds
of thousands of lives through direct violence, disease and
starvation. Millions of people have fled their homes and are
now living in displaced persons and refugee camps along
the Darfur-Chad border.

Whoever is able to protest against the sins of his own family but does
not do so is liable for his family. Whoever is able to protest against the
sins of the people of his community but does not do so is liable for his
community. Whoever is able to protest against the sins of the entire
world but does not do so is liable for the sins of the entire world.
—Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b

As the Talmud teaches, when we are able to protest against
wrongdoing, it is our obligation to do so. After five years of
atrocities, we know the Darfur genocide to be one of the
most severe humanitarian crises of our time. We must,
therefore, strengthen our resolve and intensify our protest.
As we prepare to elect a new president and a new congress,
let us make clear to our political representatives what we
expect of them as Darfur advocates.

The Genocide in Darfur
•Work aggressively with
the other members of the
UN Security Council to
deploy the full peacekeeping
force promised in July 2007,
including the equipment and
logistical support to carry
out their mission effectively.
• Do everything in your power
to persuade China—Sudan’s
most important economic
and political ally—to play a
constructive role in helping
end the genocide in Darfur.
• Continue to provide the people
of Darfur with the necessary
supplies to endure in refugee
and displaced persons camps.
• Advance a sustainable peace
for all Sudan, including a viable
peace process for Darfur and
increased support to uphold
the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement in southern Sudan.
• Help the international
community prosecute those
individuals responsible for
atrocities in Darfur.
• Learn more about the
genocide in Darfur and
join the following
organizations working on
this issue:
American Jewish World
Genocide Intervention
Investors Against Genocide,
.net; Jewish Council for Public
Jewish World Watch,;
Save Darfur,; and
Tents of Hope,
Six decades after the founding of the State of Israel, relations between Israel and her Arab neighbors remain volatile. The harmful consequences of this conflict are well known, having caused great pain and suffering in the region and dangerous tensions internationally. A comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace process—including Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and the Palestinian people—is urgently needed. While the dynamics of this situation are complicated, with legitimate grievances on all sides, history demonstrates that when the American government has committed itself to playing an active and sustained role in brokering peace in the Middle East, lasting change is possible.

We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an
offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish
bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people
settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in
a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
—Israel’s Declaration of Independence, 1948

The founders of the State of Israel knew the importance of
pursuing peace with Israel’s neighbors, even if they and their Arab counterparts were unable to achieve it. Today, the
American Jewish community has the opportunity to honor
our forebears’ dream of peace by strengthening the pro-
Israel/pro-peace movement. Recognizing the crucial role the
United States government must play in helping to bring
healing to the Middle East, we call on the candidates to renew America’s commitment to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace
process, favoring rigorous diplomacy over military action.

The Arab-Israeli Conflict
• Assist Israeli and Palestinian
leaders to engage in discussions
leading to a two-state solution.
This should involve the
appointment of a high-level
U.S. envoy to the region.
• Continue to provide robust
economic and military
assistance to Israel, while
calling on the Israeli
government to discontinue
settlement expansion on the
West Bank and to dismantle
any illegal outposts.
• Help foster a Palestinian
Authority (PA) that can work
with Israel and the
international community for
lasting peace, while calling on
the PA to do everything in its
power to end terrorist attacks
by Palestinians on Israel.
• Provide economic assistance
to the PA and to nongovernmental
organizations to
improve the living conditions
of the Palestinian people.
• Nurture strong relations
with Israel’s partners in
peace—Jordan and Egypt—
and strategize with Israel on
how to engage other regional
powers—including Syria
and Iran—in meaningful
diplomatic efforts.
• Learn more about the history
of the Arab-Israeli conflict and
join the following pro-
Israel/pro-peace organizations:
American Friends of Peace
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom,;
Just Vision,;
Progressive Jewish Alliance,; and Rabbis for
Human Rights-North America,
• Help create constructive and
inclusive conversations about
the Arab-Israeli conflict in your
communities—Jewish and
interfaith. For help organizing
such discussions, visit the
Public Conversations Project,;
or the Jewish Dialogue Group,
On March 20, 2003 the United States led a multinational
invasion of Iraq. The stated purpose of the military effort was
the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime because the
Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction
(WMD). Contrary to the claims made repeatedly by the Bush
administration in the build up to the war, WMD were never
found. White House officials also accused Saddam Hussein of
harboring and supporting Al-Qaeda (thus linking Iraq to
9/11), but no evidence of any collaborative relationship was
ever established.
To date, the Iraq war has claimed over 4,000 American
lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. The war effort
has cost the United States approximately $600 billion
dollars—money that could have been used for other urgently
needed domestic and international matters, including
combating terror and helping to bring peace and justice to
Afghanistan. It is time to bring our troops home and to help
the Iraqi people and all those who served valiantly in Iraq to
recover from the tragic mistakes of our leadership.

