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With Lieberman and Justice for All

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Topic: Abortion

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

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