The April election, when Israelis will choose the members of Knesset and thereby determine which party will form a government, has become the only topic of conversation in Israel. These are the times when I almost envy my diehard Likud friends and members of the Haredi community because they all know exactly which party they are going to vote for and are even enthusiastic about it. People like myself, on the other hand, only know which party (parties) they will absolutely not vote for, but keep looking frantically at all the others to find the one they can support. As a committed Masorti Jew I usually look to our tradition and our sacred literature for guidance in issues of this sort, but that does not seem to work well in this instance. Truth to tell, we have had little experience in choosing our political leadership since we have not had control over our own land for thousands of years and even when we did the leadership was not chosen by the people. Theoretically, at least, leaders were appointed by God or by God’s spokesmen, but even that was not always successful – look at Saul, for example. If we are looking for precedents in Jewish history we would have little success since governments elected by the people is a modern idea. When the tribes of Israel entered Canaan, they were led by a someone appointed directly by God – Joshua. In the period of the Judges that followed, leaders arose in ways that are unclear. The book of Judges puts it this way, “Then the Lord raised up chieftains (Judges or shoftim in Hebrew), who delivered them from those who plundered them (2:16). When the Lord raised up chieftains for them the Lord would be with the chieftain and would save them from their enemies during the chieftain’s lifetime (2:18). These shoftim were generals more than anything else. They did not really judge or govern so much as lead in battle. We have a long history, then, of looking to the military to be our leaders rather than statesmen. The period of the Judges came to an end with Samuel, who seems to have been a combination of judge, priest and prophet, and to have been seen as a true leader of all Israel. His sons, however, did not prove to be worthy and the people decided that they needed a more reliable way of governance, so they asked for a king – a form of governance that was found all around them. But they had no choice about the monarch. He too would be chosen by God through a prophet. Samuel was unhappy about that and warned them correctly that the monarch would take advantage of them, but they insisted, and so a king was appointed by God (Samuel 8). Saul was appointed and when he did not work out Samuel appointed David in Saul’s place (Samuel 16:1). David was a better choice. He was successful militarily and was also able to unite the tribes into one kingdom, but his dynasty did not do that good a job and for most of the time we were split into two rival kingdoms rather than one.For centuries there were two Jewish nations, Israel and Judah, two sets of kings – many of whom were corrupt rulers.In order to pass a comprehensive exam in Bible, I once had to memorize the names and dates of all the kings of both nations. I passed the exam but have since forgotten most of what I learned. I do remember, however, how disappointed I was when reading the books of Kings because we are constantly being told of rulers who were displeasing to God – including rulers from the house of David. There were some who were good and pleasing. But in general it is not a happy story. The monarchy of both Israel and Judah and the wars between them does not paint a particularly glorious picture. So if we are unhappy about our leaders in modern times, some of whom have been a disgrace while others were people of worth, we should realize that this is nothing new. And if we are looking for guidance as to how to vote, the ancient history of Jewish leaders in this land provides little help. We have more to be proud of in the prophets of Israel, who – as Nathan did to David – often castigated the rulers for their misdeeds. The prophets taught us the importance of justice and mercy and that ethical behavior was more important than ritual. Prophecy in Israel is something of which we can justly be proud. Majesty is another story. If we are looking for help in deciding how to vote, however, we should take note of the instance in the Torah in which God instructs Moses about the characteristics of good leaders: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes… and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue!” (Deut. 16:18-20)Earlier, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, had advised him similarly to appoint people to help him govern: “You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain” (Exodus 18:21). Jethro may not have been an Israelite, but he was indeed a worthy man who gave good advice that we could follow. Just substitute the word “people” for “men” and it tells us who should be in the Knesset and who should be ministers – prime and otherwise: trustworthy people who spurn ill-gotten gain. When we consider for whom to vote, each of us will have a different set of criteria concerning the policies we want our leaders to follow. On this we will certainly differ from one another. But there is one set of criteria on which I believe we could all agree: “You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain” (Exodus 18:21). We need leaders – no matter what their ideology – who will govern justly, who will not take bribes and will pursue justice. I may not have agreed with Menachem Begin’s ideology, but I did admire his trustworthiness and his lack of personal self-interest. I hope that somewhere in this vast list of possible leaders who are asking for our vote, we will each find someone who is trustworthy and will govern all our citizens without partiality, seeking always true justice and spurning bribes. The writer, a former President of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award. His most recent book is Akiva: Life Legend, Legacy, available in both English and Hebrew. In May his newest volume, A Year With the Sages, will be published by JPS.