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into
pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither
shall they learn war any more. —Isaiah 2:4

Honoring Isaiah’s prophetic vision as we prepare to elect a
new president and congress, we must insist that our elected
officials end the war in Iraq swiftly and responsibly. We must
also convey to the candidates that the pursuit of peace is
among our highest aspirations, one that should help guide
our foreign policy decisions.

The War in Iraq
• Implement a responsible exit
strategy from Iraq, including
the phased withdrawal of U.S.
troops in a timely manner.
• Continue to provide the
Iraqi government with
support to rebuild the
country’s infrastructure
devastated by the War.
• Help the more than 5 millions
Iraqi refugees and internally
displaced persons to resettle
in their homeland.
• Engage in diplomatic efforts
to bring stability to Iraq and to
the larger region, including
talks with its neighbors Iran
and Syria.
• Provide all returning U.S.
service members with
proper health care, including
physical, psychological, and
spiritual support.
• Learn more about the
War in Iraq and join the
following organizations
working on this issue:
Iraq Veterans Against the War,;
Jews Against the War,;
Rabbinical Association;
the Shalom Center,; and
Workmen’s Circle/
Arbeter Ring,
The Jewish poet Emma Lazarus wrote in the inscription for
the Statue of Liberty that the United States is a country that
welcomes “the huddled masses yearning to be free.” As Jews,
we know from our history the challenges faced by immigrants,
having lived as a minority in numerous communities—both
hostile and welcoming—around the world.
At present, between 3–5% of the U.S. workforce is
composed of undocumented workers. They are construction
workers and farm laborers, domestic workers and restaurant
cooks—all contributing to the welfare of our society. However,given that these workers possess no rights under U.S. law, the federal government can raid their workplaces at
any moment and incarcerate them. In fact, thousands
of undocumented workers are detained and imprisoned
every month.

You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the
feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.
—Exodus 23:9
The command to treat the stranger with dignity is repeated
36 times in the Torah. It teaches us that wherever we are,
whatever our status in society, we must always remember our
roots as immigrants and outsiders and treat new immigrants
with the utmost respect. The next president must work with
Congress to overhaul our immigration system, so that we do
not oppress the stranger in our midst.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
• Create opportunities for
undocumented workers who
are already contributing to our
society to come out of the
shadows and become lawful,
permanent residents and
eventually U.S. citizens.
• Enforce employment and labor
laws that punish unscrupulous
employers who underpay and
exploit immigrant workers.
• Institute measures that respect
the integrity of families by
limiting the separation of
legal residents and citizens
from their parents, children,
and spouses.
• Create a guest worker program
that allows a reasonable
number of immigrants and
their families to enter our
country and work in a safe,
legal, and orderly manner with
their rights fully protected.
• Develop accessible integration
programs that help new citizens
become active members of
our society.
• Learn more about the need
for comprehensive
immigration reform and join
the following organizations
working on this issue:
Hebrew Immigrant Society,;
Jewish Council on
Urban Affairs, www.jcua;
Jews for Racial and Economic
Interfaith Worker Justice,;
Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism,;
and Hebrew Immigrant
Aid Society,
In Mishnah Sanhedrin we read that one who sustains a
single life sustains “an entire world.” This rabbinic aphorism
teaches us the value of every human life. And yet, we live in
a country in which 47 million people—including more than
8 million children—are living without health insurance,
with millions more underinsured. Every day, thousands of
individuals in desperate condition make emergency room
visits. It is time to create a healthcare system that allows all
Americans to access quality care, recognizing that such care
is a basic human right.

Whoever is in pain, lead him to the physician.
—Baba Kamma 46B
Commenting on Deuteronomy 22:8, Maimonides teaches
that we are not only responsible to care for a sick person;
we are also responsible to do whatever we can to prevent
illness. Tragically, an estimated 18,000 people in the United
States die prematurely every year from lack of health
insurance and preventative care. Our elected officials must
work to repair our broken healthcare system, so that rich
and poor alike can receive the care they need.

