Again and again we heard it as the analysts scratched their heads and did their post-mortems of the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries: “Turnout is key.” In the party primaries and caucuses, when the voting is generally confined to the smaller part of the population that represents each party’s “base,” a candidate’s ability to turn out his or her supporters can really make the difference in a race. This makes the timing of the upcoming Nevada caucuses on Saturday, January 14, all the more disturbing. Let me say that one more time: Saturday, January 14. At 9:00 a.m. for the Republicans and 11:30 a.m. for the Democrats.
Now, for readers who don’t understand why this is a problem, as the organizers of the Nevada caucuses most assuredly do not, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath, when Jews are supposed to refrain from work and from seeking to alter the world, which, after all, is precisely the point of an election!
Traditional Jews are automatically excluded from participating in the caucus since it would violate their Sabbath observance. But even for those Jews who do not follow the traditional Sabbath restrictions–and by latest estimates there are between 60,000 and 80,000 Jews in Nevada and, unsurprisingly, disproportionately active in the political process–the timing of the caucuses fall in the middle of Sabbath services when many Jews who might not otherwise have a religious objection to attending the caucus later in the day will be in synagogue.
The issue was picked up by the Faith in Public Life blog and the scornful comments that the piece drew were even more alarming than the decision itself, which was presumably made in ignorance. Several posters seem to suggest that Jewish groups in Nevada are trying to impose their religious views on others–a stunningly outrageous view when evangelical candidates are working to overturn legal abortion, rewrite school curricula, and prevent stem-cell research. Although there is nothing in Christianity that I am aware of that would prevent Christians from participating in an election on Christmas, (not that there could ever be an election on Christmas – it’s a Federal holiday, for crying out loud) I don’t think Christians who rightly complained about such an arrangement would be accused of being “backward” and “superstitious.” But that’s what’s happening here.
I’m not sure why there is so much hostility when Jews are not asking for any special rights or privileges–just the ability to practice their religious values and their civic values like anyone else.
Isn’t that the kind of turnout we should want?