Rabbi Matthew Kaufman calls for American Jewish communities to protect the United States Postal Services (USPS).
American Jewish communities must act now to protect democracy and voting rights.
Protect the United States Postal Services (USPS). It is a mitzvah. It is the single-most important thing we need to do during the countdown to November third. It is currently being gutted, and if it cannot function properly, then the democratic process that undergirds the American way of life fails.
Jewish ethics and Talmudic teachings call out to us to take action. The famous maxim of Hillel, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” reminds us of the importance of supporting the health of society (Pirkei Avot 2:4). The Talmudic sages make this point explicit. This maxim, they explain, teaches that when the community is suffering, you have an obligation to support it (Ta’anit 11a). The deliberate sabotage of the USPS is causing a unique suffering.
At the same time, we are mindful of the consequences of living during this modern plague of covid-19. We understand that we have an obligation to save ourselves and protect others through social distancing. This, too, is recognized by the Talmudic sages, who proclaim the importance of isolation from the community during a time of plague (Bava Kamma 60b).
The option to vote by mail was supposed to relieve the tension in these contradictory claims made upon us — to both separate and not separate ourselves from the community. Through the USPS, we can do both. We can fulfill our obligation to maintain our society’s health by voting while simultaneously preserving the health and safety of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
The one pathway open to us that would allow us to fulfill our ethical obligations to ourselves, our neighbors, and our democratic republic, is severely constricted. Without the postal service, people will be forced to choose between safeguarding their health or safeguarding democracy. This is an untenable and unnecessary burden. The ongoing dismantling of the United States Postal Services must be vigorously opposed. It is a Jewish ethical obligation.
Time is running short.
We must support advocacy groups like the League of Women Voters. Demand that your representatives and senators take action now to protect the USPS. Press your representative to hold Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the USPS board of governors accountable. Find out what you can do locally to help people get their absentee ballots to their clerk’s offices. And get started now.
Rabbi Matthew Kaufman, PhD is the rabbi of Congregation Kehillat Israel in Lansing.