The Rabbi and the Senator

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Tonight I celebrated the publication of Senator Joseph Lieberman’s The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath (OU Press and Howard Books) with the Senator, R. Meir Soloveichik and about 1,000 other people. At the inaugural event of Yeshiva University’s Moshael and Zahava Straus Center for Torah and Western Civilization, the rabbi interviewed the senator about his experiences with and thoughts on the intersection of religion and public life (link). I was tweeting away all evening and below I present my Twitter feed from the event.

Please note that 1) I am mentioned in the book’s acknowledgments because of my involvement with the publication, 2) I may have heard some things wrong, over-summarized or failed to represent the intended humor in the remarks so verify before reporting, and 3) I occasionally refer to R. Soloveitchik as R Solly due to the required brevity of Twitter — no disrespect is intended.

  • R Meir Soloveichik and Sen. Joe Lieberman at YU:
  • Pres Richard Joel is introducing the new Straus Center which R Soloveichik heads and this event launches
  • In the house are R N Lamm, R Z Charlop, R M Genack, R Y Mendelson, Prof L Schiffman and about 1,000 people behind me.
  • This year’s theme of the Straus Center is biblical themes and political ideas. Pres Joel must not have coined it – no alliteration.
  • R Solly is introducing the institute which will focus on religion’s role in politics and particularly Judaism’s role.
  • Parade celebrating constitution included a rabbi and a minister walking arm in arm.
  • R Solly mentions the Sen’s new book The Gift of Rest and introduces the Sen
  • Sen Lieberman starts speaking. He feels at home at YU. God gave the Torah to the Jews to take what we learn from it out to the world.
  • Sen Lieberman: Not just tikkun olam but tikkun olam bemalchut Shadd-ai.
  • Particularly today when with all our freedom we are tempted to withdraw inside, YU represents going out into the world as Jews.
  • Tweeting @JoeLieberman at YU
  • As someone who was once non-observant, @JoeLieberman experiences Shabbat as a gift
  • Most people know what we don’t do on Shabbat. @JoeLieberman wrote this book so people will know what we do.
  • Multiple shout-outs to R Genack (sitting next to me) who nudged @JoeLieberman to write the book and helped him do it
  • In this information age, every day seems the same. There is no separation and people lose perspective.
  • The media keeps asking him whether he really turns his blackberry off. It’s the hardest thing to do but once he does it he feels liberated
  • The world can get by without @JoeLieberman one day a week, which is a hard lesson for a senator
  • Wants to be mekarev Jews to keeping Shabbat and Christians to Sundays
  • R Solly wants the sen to write about three day yom tovs. Next book 😉
  • R Solly: people compare @JoeLieberman to JFK, the first Catholic pres. But they are diff. JFK tried to erase his religion unlike the sen.
  • A completely diff model of religion in public life. @JoeLieberman says the civil rights movement helped him succeed as a Jew.
  • Side note: R Soloveichik is sitting up there with his notes on an iPad. I don’t think that would fly in Torah Vodaas.
  • @JoeLieberman felt during 2000 election that his religion was not just a burden but a help. He didn’t need to conceal it.
  • Al Gore told @JoeLieberman before announcing him as VP candidate that the fear of anti-semitism among Jews was much greater than reality
  • Politics is like sports. It comes down to numbers. The ticket featuring the first Jew got more votes than the other ticket.
  • ADL asked @JoeLieberman not to include public confession of religion in campaign. He ignored it.
  • @JoeLieberman – First amendment doesn’t prevent you from talking about your religion
  • R Solly – why do some Jews think a secular public square is best?
  • @JoeLieberman – in other places and times that was the case. But…
  • R Solly – should clergy participate in 9/11 commemoration? @JoeLieberman – it would be better to include them, it’s US tradition
  • @JoeLieberman klaps al cheit for attending kiddush club
  • R Solly – how much should a candidate’s church and minister be public interest?
  • @JoeLieberman – if a candidate’s religion is in public square, it’s fair to ask a candidate about his minister’s statements. But he can…
  • …say “that’s not me”
  • R Solly – @JoeLieberman once shared a dvar Torah with Sarah Palin
  • @JoeLieberman – Rebbetzin Lichtenstein referred to that as the episode of the Lonely Hockey Mom of Faith
  • @JoeLieberman shared with Palin a dvar Torah from Kol Dodi Dofek – fate, destiny. She succeeded in the debate thanks to Rav Soloveitchik
  • R Solly – you share religious moments with Christians but not non-religious Jews. No divrei Torah for Barbara Boxer
  • Do we have something in common with religious Christians that we don’t with non-religious Jews?
  • @JoeLieberman – Of course. With Evangelicals it’s the truth of the Hebrew Bible. With Catholics it’s the role of ritual.
  • @JoeLieberman – this is a whole new era. We’re in an unprecedented time of Jewish-Christian relations.
  • @JoeLieberman – religious Christians are worried about the affordability of private religious schools. Sound familiar?
  • @JoeLieberman – the great civil rights issue of our age is education. Christian schools help solve this. But the timing isn’t good – debt.
  • @JoeLieberman – part of the problem is teachers unions preventing reform in public schools
  • @JoeLieberman – there are beginnings of cross-religious alliances in school reform
  • R Solly – we say in havdalah about separation b/w Jews and gentiles but that isn’t a negative statement
  • R Solly – is there any tension b/w the American ideal and Jewish idea of chosenness?
  • @JoeLieberman – the Jewish mission is to fulfill the American ideal. There is no contradiction b/w Jewish particularism and universalism.
  • R Solly – there is something historic about @JoeLieberman’s career. What does his speaking at Republican convention say about the D party?
  • @JoeLieberman – I didn’t leave the D party, it left me. Not just about Iraq. Truman and JFK were strong supporters of int’l freedom.
  • R Solly and @JoeLieberman keep plugging YU, very polite and semi-humorous.
  • R Solly – what advice would @JoeLieberman offer religious students interested in entering politics?
  • @JoeLieberman – JFK made politics seem like a noble calling, and it is. Go back to Aristotle and Jewish sources. It’s a way to bring…
  • …Torah out to the world. Not just prof politics but also to be a civil servant. Most honorable position in society.
  • @JoeLieberman – one of the remaining acceptable bigotries is against Mormons. Whatever you think of Romney and Huntsman, oppose bigotry.
  • @JoeLieberman – you will never have to choose between observing halakhah and going out in the world. Society has opened up and changed.
  • @JoeLieberman – go out into the world with confidence as a religious person.
  • Me and Nachum Segal after the event:

