Skip to comments.The Vote of Orthodox Jews in the US Election
Posted on 12/16/2004 10:25:42 AM PST by Alouette
The Orthodox community in America was caught up in the heightened excitement surrounding the recent US elections. For the first time ever, the Lakewood Vaad endorsed a particular candidate — President George W. Bush — "in consideration for his outstanding positions on family issues, domestic security and of significant consequences for Acheinu B'nai Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel."
In a more traditional effort, every Orthodox rabbi in Cleveland, led by Rabbi Chaim Stein rosh yeshivas Telshe, signed a Kol Korei calling on every Orthodox Jew to vote, and on the Shabbos preceding the election every congregational rabbi in Cleveland stressed in his droshoh the importance of voting.
Rabbi Yechiel Kalish, Midwest regional director of Agudath Israel of America, logged thousands of miles in the last week of the campaign in the key state of Ohio, traveling between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati on voter registration and getting-out-the-vote activities. And his colleague, Rabbi Moshe Matz, the Southern Florida regional director of Agudath Israel, was busy doing the same in southern Florida, another crucial state. Agudath Israel of America got involved in voter registration efforts to an unprecedented degree, out of a feeling that it would be a chilul Hashem for Orthodox Jews to sit on the sidelines in an election perceived as so vital by the American public, and especially after the 2000 elections demonstrated that every vote does count.
Orthodox Jews turned out in large numbers and they voted overwhelmingly for President Bush. That support for the president grew stronger as one moved rightward on the religious spectrum towards the close-knit Chassidic communities. Despite the theological anti-Zionism in the latter, the concern for the well-being of Jews in Eretz Yisroel remains overwhelming.
Thus in Kiryas Yoel, a Satmar community in Sullivan County, New York, President Bush won 88 percent of the vote: 6314 to 529 (with the votes for Senator Kerry attributed to internal communal divisions.)
Al Gore Jr. carried Rockland County by 21,000 votes in 2000; this year George Bush carried it by 1,301 votes. That swing was largely attributed to the heavy Orthodox vote for the president. In New Square, for instance, President Bush won 99 percent of the vote; in 2000 he captured only 21 votes in New Square. When asked to explain the shift, the Skverer Rebbe answered, "Hakoras hatov." In those election districts in Rockland County in which Orthodox Jews comprise more than 50 percent of the eligible voters, the President captured 84 percent of the votes.
In Lakewood, New Jersey the communal efforts of fifty campaign workers (without direct support from the national or state Republican parties) paid off heavily for Bush. Though New Jersey went for the Democratic candidate, President Bush carried Lakewood by better than two to one. In the 12 election districts with a majority of Orthodox voters, he won 85 percent of the vote, and in the one exclusively Orthodox district he won over 99 percent.
Similar patterns were repeated in other heavily Orthodox areas. The Bush vote increased by 80 percent in Boro Park and over 100 percent in Flatbush. Both had gone heavily for Gore in 2000, and this year swung into the Bush column.
Much of the political activity on the Republican side for the Orthodox vote was the result of the vision of one man: Jeff (Yehoshua) Ballabon, an Orthodox Jew from West Hempstead New York. Ballabon, 41, has long been active in Republican politics. After graduating Yale Law School, he worked on the staff of Senator John Danforth, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Ballabon, who had met then-Governor Bush in Austin in 1999 and had the chance to spend a few minutes talking with him, felt confident that his personal commitment to faith and values was profound, as was his feeling of respect, even affinity, towards the Jewish people and faith. Ballabon worked on the Bush campaign in 2000. Soon after he was elected, despite winning only 19 percent of the Jewish vote, President Bush began to prove his friendship.
Ballabon was particularly moved by the fact that President Bush, alone among major world leaders, refused to send an American delegation to the U.N. Conference on Racism at Durban, which quickly degenerated into an anti-Israel hate fest.
Ballabon felt that only someone firmly planted in both the Torah world and that of values-based politics could be the bridge for Torah Jews to the larger political world. Otherwise the conversations across the table would always be ones between strangers, each seeking to advance particular interests, not a conversation of allies searching for common ground. As a graduate of Yeshivas Ner Israel, and someone who has always been very open about his religious observance in both his political and professional life, Ballabon was suited to that task.
