Vote MERCAZ: Today’s Poll Tax

On Shabbat morning, we talked about the evolving definition of Judaism as crafted by the World Zionist Organization. We saw that in 1897, at the first Zionist Congress in Basle, the aim of political Zionism was to garner support–among world Jewry and world leaders–for the idea of a Jewish homeland. Come 1951, with that mission accomplished, the new emphasis was on immigration and absorption, with an educational focus that prioritized Hebrew over Jewishness.  In the aftermath of the Six Day War, a new platform was put forward in 1968, with an increased emphasis on Jewish values, including the prophetic call for peace.

When we turned to the most recent Jerusalem Platform of the 2004 Congress, we noted an explicit reference to the multifaceted Jewish People around the world, with their many forms of expressing their Jewishness. In other words, for the first time, pluralism is a stated value of the worldwide Zionist ethos.  And credit for this innovation goes to the very entity that advocates for pluralism in Israel, the political Zionist arm of the Conservative Movement, known as MERCAZ.

In my Shabbat email introducing this theme, I noted the juxtaposition of two distinct forms of support that we read on consecutive Shabbatot. The first is terumah, the voluntary contribution for the building of the mishkan, that had no set limit. One gave whatever one’s heart moved him (in those days it probably was only hims) to give. Then there’s mahatzit hashekel, the mandatory half-shekel poll tax for the upkeep of the sanctuary. “The rich shall give no more, nor the poor any less, than a half-shekel” (Exodus 30:15). In considering these two ways to participate, I advanced the power of the half-shekel. It’s simple, standard, and idiot-proof. And everyone does it because they’re commanded to do it.

When it comes to being a Zionist and a Conservative Jew, once every five years we have what I believe should be a mahatzit hashekel type of obligation. Simply put, we should all register to vote in the World Zionist Congress elections, preferably for MERCAZ. If you are computer-literate, the process takes no more than 10 minutes and costs $10.

Diaspora Jews who care deeply about the State of Israel recognize the limitations of their say in the affairs of the Jewish State. One must be an Israeli citizen to vote in the Knesset elections. But the World Zionist Congress is a product of world Jewry for world Jewry. This is our chance to frame the Jewish character of the Jewish State. I urge you to participate! You can register and vote by clicking at the MERCAZ website here:

May we continue to add our voices as we participate in one of the great moments in Jewish history.

Rabbi David Wise