Progressively Speaking: Political lobbying – yes or no?

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Progressively Speaking: Political lobbying – yes or no?

Rabbi Deborah Blausten looks at a topical issue and offers a Reform response

In Pirkei Avot, Rabban Gamliel taught: “Be cautious with the government, for they only bring a person close to them for their own needs and they do not stand by a person in his time of difficulty.” A few paragraphs earlier, Shamaya taught: “Love work, hate lordship and do not become familiar with the government.”

These strong statements from our rabbinic sages indicate that the question of how a community should relate to, and engage with, the ruling authorities has been a debate for hundreds of years. These teachings read like missives from lessons learnt the hard way and they come from the early generations of sages learning how to live under the rule of non-Jewish authorities.

Leaders of a community must engage with the secular authorities. Engagement helps politicians understand a community, know what their needs are and stand with them in times of difficulty, but how?

Politics is fickle, and the work of getting the attention and commitment of politicians involves questions of ethics and integrity. The Yachin commentary on Pirkei Avot written in the 1700s cautioned students to “not waste the wealth of the community in distributing gifts”. Others taught that the community must not tie its fate too closely
to one leader, for fear of being seen as the enemy if leadership changes.

Joseph and Queen Esther, perhaps the two best-known political actors in our textual tradition, both teach us of the enormous value, for the Jewish community and the wider world, of those with wisdom and insight engaging with political leaders. Esther saved her people, and Joseph was able to help both the people of Egypt and his family. They stayed focused on their mission and are role models for using political influence for the greater good without compromising their integrity.

Our tradition does not call on us to avoid engagement with those in power, but it does caution us to remain focused on higher goals and values and not let our priorities be co-opted by others.

While political success is ultimately measured at the ballot box, religious success is measured in the prosperity and security of our communities and the ability to enact our values to bring about a better and fairer world.

  • Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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