As a kippah-wearing Jew in the public limelight, he found himself constantly presented with opportunities to correct distortions of Judaism by so many who claim to speak in its name. Evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics in particular were always thrilled to meet a Jew who could reassure them that there are still Jews today living according to the precepts of the Torah.
Reaching out to the Orthodox community, Ballabon argued repeatedly, is not just a matter of having a kosher table at a Republican Jewish event. Orthodox Jews, he explained, view life and politics from a completely different perspective than their secular Jewish counterparts.
Together with friends like Gedalia Litke, a New York attorney, and Michael Fragin, today New York Governor George Pataki's liaison to the Jewish community, Ballabon formed ROSHEM, the Center for Jewish Values, in order to introduce Torah Jews to politicians, and to sell the possibilities of political action to observant Jews. Through ROSHEM, Ballabon introduced politicians with a strong social conservative message — e.g., Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania — to successful Orthodox professionals and business people who could support their political campaigns.
Ballabon participated in roundtable discussions at conventions of Agudath Israel of America, in which he discussed ways to approach social issues within the guidelines of da'as Torah, in order to maximize the Kiddush Hashem message, while at the same time, not diminishing the uniqueness of Torah. He also addressed the national convention of the Orthodox Union and the rabbinical training conference of the National Council of Young Israel.
By constantly stressing moral values, Ballabon was able to make the Orthodox community into a more significant political player than its numbers would warrant. There are fewer than half a million Orthodox voters. But as a new demographic group focused around issues of values, Orthodox Jews were highly sought after by important constituencies within the Republican Party. Ballabon's personal experience in Washington confirms that principled action is often the most practically effective. His influence has grown as he has been perceived as a person of conviction and integrity rather than someone who merely buys and sells access.
Though he did not then know it, he was following in the path of the greatest of American Orthodox askonim, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the long-time president of Agudath Israel of America. In discussions with politicians, Rabbi Sherer always confined himself to the principles of the issue on the table at that moment.
A longer version of this article appeared in Mishpacha. The writer is the director of the Israeli office of Am Echad, sponsored by the American Agudas Yisroel.
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There was also this editorial on the vote of orthodox Jews:
Who Votes Jewishly?
The American Jewish vote in the past election (based on the results of exit polls which may not be fully accurate in characterizing a minority as small as the Jews in a country as big as the USA) can be characterized in many ways. About 25 percent of the Jews voted for President Bush. That means that three-fourths of the Jews voted for Senator Kerry. Four years ago only 19 percent of the Jews voted for Bush. That means that four out of five voted for the Democrat Al Gore four years ago.
You might say that Bush's support among the Jews rose by about a third over four years ago, which is quite a respectable increase even if Ed Koch, the former New York City Democratic mayor who endorsed Bush, was quoted as saying, "I think he deserved much more."
It is a bit simplistic to present the choice between Bush and Kerry as a choice between for-or-against Israel. Kerry was very assertive about his support for Israel and even if there were legitimate doubts that were raised by a few of his statements (which later were retracted) and some of his advisers on the Middle East, there is no doubt that someone who liked Kerry on the basis of the rest of what he stood for would not have had to reject him as being bad for Israel.
On the other hand, there can be no doubt that so far George W. Bush has been very good for Israel. In addition to refusing to push Israel into making concessions to the Palestinians before they at least begin to fight terror, Bush's view of the world and the large role that the threat of terror plays in it has been very close to the Israeli approach that is derived from its bitter experience. Even if there is some uncertainty since, as they always say, past performance is no guarantee for the future, nonetheless, simple gratitude would dictate support of Bush.
In fact, a poll by Frank Lutz as reported by the American Jewish Committee claimed that among Orthodox Jewish voters support for the American president was at 69 percent compared to 23 percent among Conservative Jews and only 15 percent among Reform Jews. He also found that among Jewish voters, the young tended to vote more for Bush, while the trend was the opposite among American voters as a whole. It is likely that this also reflects the youth of the Orthodox voters.