Healthcare for All
• Create a system of universal
healthcare that is accessible,
affordable, portable, and
comprehensive, providing
financial assistance to those
who need it.
• Emphasize wellness and
prevention, including regular
check-ups, screenings, and
ongoing individual, family,
and community education.
• Develop national healthcare
standards to reduce disparities
in the quality of care, with
sensitivity to the differing
needs of communities across
the country.
• Invest in electronic health
information systems, including
electronic health records,
to better coordinate patient
care, to reduce medical errors,
and to lower expenses.
• Learn more about the
heath care crisis in the
United States and join the
following organizations
working on this issue:
the Greater Boston Interfaith
Healthcare for All,;
Jewish Reconstructionist
Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism,;
and Tikkun,
The average American family is struggling financially.
During the last eight years, real income fell 2.5% for the
poorest, and rose only 1.3% for the middle class. Meanwhile,
the costs of basic necessities like food and gas have soared.
The recent collapse or downsizing of several major
companies has left thousands of people out of work, and the
housing crisis has made the dream of home ownership
impossible for many. Working families throughout the
country are being forced to make the tragic choice about
whether to pay for food, medicine, or rent.

If there be among you a poor man of one of your brethren within any
of your gates in your land your God gives you, do not harden your
heart or shut your hand from your poor brother.
—Deuteronomy 15:7
As this passage teaches, it is incumbent on us to share
God’s bounty with all members of society, especially the
poor and the disadvantaged. It is painful to read these
words in the midst of an economic crisis that has exposed
the greed and irresponsibility of financial leaders on Wall
Street and in Washington. During this election season, and
during this time of financial downturn, we must call on our
elected officials to institute policies that support economic
justice for all.

Economic Justice
• Create good jobs that allow a
person working forty hours
a week to support his or
her family without seeking
outside assistance.
• Support a real living wage,
honoring the dignity of every
working person.
• Support laws that protect
workers’ right to organize,
to work in a place that
protects the dignity of the
employees, and to bargain
collectively for fair wages
and working conditions.
• Channel federal money
toward protecting families
from foreclosure, and
toward creating affordable
permanent housing.
• Support an equitable tax
policy that lessens the heavy
burdens of the middle class
and the working poor.
• Initiate a process leading to the
reduction of American poverty
by 50% in the next ten years.
• Learn more about economic
justice and join the following
organizations working on
this issue:
Interfaith Worker Justice,;
Jewish Council for Public
Affairs, www.jcpa;
Jewish Funds for Justice,;
Jewish Labor Committee,;
Progressive Jewish Alliance,; and
Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism,
Please consider using these questions to reflect on any of the
topics discussed in the Righteous Indignation Voter Guide or
other key election issues.
1. Why do you care about this issue? Has it affected you or others
you know? If so, how?
2. How does the Jewish source cited contribute to your understanding
of this issue? How might you use this Jewish text to talk about the
issue? Are there other Jewish sources—ancient or modern—that
affect your thinking on this issue?
3. Do you agree with the positions outlined in this section of the
guide? Why or why not?
4. Are there other issues not covered in this guide that are of
particular importance to you? Why? How do they relate to your
self-understanding as a Jew?
5. What is one thing you hope to do in the coming months to make a
difference on this issue? How might you involve other members of
your community to work with you to create change?
To learn about the positions of the presidential candidates on the
issues discussed in this voter guide and others, please visit the
following sites:; and;;
Questions for
The Righteous Indignation Project wishes to thank the following individuals for
their assistance in creating this voter guide: Adina Allen; Dr. Diane Balser; Mark
Barnett; Phyllis Baron; Rachel Chertok; Dr. Aryeh Cohen; Rabbi Marla Feldman;
Rabbi Leonard Gordon; Zahara Heckscher; Rabbi Jill Jacobs; Jeffrey Kasowitz;
Jennifer Kefer; Dr. Ben Linas; Carinne Luck; Joshua Meyer; Dr. Judith Rosenbaum;
Duane Shank; Dara Silverman; Ezra Small; and Rabbi Shawn Zevit. The Righteous
Indignation Project, a non-partisan organization, takes sole responsibility for the
content of this guide.
To learn more about the Righteous Indignation Project, and to purchase the
anthology Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice (Jewish Lights),
please visit

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