British Jews have never voted as a bloc, and have always made their decisions individually, while in previous parliaments there have been Jewish MPs in all three main parties. It means it is impossible lay down which particular party Jews should support in 2015 - as well as morally inappropriate. Ideally they, like everyone else, should be floating voters, looking afresh at each party manifesto, rather than voting in an unthinking kneejerk fashion. But, given those caveats, it is possible to establish three principles for a Jewish approach to the forthcoming General Election:
1. The religious duty to vote
The right to cast a vote only gradually became universal and was won after centuries of persistent efforts at reform. The significance of those battles should not be spurned, while the ability to play a role in shaping the future of the country is a religious duty that should not be neglected. Moreover, at a time when some parties are pushing divisive messages or pursuing racist policies, failure to use one's vote allows extremist parties to claim a higher percentage of the national vote, or even gain seats.
The first century rabbi, Hillel, warned against ignoring what was going on in society at large: 'Do not separate yourself from the community'. Voter malaise is not new and skepticism of political elite has long existed. From that same period came the advice: 'Be careful of those in power! For they draw no one near to them except in their own interest. They seem like friends when it is to their own advantage, but they do not stand by people in their hour of need' (Ethics of the Fathers 2.3). This is not a licence to ignore the election, but makes it all the more important to select people of integrity.
2. Religious values must be given political expression
For the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, there was no area of public life in which religious values did not apply. The command to 'Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like an everlasting stream' (Amos 5.24) is a direct prescription for political and social action.
Jewish values include the pursuit of justice, protection of the vulnerable in society, concern for the environment, upholding human rights and working for international peace. They are not limited to Jews and may be identified at different times with particular political groups, but that is coincidental to the pursuit of those ideals.
3. Priorities for voting
It is vital to consider the overall good of society, not just one's own personal situation, for as Jeremiah long ago advised 'Seek the peace of the city in which you live, for in its peace is your peace' (29.7). If society is not stable and at ease with itself, then all will suffer, wherever they are in the social hierachy.
Moreover, whilst viable economic policies are essential, they are not the only criteria by which parties should be judged, with the moral and social health of the country being equally important. We may want lower taxation, but should we not also lobby for legislation to end cyber bullying or outlaw adverts for addictive online gambling?
Religion is not just about what happens on the Sabbath in places of worship, but Monday to Friday in high streets and homes. Election day should be considered part of the religious calendar, with the duty to turn out and make one's mark.Suggest a correction