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

46 comments

  1. “Parade celebrating constitution included a rabbi and a minister walking arm in arm.”

    That parade was on July 4, 1788, a few weeks after the Constitution’s ratification took effect. The source for the rabbi and minister walking arm in arm is Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Here is a link that describes the day in detail:

    http://www.ushistory.org/carpentershall/history/procession.htm

    Note that this definitively establishes July 4 as a holiday that Jews were celebrating 223 years ago.

  2. Who is R Y Mendelson?

  3. “R Solly wants the sen to write about three day yom tovs.”

    I presume he was joking????

    “part of the problem is teachers unions preventing reform in public schools”

    Most if not all Catholic schools in this area are unionized.

  4. “Whatever you think of Romney and Huntsman, oppose bigotry.”

    Amen. (FWIW, the first Presidential vote I ever cast was a Democratic primary vote in 1976 for Morris Udall.)

    “you will never have to choose between observing halakhah and going out in the world. Society has opened up and changed.”

    Amen.

    “go out into the world with confidence as a religious person.”

    And amen. I wish I could have been there. Watch the news tomorrow evening for a big story that I have a part in.

  5. Yes, they were joking about three day yamim tovim and the senator was joking in his request to reconstitute the Sanhedrin to eliminate three day yamim tovim, although he got a huge clap for it. People, if you feel that strongly about it then move to Israel!

