By the time this column is published, the world’s Jewry will be finishing their celebration of one of the holiest festivals of the year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, Hashem opens the Books of Life and Death, and within the Ten Days of Repentance, will seal our fates for the following year. In Jewish tradition, the significance of these days of worship are tantamount to those of Christmas or Easter in Christianity — to expect anyone do anything besides worshipping or celebrating with family is a lot to ask.
Yom Kippur is the holiday that closes the Ten Days of Repentance, where Jews repent for our individual and collective sins before Hashem closes the Books of Life and Death. Yom Kippur is arguably more important than Rosh Hashanah, though only slightly. Regardless, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish People is right now.
But if one were to ask Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to share his knowledge on Jewish holy day observances, he would be likely to disagree with the above facts. Why? Let’s take a look at recent Wisconsin’s recent political developments.
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Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Weston, of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional district resigned Sept. 23, citing complications surrounding the birth of his ninth child. On the same day Duffy resigned, Gov. Tony Evers called for a special election to fill Duffy’s seat in Congress.
“Our rural communities have been directly affected by unproductive trade wars, political attacks on health care and public education, and economic uncertainty because of the volatility we’re seeing in Washington, D.C.,” Evers said in a statement. “The people of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District deserve to have a voice in Congress, which is why I am calling for a special election to occur quickly to ensure the people of the 7th Congressional District have representation as soon as possible.”
The special election is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020, with a primary scheduled for Dec. 30, 2019. Cue the misplaced outrage.
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In a letter to Gov. Evers, Vos cited the Jewish festival of Chanukah as reason for moving the special election, leaving the 7th Congressional District without representation until the Spring 2020 elections.
“It is unnecessary to require Wisconsinites to exercise their civic duty to vote on a day they have set aside for a religious purpose,” Vos said in the letter. “I respectfully demand that you find a new date for the upcoming special election.”
Vos’ argument may appear to be a sincere attempt at advocating for Wiscconsin’s Jews. But do not be fooled — Vos’ statement is partisan squabbling under the guise of defending religious liberties.
Chanukah is a post-biblical festival, celebrated for eight nights. The primary special election would fall on the eighth night. Though indeed a celebration, Chanukah is not subject to the same emphatic observance as the more significant holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Chanukah, Jews continue their lives as normal, going to work, making purchases, driving cars — all actions which are restricted on the more sacred holidays.
Just because Chanukah often falls near the most sacred Christian holiday does not give it the same significance. So given that Chanukah is not subject to the same restrictions as the Jewish High Holidays, for the Jewish population of Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District, voting is not a problem.
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What is a problem is a trending behavior in the Republican party, one Vos is now allowing to infiltrate Wisconsin — using Jews and the threat of appearing anti-Semitic to shame an opponent for political gain. In his letter, Vos cited a tweet by Evers condemning a terrible act of vandalism on a Racine synagogue.
“Hate and antisemitism have no place in Wisconsin,” Evers said in his tweet. “I stand in support of the Racine Jewish community and with Jewish Wisconsinites across the state.”
And yet Vos has the audacity to imply that if Evers does not move the election and increase the amount of time the 7th Congressional District goes unrepresented, Evers will be going back on his word. Such an accusation is simply asinine.
This letter was not meant to advocate for Wisconsin’s Jews. This letter was written out of fear that Duffy’s seat would turn blue — an unfounded fear, as the seat has stayed Republican for almost 10 years and President Trump won the district by 57%.
If Vos cared about Wisconsin’s Jewish community, he would ensure the Wisconsin State Legislature would not be in session on the most sacred Jewish holy day of the year, Yom Kippur — but they are. Yes, the Assembly did vote to change the schedule, but perhaps with a little more prodding from supposed champion-of-the-Jews Robin Vos, the Senate would have done the same.
Instead, State Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, will be forced to choose between representing her constituents on the Assembly floor or observing the most sacred holiday on the Jewish calendar. On that unconstitutional reality, Vos has remained silent.
Mischaracterizing an election schedule as anti-Semitic reduces the urgency and severity surrounding actually anti-Semitic incidents, which will hurt Wisconsin’s Jews in the long run. Being used as a shield is a slippery slope to being used as a scapegoat. In the words of Robin Vos, we “respectfully demand” better.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in political science and journalism.