Lieberman and the Sabbath

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate, is a man of Jewish faith.

Does he currently, as a Senator for Connecticut, obey Jewish laws regarding observance of (and not working on) the Sabbath?

If so, would this be problematic as a vice president? As a president?

Even prior to a hypothetical Gore election, will his observance of the Sabbath impede his ability to campaign?

Senator Lieberman for the most part observes the Jewish faith and forgos working on the Sabbath. I believe during the last Democratic National Convention he skipped one day since, in his view, it was merely politics and not worth breaking his religious faith.

That said the radio had a rabbi from the Anti-Defamation League who said it is perfectly acceptable to work on the Sabbath under certain conditions including life and death situations (doctors, firemen, etc. can work) and in service of your country (the Israeli army doesn’t take a day off). There were a few other instances he mentioned but the upshot is Senator Lieberman would be free to discharge his duties as Vice President without violating his faith. There’d NEVER be a time where the US was in the middle of another Cuban Missile Crisis that Vice President Lieberman (should he and Gore get elected) would be sitting at home in observance of the Sabbath.

I read on CNN that he votes on Saturday, because he think it is beneficial for mankind. I think he will not campaign on Saturday, as he is shomer Shabbos. Respectable, I guess, but I wonder when he has to go to the Saturday funeral of the Italian Secretary of the Navy, how he’ll deal. I wonder how he’ll keep kosher at the official state functions, etc.

Here is the article. Near the end, there are 2 paragraphs addressing exactly your OP.

From what I have read, he is Sabbath-observant. He only attends congressional sessions on the Sabbath when he is led to understand that a life-and-death situation will be up for debate, and when doing so, he always walks from his Georgetown apartment to the Capitol, a distance of approximately two miles.

Now, why won’t he be seen in public wearing a yarmulka is what I’d like to know.

According to NPR, not only does he observe the Sabbath, but he also missed his last nomination as CT Senator, since it took place on a Saturday.

Flick Lives!

The dude is in the wrong business.

He should tend flock or something.

Voting in the Senate is not a problem since the Senate conducts their votes by hand or voice. As long as he does not have to operate any electronic equipment or write, there should be no problem. Voting in the House, on the other hand, would be prohibited, because they vote electronically.

Just being beneficial for mankind, however, is not enough of a criteria for violating the Sabbath. It can only be done in a life or death situation.

Zev Steinhardt

From the AP in Washington, by Ron Fournier:

There you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Excuse me? I will assume that I am misinterpreting this comment, and that it is not the most rabidly anti-Semetic thing I have ever read on this board. Please explain.


I’m with Su here. WTF! Perhaps you have used too much beer and you need to clear a few brain cells. Or perhaps your meaning isn’t clear.

Please clarify. I’d hate to go around thinking you are an unrepentant anti-Semite when in fact you are just into making tasteless jokes.

He appears to be perfectly comfortable appearing in public without one.

Does the fact that he does not wear it make you uncomfortable, and if so why? That’s what I’d like to know.

I’m sure Chaim will answer for himself, but it’s my understanding that Orthodox Jewish men are required by their faith to wear a yarmulke in public. In the Jewish half of my family, there is only one Orthodox member, and I cannot ever recall seeing him in his adult life without one.


Yes it does, because I can think of only two possible reasons why he might not:

  1. He wishes to de-emphasize his Orthodox Jewishness in order to “blend in” with his non-Jewish and non-Religious compatriots. This would disturb me, because it means that “blending in” means more to him than Jewish tradition does.

  2. He feels that there is genuine danger in emphasizing his Orthodox Jewishness. That would disturb me a) because it means that anti-Semitism is present in our society, even amongst the highest levels of our government, to a greater degree than I thought was true, and b) he, like other Democrats, fights for gay peoples’ rights to be “out of the closet” and still participate fully in our society, but it would seem he accepts, as a given, that this cannot be true of an observant Jew. If this is the case, I find this not disturbing about him, but about what it says regarding my own place in American society.

Let me also pre-emptively address a red herring that would have been likely to arise: it is true that the custom of always wearing a yarmulka was never accepted by Sephardic (Middle Eastern-descended) Jews, and many Orthodox Jews from that community do not wear one. I have no problem with that. However, Senator Lieberman is not a Sephardi, he is of Ashkenazic (Eastern European) descent, amongst whom the constant wearing of a yarmulka has been the accepted custom for centuries. Therefore, I find the possible implications of his non-wearing of a yarmulka disturbing.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Perhaps I am too much of a secular Jew. Being a self declared atheist does not help matters either :). But here is my take anyway…

America is wonderful country where everything and anything is possible… but please don’t assume that any particular walk of life (rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight) is unaffected by that worst of human characteristic… hatred and prejudice. Certainly I would not presume to think that the predominantly white, predominantly male, predominantly christian public service sector has, with any great success, managed to weed that particular characteristic out of it’s ranks. If anything,I believe it is more insidious because it is more cleverly disguised.

Also, the fact that Lieberman is a politician, should indicate to most of us the fact that he is by necessity somewhat of a chameleon. America, outside of extra-ordinary times (war, depression, etc…), tends to punish those leaders that seem to have a vision beyond the consituancy’s immediate wants/needs. In other words, in times of strife, strong willed leaders tend to offer people a hope around which to ralley. In times of prosperity (like now) leaders with real ideas scare the pants off everybody because they are seen as spoilers and meddlers. So, Lieberman, being a career politician wants to appear as benign as possible. Also, living in America as he does, he wants to be seen as a servant of the people - all the people - not just of the Jewish vote contingent. And rightly so. Whether you want to admit it or not, we live in a prediminantly Christian nation. The majority of the public thinks nothing of a politician expressing his Christian views/beliefs because they are very familiar with that mind set. That same population takes a very limited view of a Jewish candidate expressing his Jewish views/beliefs because they are foreign concepts to them. Now I wish that the average Joe Public were more cosmopolitan but he is not. The very real fact is, most orthodox Jews in America are far more assymilated into this Christian culture than they are willing to openly admit.