  6. Reuven Spolter

    was it recorded? is there audio?

  7. “That parade was on July 4, 1788, a few weeks after the Constitution’s ratification took effect.”

    Surely not! The Constitution did not take effect until March of 1789. The ratification took place when the ninth state ratified, June 21, 1788, so perhaps they were celebrating that. Virginia was four days later, but New York not until late July. In other words, you may think of this as a rally in favor of the Constitution, which was still being hotly debated. You can even argue these people were taking a side in a debate rather than being simply patriotic… (Those last two states were the most important. The last two followed well after the Constitution took effect.)

    “one of the remaining acceptable bigotries is against Mormons.”

    I think it’s rather acceptable to bigoted against any religious Jew or Christian. Bachmann isn’t Mormon and look at the grief she gets. Non-Western religions are sacrosanct, of course.

  8. Shachar Ha'amim

    “Yes, they were joking about three day yamim tovim and the senator was joking in his request to reconstitute the Sanhedrin to eliminate three day yamim tovim, although he got a huge clap for it. People, if you feel that strongly about it then move to Israel!”

    Amen. The sanhedrin might need to be constituted to “fix” the historical error (see baal Hameor Beitzah 6) which resulted in a “3 day YT” rosh hashana in E”Y (like this upcoimg RH). However, I’m not even sure that the Sanhedrin is needed for that as the actual practice in E”Y was only changed very late – 12 century – hundreds of years after chazal and sealing of talmud, and might only be on the level of kitniyot with respect to mihag hamakom and all.

    what’s the connection between the Rabbi, the ipod and torah vodaas?

  9. any other yu (or other yeshivot) roshei yeshiva there?
    any plans for a (perhaps more private) discussion of the heterim (and/or restrictions)for karov lmalchut?
    KT

  10. Michael Feldstein

    Senator Lieberman continues to be a walking kiddush Hashem. I am proud to daven with him regularly in our Stamford community, and honored to have him represent us in the Senate. I do hope folks in the non-Orthodox and Christian communities read the book, as it gives a good basic understanding of the meaning and importance of Shabbos, without being preach or apologetic. Yasher koach, Senator Joe! See you in shul on Shabbos!

    Michael Feldstein
    Stamford, CT

  11. ““part of the problem is teachers unions preventing reform in public schools””

    The Democratic party left him?

    I guess it is Doctors Unions that get sympathy-see recent big victory in Israel where they won a settlement that the rest of the country could only dream about. They succeeded in getting a statement of public support from among others RAL.

  12. “Senator Lieberman continues to be a walking kiddush Hashem.”
    Suspect many in Ct disagree with you
    see from a couple of years ago
    “Poll: Lieberman Would Lose 2012 Re-Election In Landslide
    By Eric Kleefeld – February 10, 2009, 9:16AM
    If Joe Lieberman decides to run for a fifth term in 2012, a new Quinnipiac poll suggests that it may be a lost cause.

    The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.

    Lieberman’s active campaigning against the Democratic Party last year hasn’t won him too many friends back home. Democrats go for Blumenthal by 83%-9%, and independents are for Blumenthal 55%-29%. Lieberman is the de facto Republican nominee in this match, and with GOP voters he scores 67%-23% over Blumenthal.

    Lieberman’s job approval is also at only 45%, with 48% disapproving. Among Democrats that’s a 21%-70% rating, Republicans 75%-20%, while independents give him a narrow approval of 48%-46%”

    .

  13. “any plans for a (perhaps more private) discussion of the heterim (and/or restrictions)for karov lmalchut?”

    Interesting discussion possibility.

  14. > I occasionally refer to R. Soloveitchik as R Solly due to the required brevity of Twitter — no disrespect is intended <
    R'Gil, why not adopt the Avodah standard and type "RMS" or something similar?

  15. Mycroft, what doctors’ unions are there in the US?

    MP, when you grew up with someone, it’s hard to stop referring to them that way. You should hear my father and his contemporaries talk about Heshy and Hacky and Jerry. I remember when we called him Solly and wondered if the Rav was called the same. 🙂

  16. Joseph Kaplan

    Jerry?

