Would Rambam vote for Dole New guide tells all

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Rabbi Gordon M. Freeman, spiritual leader of Congregation B'Nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, has long sought to explore and interpret the Jewish political tradition.

Now the rabbi's newly formed Covenant Press has published a 20-page pamphlet entitled "A Guide for the Jewish Voter."

Its title might give the impression that the pamphlet delivers a neat and simple set of choices that will make Jews feel smugly confident enroute to the ballot box. Yet the guide offers neither pat answers nor voting directives, which the rabbi feels would insult peoples' individuality.

Instead, Freeman sets out the historical underpinnings of several spiritual traditions and explains why Judaism calls for constant vigilance.

There is much to be found amid Jewish writings and thought that addresses questions of power, authority, conflict resolution, communal responsibility and justice.

It is only through assessing such Jewish values in a political context, Freeman asserts, that Jewish voters can make the kinds of decisions worthy of their heritage.

While attending the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, Freeman also pursued an interest in politics, earning a master's degree from New York University. Once established as a rabbi in California, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in Political Science from U.C. Berkeley.

His pamphlet offers the kind of advice that demands more of voters than just a passing familiarity with candidates and issues.

One of the pamphlet's most crucial messages is that everyone ought to be involved in political decision-making. In these times when candidates' apparent moral flaws spark doubt and disillusionment, the rabbi writes, we must not abdicate our choice to others by refusing to vote and thus "choosing not to choose."

Judaism holds each citizen accountable for the decisions of the government under which that person lives. This tenet clearly eliminates the standard "just following orders" excuse.

Fundamental to the Jewish notion of government is the theory of a covenant. "Jews should know," Freeman says, "that consensual government [stems] right from our tradition."

Any imposition of power is wrong, he says. A government may sometimes see the need for repressive measures, but that is only acceptable if the people in that country agree to waive their freedom for a mutually defined goal. Freeman cautions Jewish voters to keep such considerations in mind when evaluating U.S. policy toward specific foreign regimes.

Fortunately, he does not need to rouse an apathetic Jewish populace from its lethargy. "Ninety-five per cent of the Jewish people vote," he says.

What once stood out as a clear-cut, predominantly liberal Democratic "Jewish vote" in this country is less distinct today, he adds.

These leaner economic times compel voters to constantly re-evaluate worthy causes. For example, if the Torah commands that society take care of the weak and vulnerable, then where does this responsibility fall — on individuals or on the government?

And if it is the government's responsibility, then which branch of government — federal, state or local — must do the work?

Freeman compiled "A Guide for the Jewish Voter" in hopes that adult education courses and religious high school programs, such as East Bay Midrasha, would use it as a tool.

"By becoming engaged in the political process," the rabbi advises, "we can ensure that the quality of…candidates and issues is raised."