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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume I : Number 11

Elections According To Halacha

Question:

  1. In a certain synagogue there are plans to hold elections for synagogue officers. One of the candidates is a brother-in-law of one of the congregants. Is the congregant obligated to disqualify himself from participating in the elections?

  2. The administration of a certain communal institution is in the process of hiring an executive director. One of the three possible candidates for this position is a relative of one of the administrators. Must the administrator disqualify himself from any debate and decision regarding filling this position?

What is the Halacha?


Answer:

  1. In relation to Question A, it is permitted for any member of a synagogue who has voting rights to participate in elections and vote for a friend or relative, despite the fact that he is personally biased towards him.

    This is only true if the member really feels that his relative is the better candidate. If the member knows that his relative is not as qualified for the job as other candidates, and wants to vote for him because of their relationship, he may not do so.

  2. In relation to Question B, the administrator must disqualify himself from participating in the decision whether or not to hire his relative. This decision must be made by the remaining members of the administration, or another person may be appointed temporarily to replace the disqualified administrator in making this decision.


Sources:

Any time a community joins together in an organization, it is with the understanding that all members of the community are qualified to judge, testify, and state their opinions in matters relating to communal affairs, despite the fact that it is well known that many people have personal biases and interests in certain matters. This Halacha is stated in the Teshuvos HaRashba (Vol. 1 Siman 680), and is quoted by the Shulchan Oruch and the Rema in Choshen Mishpat (37:22). It is also mentioned in the Teshuvos of the MaHaram MiRottenberg which is quoted by the Rema (ibid. 163:1).

The reason for this is because it is clearly with this understanding that the members have joined the organization. Otherwise, it would be impossible to effectively run the organization. Any issue that may arise would have to have an impartial panel from another community to resolve it. Furthermore, in a smaller community, it might be necessary to disqualify a major portion of the members of the community for having familial and personal interests in most decisions. This would clearly make any decision making process very cumbersome!

However, this right to participate, despite personal interests, is to help the organization to be more effective and efficient. If a person were to use that right to pursue his personal interests at the expense of the organization, he is violating the original understanding. Therefore, in Answer A, we stated that although a person has the right to vote for a relative in a communal election, this is only if he sincerely believes that he is casting his vote for the benefit of the community.

Whereas in relation to Answer B, in that situation it is for the benefit of the community that the best person for the job be chosen to serve the community. Since one of the administrators may be swayed by personal interests in this decision, it is beneficial for the community that he disqualify himself and allow the decision to be made by the other administrators, or that someone be appointed to replace him for this decision. Since this is something feasible and will not adversely affect the organization in any way, we remain with the Din of the Torah that a relative or any other person that has a Psul (disqualification) is disqualified from any judging or decision making in a situation that requires objective reasoning. [beh.222]


This class is translated and moderated by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler accepts full responsibility for the accuracy of the translation and will be happy to fax originals of the articles in Hebrew to anyone interested.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent to atendler@torah.org.

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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!


 






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