So Lieberman removes his yarmulka in service of his country (which by the way is America, not Israel), so what. In a way, he must in order to show good faith to all his supporters. Should that offend orthodox Jews? Well, on a personal level I can see how it might. On a political level, only his political ideals should be considered as material. His Jewishness should not be a player at all. Either the guy is suited for the job or not. His religious affiliation should not matter. You are not going to doven with him in office. You are going to expect him to carry out his responsibilities to the best of his ability regardless of whether he is Jewish or Christian or Martian.

Finally, the guy should be allowd to make a personal choice (and don’t presume that it’s anything less than that) between public office and private life and weigh each according to its importance to him and his family. So have no fear, no matter what he decides (or already decided) he will always be too Jewish for some and not Jewish enough for others… It is the great curse of our nationality :wink:


I’m certainly not denying what you’re saying. However, I find it disturbing. It’s like saying, “Go ahead and be an Orthodox Jew…just don’t let me see it.” The Democratic party refuses to accept this attitude toward gays, why should it concede to it for Orthodox Jews?

If it is necessary to jettison one’s religious practices, to some degree, in order to participate in American politics, then I find it is telling about Senator Lieberman that that is the career choice he has made, and I find it is telling about America that he was forced to make this choice.

Now, perhaps G-d will decide that he was right for doing so. I will not necessarily say it was wrong; I’m sure his presence in the Senate has done much good for many people. However, the idea that such a compromise had to be made still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Whether it should be directed toward Senator Lieberman or toward American society in general is up for debate, but I certainly don’t like it.

Chaim Mattis Keller

Maybe he has a toupee? 8^) 8^) 8^)

My take on this… the Democratic party seems to have a tradition of maintaining the majority of Jewish votes. They don’t need to cater to them any more. The identifyable gay vote is a relative newcomer to the political scene. It is also PC these days to appeal to the gay segment of the population because they yield a lot of political and economical power. There will come a time when they will become a run of the mill vote like the Jews and a new group will demand attention at center stage.

That’s a terribly loaded “telling”. I feel that what it’s “telling” you is something different than what it’s “telling” me.

Though I have a tremendous amount of respect for you not just because of your debating skills but also because of the important contributions your points of view make to this board, I must say that I often feel that in many cases you have already made your judgement and are simply being reserved about stating it openly. Instead you generally allude that it’s up to G-d to make the decision final. For instance, in this case I feel that you are heavily weighted to debating Lieberman’s decision rather than the attitude of the American society.

Of course I may be wrong… it’s happened once before :).

On the morning of my wedding, the Rabbi called ten of us hanging around at the synagogue so that someone could say Kaddish. I felt very usefull. Much better than making tuna fish. One of the guys was wearing a baseball hat, the rest of us had kippot.
Telushkin in Jewish Literacy says “wearing one is a custom, not a law. Nowhere does either the Torah or Talmud mandate that a Jewish male wear a head covering.” p. 663

As an aside or hijack, whatever, is using a hairpin to keep the kippah on wearing a piece of women’s clothing?


Much as I hate having to disagree with you, I think in this case you are expecting too much. As recently as the sixties it was almost unheard of for Orthodox Jews to wear a yarmulka in their professional lives, and even today it is not always done. (Personally I think we owe alot in this regard to the hippies, whose attitude of do your own thing and dress how you want influenced the greater society). Most likely, Joe began dressing the way he does many years ago, and is not going to change now.

As for what it says about society, I think nothing we don’t already know. I would like to point out that not everyone who would be wary of a politician (or any person) whose dress suggested that they were different from what they (the person) were familiar with, can be classified as a bigot. It does not imply that the person has bought into any stereotypes about the type of person that they are judging. Merely that they don’t know that type of person, and have less of a basis to form an opinion about what they can expect. A person who seems just like everyone else out there, will be the beneficiary of an assumption that his behaviour and attitudes will likely fall within the confines of others in that familiar group.

On another topic, I would like to clarify and expand on something that Zev said earlier.

There are two aspects of keeping the Sabbath that are problematic for a man in the position of Senator Lieberman. One is the prohibition against doing certain types of forbidden work on the Sabbath. As these include operating electrical devices and auto travel, they can be constraining to a man in his situation. It is these prohibitions that Zev refers to when he says that one may only violate them for a life or death situation. But there is also an issue of conducting one’s Sabbath in an appropriate manner. This means engaging in activities that are considered appropriate for the Sabbath (definition of these can vary). This would proscribe working on the Sabbath even if it not involve performing any forbidden activities. This would be a problem for Joe if he wanted to, say, attend a senate session or policy meeting, give a policy speech, or the like. It is likely this prohibition that Lieberman means when he says that he can work for “the respect and protection of human life and well-being”. Likely he is saying that such activity is an appropriate activity for the Sabbath for these reasons.


I apologize for giving such an impression, but I assure you it’s not true. I wouldn’t be a member of a forum for open debate if I didn’t feel I could be open about debating.

I say that because I mean it. It’s what I said by Doctor Laura as well…although I have been defending the notion that there is nothing about her radio program that is inherently sinful by Jewish Law, it’s neither my place nor is it within my ability to actually decide whether or not the decisions people have made in their lives, especially when it’s means vs. ends decisions such as these, have been righteously justified.

I’m not…yet. However, I do feel that a few months on the national campaign trail will prove very revealing.

Chaim Mattis Keller