  17. YU Talmid: R. Yaakov Mendelson, a big talmid chacham in OU Kosher, rabbi in Bridgeport, CT and the father of an MTA rebbe.

    Reuven Spolter: It was videotaped and I think Mayer Fertig mentioned that it was also audio taped. He said it would take a few days to get online.

    Joel: I didn’t see any other roshei yeshiva but it wasn’t like I was walking up and down the aisles to see who was there. I also saw R. Josh Joseph, R. Zev Reichman and R. Marc Gottlieb but I didn’t see the vast majority of people there. Then again, it’s unlikely roshei yeshiva from elsewhere would come to hear a politician speak. It would be great to speak about the heterim of karov le-malkhus but you can’t do that in front of a senator because it might embarrass him.

    Mycroft: Lieberman was a “new Democrat” like Clinton and Gore, not like Obama.

    Joseph: Presumably Blidstein

  18. Sen. Liebrman chooses to emphasize the lack of contradiction between Judaism and “Americanism.” America has been a great country to the Jews and clearly America has derived some of its values from Judaism. BUT, the mission of Jews is not to remain in America but to fulfill the commandment of yishuv eretz yisrael and create a Torah state which will be a light unto the nations. (This comment was not intended to dismiss any potential positive influence this book or Sen. Lieberman may havehave had on American society as a whole.)

  19. R’Gil,
    Yes, that’s why I suggested a separate discussion (even more interesting would be actual cases and specific psak but I don’t know they exist-other than the Rahm Emanuel example from a few years back)
    KT

  20. “Yes, they were joking about three day yamim tovim and the senator was joking in his request to reconstitute the Sanhedrin to eliminate three day yamim tovim, although he got a huge clap for it. People, if you feel that strongly about it then move to Israel!”

    How much you want to be that he was not joking. You do realize how hated the three day Yom Tov is? And, no, it’s not sufficient reason to move to Israel.

  21. @Nachum “when you grew up with someone, it’s hard to stop referring to them that way”: OK (although, just as one counter-example, I know contemporaries [and relatives] of Rav Moshe Feinstein z’l’ who refer to him as Rav Moshe, just like the rest of us), but I was commenting on what R’Gil (who is quite familiar with the Aishdas.ORG Avodah conventions and common acronyms) wrote and don’t know who he grew up with — if he’s looking to ‘shrink’ R. Soloveichik’s name “due to the required brevity of Twitter,” RMS (or even RMYS) seems a better choice (both in terms of brevity and in terms of proper kavod) than R. Solly.

  22. “Jerry” would be R’ Yosef Blau.

  23. Whew. I was afraid it was R. Yeruchum Gorelick, who once told me in shiur — true (and long) story — that I should call him Jerry. No, I never did.

  24. Personally, I love three day Yamim Tovim. Yes, I agree with our Rosh Yeshiva R. Student, that all things being equal, “a person should always live in the land of Israel, even in a city whose demographic majority is non-Jewish, rather than live in the Diaspora, even in a city whose demographic majority is Jewish.” (Ketubot 110b) Nevertheless, if one does inhabit the Diaspora, at least one enjoys the sustained experience of holiness for three consecutive days. Plus, there are ecological benefits in the cessation of industry for three days straight.

  25. RV – I always wonder why comments like yours show up in any and every context that relates to positive Jewish developments in anywhere in the disapora. The sentiment of living in Israel as a mitzva and ideal (though one not universal yet without the arrival of the moshiach) is not being ignored. There is almost no purpose in preaching that point in a meaningful discussion about committed, religious Jewish identity in America, which itself needs strengthening among the majority of Jewish people in this country. We need our brethren to be Torah-observant Jews first, because otherwise they won’t give a darn about living in Israel. It would probably be greatly appreciated by many if these sorts of soap-box statements were not regularly interjected into unrelated discussions.

