I, You, and He/She: A Conjugation Lesson

The real losers in the recent Israeli election — in addition to anti-Netanyahu Obama and Herzog— were the Israeli pollsters. The pre-election polls several days before the election (Israeli law wisely does not permit public polling within three days of an election) were far off the mark, showing Herzog/Livni to be at least four seats ahead. To top this off, the exit polls initially declared that the election was too close to call, when in fact it was an overwhelming Netanyahu victory, akin to a landslide.

The pollsters have spent the post–election weeks crying into their matzo-ball soup, trying to explain away why they went wrong: the electorate was undecided until the end; had polling been permitted until election day they would have been more accurate (but what about the exit poll errors?); the campaign was a volatile one, with daily ups and downs.

The miscalculation of the pollsters was for me a delight. It underscored the importance of each individual, and the uniqueness of am Yisroel. Just as the Jewish people are not subject to the ordinary rules of historic logic — we should have evaporated and disappeared millenia ago together with the empires of Assyria and Rome and Egypt — so is it with the residents of the modern State of Israel. As befits what Shemos 32:9 describes as an am k’shei oref, a stubborn stiff-necked people , we are not subject to the ordinary rules of polling. The samplings might be very ”scientific,” but we are very contrary and combative, and the principles of polling that apply to other groups do not apply to us. We are, after all, a people levadad yishkon, that “dwelleth alone” (Bamidbar 22:9). It is futile to try to anticipate what such a people will think or behave or decide tomorrow or the next day — as, incidentally, Moshe Rabbenu long ago discovered much to his chagrin.

For it is a central Jewish belief that each Jew is an individual: separate, unique and apart, different from every other Jew. The Ten Commandments were spoken in the second person singular: You, and not you-all. You as an individual shall honor your father and mother; you as an individual shall have no other gods before Me; you as an individual shall observe the Shabbos; you as an individual shall not steal, murder, commit adultery. G d speaks to us singly and exclusively.

Pollsters, on the other hand, function differently. There is no “I,” no “you,” no “he/she.” They see only a huge, formless “all-of-you” which enables the pollsters to assure us that when certain groups come from the same demographic, live in the same neighborhood, and derive from similar ethnic backgrounds, they will all think the same way, act the same way, and vote the same way. Polling rubs away all uniqueness, and transforms thousands of separate individuals into a single, nondescript, amorphous glob.

But occasionally that group of inchoate lumpenproletariat explodes into separate and distinct individuals who rise up and say, We are not a monolithic sampling, not lumps of clay. We are like our Creator, who is Echad. Just as He is One, so did He create each one of us as one, and not as robotic , random statistics on some esoteric polling algorithm. As the Mishna in Sanhedrin 37a states: Bishvili nivra ha-olam “Because of me was the world created.” The decisions of unique individuals cannot be anticipated through the prism of scientific samplings — especially since already in Talmudc times we were characterized as an ama p’ziza, a hasty, passionate and impulsive people. (Talmud, Shabbos 88a); i.e, the very bane of poll sampling.

How refreshing it was to see the pollsters go down to defeat. It could not have come at a more propitious time, for we were beginning to wonder why we need elections at all, and why stand in line for hours just to cast our ballots when the professionals could simply dispatch a few pollsters to inform us in advance who will live and who will die in the elections.

So kol hakavod to this volatile and crotchety Israeli electorate which does not like to be predictable, refuses to be reduced to a statistic, and prefers to leave prophecy to people like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Let the pollsters agonize over their defeat, and let President Obama mouth his puerile pique. Neither I, nor You, nor He/ She wishes them better luck next time.

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4 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    Thank G-d that Benjamin Netanyahu continues to be Israel’s Prime Minister. I cannot think of anybody who can better handle somebody as antagonistic to Israel as Barak Obama is.

    As for each of us Jews so valuing our individuality, it reminds me of the incident of the Tower of Bavel. Perhaps the main reason why G-d dispersed that generation, was precisely because all such individuality had been lost in favor of their version of a very strong central government. For similar reasons, communism could never endure in any given society either.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Here there really was a major shift, although the usual polling errors abounded.

  3. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I fully agree with Rabbi Feldman’s perception regarding Am Yisrael. Raymond’s perception about the Tower of Bavel is also apt. On this the interested reader should see the Netziv’s Ha’amek Davar on the relevant passage in Bereshit, in which he pinpoints the sin of the Dor HaPalaga as totalitarianism. I haven’t done enough Netziv, but I suspect he has an interesting political philosophy, also evidenced in Parshat Shoftim on kingship. Beyond this, however, we should note that polls in the US are also consistently skewed to the left. But here the obstinacy and obstreperousness of the electorate is compounded by the nature of the system. The multiplicity of parties and the firm knowledge, not speculation, that the voter is going to be doublecrossed the day after the election makes people go out of their gourd to game the system despite the fact that the cards are stacked against the individual Yossi Yisraeli. Hareidim, Arabs, settlers, Mizrahim, people from the periphery, anyone who feels themselves to be persecuted minorities, have their backs up, leading them to either refuse to answer or lie for the heck of it. I don’t believe that there is really an electoral reform that can fix this, because ever since Moshe Rabbeinu Am Yisrael has only barely been governable. Moshe, remember, cries to Hashem that they are liable to stone him. The only answer is teshuva. But fortunately the plotting of the Obama Administration came to naught.

  4. Reb Yid says:

    All rhetoric aside, this poster does not really understand polling.

    What’s amazing about polling is, if done properly, most of the time the results can be predicted with great accuracy. In this particular case, there were several methodological concerns. They have been the subject of several academic and professional listserves to which I subscribe.

    The most interesting theory–and I believe this to be the most valid critique–dealt with the sampling frame. The Israeli pollsters obtained a disproportionate amount of their sample on-line. In this case, additional modalities, such as telephone sampling and even in-person sampling, were needed to accurately capture otherwise neglected subpopulations (Sephardim and the poor) that tended to vote Likud.

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