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Ask the Rabbi - 286

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September 16, 2000 / 16 Elul 5760; Issue #286

With Lieberman and Justice for All


Dear Readers:

Here are a few samples of some of the many questions we've received over the past several weeks regarding Joe Lieberman:

Dan Friedman wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Senator Joseph Lieberman is often described as an Orthodox Jew, yet he is never seen wearing a yarmulke in public. Could you please shed some light on this for me? Thank you.

Aaron Moebus from Brooklyn, NY wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

By now we all know that Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nomination for US vice president, is Shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant). Reportedly, he observes Shabbos unless "serious business" in the Senate requires him to attend (voting is done by voice, not by pressing an electronic button). I am curious: Is he correct regarding this? Would halacha allow him to attend such meetings on Shabbat?

Gerald Gordon from Brooklyn, NY wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Joe Lieberman proudly says he is an observant Jew. Yet he is pro-choice on abortion and even late term abortion. Shouldn't the Torah direct an observant Jew's vote?

Dear Dan Friedman, Aaron Moebus and Gerald Gordon,

Senator Joe Lieberman is a Sabbath observant Jew. He is a member at the Westville Synagogue in New Haven. In Washington, his 12-year old daughter attends the Orthodox Hebrew Academy.

Lieberman observes Shabbat not only when it suits him or when convenient, but even when it has threatened to hamper his political career. For example, in 1988 he was nominated senator at the Connecticut Democratic convention on Shabbat. He did not attend.

Leading halachic authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a person will be denied work because he wears a yarmulke, he may remove it at work. This could be Senator Lieberman's reason for not wearing a yarmulke in public: It may be too visible of a religious symbol for some voters, which could cost him his job.

Regarding attending meetings on Shabbat: In general, Shabbat talk should be in the "Shabbat spirit." Weekday talk should be avoided and planning weekday activities is basically forbidden. But mitzvah matters and matters of public concern are exceptions; you are allowed to discuss on Shabbat matters relating to mitzvot and matters which affect the public good, even if the discussion doesn't seem to be in the "Shabbat spirit." So, a Jew may participate in a public meeting on Shabbat in order to advance the public good, provided he performs no forbidden acts such as driving, writing, etc.

A more difficult question arises in regard to some of Mr. Lieberman's more controversial legislation. And, no, I don't mean SR 282, proposed by Mr. Lieberman, in which the US Senate formally resolved to congratulate the University of Connecticut Huskies for winning the 2000 Women's Basketball Championship. I mean abortion.

Senator Lieberman's position on abortion legislation does not seem to jibe with the Torah position. In particular, the "Freedom of Choice Act of 1993" -- a bill sponsored by Mr. Lieberman himself -- aims to protect the "right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy."

A noble sounding law, indeed. We're all for protecting people's rights, right? The problem is, not in all cases does the Torah recognize a person's right to cut off unwanted parts of his anatomy. This law would condone many cases that Jewish law would not.

Does this mean Mr. Lieberman is not really loyal to the Torah? No, it doesn't mean that. In Judaism, a person is "innocent until proven guilty." As the Torah phrases it, "B'tzedek tishpot -- You shall judge favorably." (Leviticus 19:15) The Torah requires that we give others the benefit of the doubt. So, perhaps Mr. Lieberman simply erred in his understanding of this issue.

Judging favorably does not mean that we accept improper behavior; rather, it means that if someone is a basically good person, we seek ways to view him in a good light in spite of a possible lapse. If we see someone who is basically Torah observant, keeps Shabbat and kashrut, we shouldn't jump to label him "non-observant" for this or that halachic infraction. Again, I don't in any way mean to belittle any mitzvah which people are lax about or ignorant of. Rather, I mean to stress the importance of judging our fellow man favorably.

The best thing to do is to ask Mr. Lieberman himself. His email address is:


A note about the names of Joseph and Hadassah Lieberman: It's interesting that Joseph and Hadassah were both Jews who rose, each in his own day, to become second in command of the world's superpower: Joseph rose to the position of viceroy of the Egyptian Empire, and Hadassah -- also known as "Esther" (Book of Esther 2:7) -- became queen of the Persian Empire.

  • Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, vols. 1 & 4; & Choshen Mishpat, vol. 1.
  • Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 306:6
  • Maimonides, Hilchot Melachim 9:4
  • Tractate Shavuot 30a

Yiddle Riddle


Last week we asked: "My older brother is my twin. Although he is perfectly healthy in every way, he will not fast this year on Yom Kippur, although I will. Why?"

Answer: I am a girl. Therefore, I become bat mitzvah (obligated to observe the commandments) at age 12. My brother, because he is a boy, does not become bar mitzvah until age 13. So, even though he is older, I am a year ahead of him in regard to the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur.


The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.



We received the following description of the first "Liebermania" Shabbat, reported by an attendee:

The sense of surrealism continued and the euphoria was tangible. Senator Lieberman, Hadassah and their daughter Hani were accompanied to shul (synagogue) by 15 to 20 secret service agents. Some walked beside; most trailed slowly behind in a SUV and one of those black vans with all the techno equipment. The press was there to film him walking-in. The shul gave out a statement letter to the reporters welcoming them to observe the service, but asking that no cameras, laptops, pens, notepads, etc. be used inside the shul; and that the media not attempt to interview service-goers on Shabbat. About five secret service agents went into shul; by and large, they blended in very well. There was a female agent to protect Hadassah Lieberman, and word is that Hani gave her an excellent tutorial on the services.

Senator Lieberman got an aliyah (i.e., he was called up to read from the Torah) after which the shul burst into "siman tov u'mazel tov" (a song of congratulations). After Joe's aliyah, the gabbai said a misheberach (blessing) for Al Gore.

After the Torah reading, the Rabbi gave a short address on "Hilchot Vice President." The major points were that security demands might in the future require a metal detector. The walk-through kind would not be allowable, but the agent-held devices would not violate Shabbat for the person being checked. Press interviews should not be given on Shabbat.

After services, kiddush was held. The secret service no doubt has even greater appreciation for Orthodox Judaism after seeing that 11:00 am shots of single malt scotch are part of the observance. (smile) L'chaims (toasts) included: "Next year in the White House!" Hadassah said they have not yet thought about whether they would, if elected, build a sukkah at the Naval Observatory, which is the Vice President's home.

The Rabbi's drasha (talk) was about a verse in that week's Torah portion, Va'etchanan, that states that following G-d's commandments will give one wisdom which will be respected by the other nations of the world. The Rabbi said that Senator Lieberman is an embodiment of that verse. Following services, the secret service quickly escorted Joe out of shul and walked him home.

Shelley & Ed Kohl

Written by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Mordecai Becher, Rabbi Baruch Rappaport, Rabbi Moshe Yossef and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.

General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

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