Certainly Bush's support for Israel loomed large in the decision of Jewish voters. Yet it is clear that Bush's religiosity and his stand for morals also played an important role. Voters for Kerry said that the things that mattered the most to them were jobs, the economy, and foreign policy.
Voters for Bush said that what mattered to them were moral issues. Even if they felt that Bush was not doing such a good job on the economy or in foreign affairs, they voted for him nonetheless because they felt that he would better uphold moral values. Kerry and the Democrats were seen as leading an assault on traditional values that has proven too successful for the comfort of many Americans.
This reflects different approaches to the world, and not just policy differences. For Democratic voters moral issues are secondary, and what counts is material issues like jobs and the economy. Even if they agreed with Kerry on both moral and material issues, they placed greater value on the material issues.
For Republican voters material issues are secondary and what counts is a strong position upholding morality. Even if they did not agree with Bush's approach to the material issues of the day, they placed greater weight on his approach to moral issues. Even if they did not agree with each specific position of his, his general stance and the contrast with Kerry was very clear.
In this respect, Orthodox Jews undoubtedly follow the Republican majority. Moral values are very important to them. This is not true of most American Jews, whose values, or lack of them, are much like the Democratic party.
We place our trust in Hashem, but of course we have to vote based on what we see. In voting for Bush, Orthodox American Jewry was certainly looking at his record on Israel, and, even if they may have not agreed with all of his individual positions, they were certainly comfortable with his general position on morality.
In 20 years, there could be 3 times as many.
I suspect that the proportion of Jewish voters who vote Republican increases as one looks over the statistics for secular, Reform, Conservative, to Orthodox. Do you know if any statistical studies on this subject exist?
Hey, Alouette, what percentage of American Jews are Orthodox? The article didn't say.
Cool bumper sticker!
National Jewish Population Survey although I don't think their sampling methodology is very reliable.
Reform Jews reproduce at far below replacement level, worse than the Italians. Repubican percentages will increase on that basis alone.
I live in the Town of Ramapo in Rockland County, and I can tell you a thing or two about the Orthodox Jews. While one might think its great on the national level that they vote as a block for President Bush, they also vote as a block on the local level. Ramapo is a surburb of NYC, about 25 miles north of Manhattan. We have long had a large population of Orthodox Jews who, by voting as a block (and other, less scrupulous means), exert enormous influence on the Town Supervisor and Town Board to change illegally change zoning to permit multiple family dwellings in areas zoned single family. This destroys neighborhoods. In addition, they convert many of these dwellings into temples, to avoid paying taxes. They also engage in "block busting". They offer an exorbinant price for a house or 2 in a neighborhood, and then after they get in they but up the rest of the properties on the cheap. Twice now, they have come to my mother in law's house, offering her cash on the spot for the property.
I see that he now calls himself an 'observant' jew.
For many people who had never encountered a truly orthodox jewish person, this introduction was devastating...IMO.
8% to 10% of the (American) Jewish population, last I heard.
thats not exactly right there is attrition from orthodoxy to secular and non religious entities. For example there are about 2 mill reformed jews in nyc ...
The orthodox community is fairly small compared to the totall number of about 6.5 mil in US.
Very informative. I gather that the term "orthodox" nowadays does not necessarily confine itself to the hardcore blackhats. I do wish the article came with a glossary, however. Observant jews and secular jews really seem to have no more in common than Pentecostals and Unitarians. This jewish "get out the vote drive" reminds me of those posts about the amish getting involved in the election. I'm just glad that genuine people of faith in this country are starting to realize what we have in common and abandoning the mindless tribalism the Left wants us all to practice. These times (the terror war AND the culture war) are just too serious for the frivolous "identity" politics of yesteryear.
I've met about two or three Jews my age (thirties) who've left Orthodoxy.
I've met about twenty who have gone from secular to Orthodox.
All the jews from my synagogue voted for bush. I was shocked that the token liberal told me last week he voted for bush because he was better for israel.
Did they force your Mother out of her house? Did they threaten her in any way? If not, sounds like stuff that happens every day in communities across the country.
I have met only a very few Jews who have gone from Orthodoxy to secular, and those not militantly secular, whereas any Jewish community outside of a few enclaves has many, many secularized Jews who have returned to orthodox Jewish observance.
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