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?
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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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!