    Rant aside: This sounds like it was a fantastic event and I wish I could have gone. YU continues to do wonderful things for Modern Orthodoxy and I am proud to have gone there.

  26. “The ratification took place when the ninth state ratified, June 21, 1788”

    That was what I meant. There even was one last session of the Confederation Congress after ratification. New York might not have ratified had ten states not already done so; Gov. George Clinton was a staunch anti-Federalist. But the actions of New Hampshire and Virginia put the squeeze on Clinton and the legislature caved.

    “The new poll tests Lieberman as an independent against Democratic Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The numbers: Blumenthal 58%, Lieberman 30%. Yikes.”

    I don’t know who would run against Lieberman, but it won’t be Blumenthal, who was elected to the Senate last fall.

    “what doctors’ unions are there in the US?”

    http://www.uapd.com/

    Doctors in many US organizations would be better off if they unionized.

    “a person should always live in the land of Israel, even in a city whose demographic majority is non-Jewish”

    I’d probably have a better chance of getting an academic job in Nablus than in any Israeli medical school.

  27. R’shades,
    leaving out presentation for the moment, I disagree on the main point, it’s my anecdotal observation that many in the US do not think religiously about the issue and it is good to be reminded that even if we are here, this is not the land of our destiny.
    KT

  28. R Gil-great article about a great example of Kiddush HaShem whose hallmark will be his willingness to defy the liberal PC elites on many issues, and whose own willingness to disconnect from his Blackberry should be a Musar Haskel to those who “text on Shabbos”.

  29. That said, I definitely value R’ Anonymous’ illuminating comment, and if the messianic Sanhedrin (which apparently will include a resurrected Moshe Rabbeinu, apropos the gemara in Yoma 5b) will legislate one-day Yamim Tovim, obviously I will listen (as per the mitzvah in this week’s parashah to heed the Sanhedrin).

    R’ Charlie Hall,
    Thank you for the excellent point. I agree a Jew should not move to Nablus nowaways, as Tosafot in Ketubot 110b propose that “sakanat derakhim” serves as an exemption. In other words, when the gemara speaks of a “city whose demographic majority is non-Jewish”, it means non-Jews who are kindly disposed toward Jews, which cannot be currently said for Hamas, a dominant political party in Nablus. Hopefully, Hamas will do teshuvah and Nablus will become more Jew-friendly, as befits a city that houses Joseph’s bones. And then Nablus can enjoy the privilege of your presence.

  30. The Rav ztl famously booked his flights to and from Boston (in a pre 9/11 era) under the name Joseph Solo, so perhaps using “Rabbi Solo” would follow a precedent and be less susceptible to charges of disrespect.

  31. Solo may have precedent but everybody who was in yeshiva with the young Rabbi Soloveitchik cally him Solly. Hard to break old habits…

  32. MiMedinat HaYam

    three day yom tov was a joke, per the sanhedrin comment following.

    he used the ipad not for notes as much as for his prepared questions. though they prob hide the ipad in TV (which i assume is a euphemism for charedi world, where its use is prob pretty extensive.)

    you didnt mention the next event (after sukkot; i think pres joel said oct 22, but thats a friday) will be r gil’s hero, the chief rabbi sachs.

    also, an interesting explanation of “chosen ppl”, which perhaps deserves a separate posting (though i think most commenters here will try to disavow the concept of choseness.)

    it seems r genack is the chief rabbi of the democratic party, based on the senator’s comments.

    the book was sold for $15 (no inscription) vs $22 cover price (though i see it on amazon for $12.88)

    i was extremely impressed with rav meir s, and predict a very bright future for him in the jewish community (?successor to pres joel?) “hacky” will teach him fundraising and speaking skills, which i think are his only (current) faults. (and hacky is prob the best instructor for both of these, short of the rabbi dr lamm.)

  33. MeMedinat, it’s looking like R’ Sacks is going to get that job.

  34. Successor to R’ Lamm, that is.

  35. R. Genack is also buddies with Bill and Hillary Clinton. He has a book in the works of divrei Torah he sent to President Clinton. Actually very good stuff.

