Columns - 2006

    Voting early

    How early and how often do Jews vote? This might be a complex question in today's electorate, but imagine how much worse it was thousands of years ago.

    The Torah does not describe any elections from biblical times, but newly researched text in the recently discovered, long-lost Mishnah tractate Bava Gump clearly indicates that there were elections from the beginning. And they had some startling similarities to today.

    For example, the beginning of Numbers enumerates a census taken of the Israelites in the Sinai. The results were clear: 603,550 able-bodied Jewish men (this was before women's suffrage) were collectively incapable of stopping for directions or reading a map. But could they vote?

    Let's go back to the beginning, the hot contests that determined who would be the patriarchs of the Jewish people.

    The Torah does not talk about these elections at all. Bava Gump does, but does not include the names of other candidates. It does recount campaign ads, in particular the inciting ads inflicted by the challengers.

    "A stranger in a strange land. The father of two sons, by two women. Abraham banished one when the other demanded it. Are these the family values you want in a patriarch?"

    "He was a ram's horn away from killing his own son in cold blood on an altar in the wilderness. He left his servants behind so there would be no witnesses. The father of an entire people? How do you know you wouldn't be next? And next time, maybe he'll finish the job."

    "He tried to negotiate the survival of a city. If there were one hundred good people? Then fifty? Then ten? He failed to save them. The wife of the one survivor disappeared, and he claims she was turned into a pillar of salt. Is this kind of cover up the leadership you want?"

    You might think that once Abraham was inaugurated as the firstfather of the Jewish people that his descendents were automatically rolled in as the secondfather and thirdfather. That's how the Torah makes it seem, but it was really more contested than that.

    "His own son, by putting wool over his chest, pulled the wool over his eyes. He simply stood by as his father was ready to sacrifice him. He couldn't resolve the quarrel between his own two sons and their people, and how hard could that be? Where's the leadership to carry our people to their future?"

    (In the interest of full disclosure, let's not forget that Isaac was the only one with only one wife. And that Jacob and Esau did come together as brothers once more because of Isaac: When he died. But less attention is paid to Isaac than his father or son, which just shows what network TV keeps proving: America loves a good scandal.)

    "Jacob took advantage of his father's handicap, posed as his own brother, and stole his birthright. And then he just ran away. Which makes him a better leader: That he defrauded his own brother, or that he wouldn't stand his ground?"

    "He has thirteen children. The mother? Try mothers. His two wives, and their two maid-servants. And he made it well known that he preferred one of the women over the other three, and one of the sons over the other twelve children. Is he a patriarch, or the latest in a line of patriarchs who plays favorites?"

    Moving past picking the patriarchy, there were other elections of interest later in our history.

    "Raised by aristocracy, he never experienced our hardship. Slow of speech and tongue, he relied on his own brother for key political victories. He couldn't negotiate our release from captivity, so he resorted to force and called in reinforcement. Can he lead us without help from his connections?"

    "He led us into a desert and didn't even leave time for our bread to rise. He disappeared for forty days at a time. He brought back tablets with the law, and then smashed them. He hit a rock and turned our water into blood instead of a decent cabernet. We've been in the desert for a generation already. Campaign promises? Do you trust him to ever lead us to the Promised Land?"

    Now you know why it really took forty years. Campaign promises.

    Doug Brook does not intend this column to imply support or antipathy for any candidate, past or present. His voting guidance: Just vote. And if you're stuck, pick the guy who doesn't listen to Barry Manilow. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.