February 14, 2023

Nedarim 7

Today is election day in Israel, and I will soon be fulfilling my right and privilege to vote as a citizen of the State of Israel. Given this, when I opened and studied today’s daf (Nedarim 7) I did so with an intense awareness of my feelings about the current and possible future state of politics here, and with the clear awareness that given the way in which governments are constructed in Israel, part of the course involves the fact that when you vote for the party you most prefer (or, in some cases, the party that you least dislike), they may well need to work with other parties towards whom you may feel far less politically inclined.
Very significantly, while everyone in Israel and many outside of Israel regard themselves as political commentators of Israel, there are issues that are often overlooked – at times by those living here and often by those living afar – which are part of the day-to-day life of citizens in Israel. Given this, when I read today’s daf (Nedarim 7a) which quotes Rav Pappa’s technical question about ‘handles’ (in terms of whether the expressions we say about the donation of money to charity need to be full expressions) of יש יד לצדקה או אין יד לצדקה (literally, ‘is there a hand for charity/welfare or is there not a hand for charity/welfare?’), I realized that this is a question I should be considering before I vote, namely: Does the party that I am going to vote for prioritize financial and human support to the vulnerable? Do they emphasise the need to give a יד לצדקה?
However, the Gemara does not end there. Instead, it then quotes a further question of Rav Pappa about ownerless (הפקר) property, namely יש יד להפקר או דלמא אין יד להפקר (‘is there a handle for the ownerless or, perhaps, there isn’t a handle for the ownerless’?) which leads me to consider whether a prospective government is prepared to take responsibility for the kinds of issues and for the various groups of people who are sadly, either explicitly or implicitly, considered to be הפקר and whose overall needs, and whose safety, are often overlooked?
Interestingly, the Gemara then quotes a question of Ravina regarding the provision of toilets and sewers – יש יד לבית הכסא או לא (meaning ‘does a commitment to make a particular location into a lavatory need to be an explicitly statement commitment’?), which leads me to consider whether a prospective government is going to invest real money in what the country needs to further improve the infrastructure and provision of plumbing and electricity, and whether they will prioritize the building and the repairing of roads in order to help reduce the many fatal accidents that we read about on a regular basis?
Until now, you may well assume that I merely consider politics to be good societal administration and management and that, as our Gemara later notes (Nedarim 7b), just as ‘a prisoner cannot release themselves from jail’ (אין חבוש מתיר עצמו מבית האסורין), the purpose of government is to do the things that are needed to enhance their quality of life – such as provide welfare, look out for the vulnerable, and ensure public services are provided.
However, while this is partially true, politics does not exist in a vacuum, politicians don’t only speak of societal administration and management, and many opinions expressed by politicians highlight the moral universe that they orbit. And it is regarding this point that I would like to cite the teaching of Rav, as quoted by Rav Chanin, that: ‘one who hears someone invoke God’s name in vain should excommunicate them’. And why? Because while it is the democratic right of any person to express their political opinion, it is a whole different thing when politicians assert that their opinion is the will of God – and from my humble opinion, all of our current politicians hold some positions or have involved themselves in some activities that conflict with the moral values of the Torah.
As should be clear, what I have written here is an attempt to make sense of some of the things on my mind today. And as should be clear, given the current and possible future state of politics in Israel, as a citizen of Israel I have much on my mind. At the same time, I will end as I began because I will soon be fulfilling my right and privilege to vote as a citizen of the State of Israel. And it is a right and a privilege that I do not take for granted.
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