    You absolutely must hear R. Meir Soloveichik give a prepared speech. He is phenomenal. Check it out on YUtorah.org and look for something formal. Truly unbelievable delivery.

  36. “Nachum on September 1, 2011 at 6:36 am
    Mycroft, what doctors’ unions are there in the US”

    See the following article from 1975-

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,913603,00.html
    especially
    In the past several years, local physicians’ unions have sprung up in San Francisco, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Mich., and in New York City, where members successfully struck for shorter hours last spring (TIME, March 31). Last week American medicine took another significant step toward unionization. Meeting in Washington, D.C., the Physicians National Housestaff Association, which claims to represent some 18,000 interns, residents and postgraduate fellows in teaching hospitals round the country, decided overwhelmingly to become a national labor union.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,913603,00.html#ixzz1Wl6vGA4h

    Of course, Nachum you are well aware of the Israeli doctors strikes where they aren’t satisfied as mere residents to earn a salary that most Israelis couldn’t even dream about.

  37. “I don’t know who would run against Lieberman, but it won’t be Blumenthal, who was elected to the Senate last fall”

    I know but if you compare polls quoted Blumenthal had a smaller margin against Linda Mcmahon whose qualification is that her husband made a lot of money appealing to the baser instincts of people.

    “barry on September 1, 2011 at 4:57 pm
    The Rav ztl famously booked his flights to and from Boston (in a pre 9/11 era) under the name Joseph Solo,”

    I believe that Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow’s original family name was Soloveitchik-I may be wrong.

    “Mycroft: Lieberman was a “new Democrat” like Clinton and Gore,”
    I am aware of the DLC

    “not like Obama.”
    I don’t know what Obama believes in-except for his sympathy for the Islamic world-
    re new Democarta and Obama see from 2009

    “President Barack Obama firmly resists ideological labels, but at the end of a private meeting with a group of moderate Democrats on Tuesday afternoon, he offered a statement of solidarity.

    “I am a New Democrat,” he told the New Democrat Coalition, according to two sources at the White House session.

    The group is comprised of centrist Democratic members of the House, who support free trade and a muscular foreign policy but are more moderate than the conservative Blue Dog Coalition”

    from
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0309/19862.html

  38. “You absolutely must hear R. Meir Soloveichik give a prepared speech. He is phenomenal”

    Agreed-I’ve heard him a few times.

  39. “i was extremely impressed with rav meir s, and predict a very bright future for him in the jewish community ”
    He has certainly impressed people for well over a decade

  40. Shalom Rosenfeld

    R’ Joel,

    Regarding heterim in politics:

    “SHMEEL’S Politicians go to mikva and daven with a minyan 3 times each day …”

    🙂

  41. “I believe that Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow’s original family name was Soloveitchik-I may be wrong.”

    I’ve been told that Joe Slovo, the famous South African Communist leader, was also part of the Soloveitchik family, but I’ve never been able to confirm this.

  42. Given Senator Lieberman’s public championing of Shmiras Shabbos in a highly technological environment, I wonder if and when any of the Charedi oriented Kiruv organizations will point to Senator Lieberman as a role model for possible BTs.

  43. MiMedinat HaYam

    steve b — except for chabad, no charedi will use any role model not of their own (even not other forms of charedi).

    nachum — and i remember when r lamm was discussed as a successor to r dr lord jacobowitz. (they even had simultaneous shtellers on opposite sides of manhattan, years before.)

    anyway, he’s (obviously) too young for now. and i, for one, would prefer the two positions be reinstated together. i think most of us here would, too.

    charlie h — not according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Slovo. (of course, not really authoritative. besides various spellings of solovechik.) bonus site — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Brisker_Family_Tree

  44. “Senator Lieberman as a role model for possible BTs.”

    Well, he inspired ME. I finally met him in person a few months ago — in a minyan at the Riverdale Jewish Center.

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