Ivanka and Jared’s Ride to Church on Shabbat
Many see decision by President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law as befitting Jewish law and reflecting ’embrace of the world,’ and justify inaugural forays apparently approved by an anonymous Orthodox rabbi.
When America’s most famous observant and newly influential Jews, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kusher, travelled to her father’s inaugural balls by car last Friday and then attended a church service with the new president on Saturday morning, it sparked a debate that continues to ping-pong around the world on social media.
At issue: What are the ramifications of Trump, who converted to Judaism under the tutelage of an Orthodox rabbi, and Kushner, who is from an Orthodox family, doing things publicly which violate the Sabbath and are contrary to Jewish norms? Trump told Vogue magazine that her family observes Shabbat.
And there is little question that Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency used his daughter’s image as not only a businesswoman, but as a wholesome modern Jewish mother, to further its ambitions.
Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel, told Haaretz that Ivanka Trump obtained permission from a rabbi to ride in a car on Shabbat based on the overriding principle of pikuach nefesh, or “saving a life.” Zell has not revealed which Orthodox rabbi gave that permission, nor did he respond to emails or a Facebook message from Haaretz.
This episode echoes a dispute over the 2009 visit by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein to the National Cathedral the morning after Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Lookstein, the spiritual leader of a large Upper East Side Manhattan synagogue, is also the Orthodox rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism. He attended the service at the invitation of the new president, and was criticized for doing so by the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.
Lookstein declined to comment for this article.
Standing with her husband and daughter on a White House balcony Ivanka Trump also took photos on Saturday, according to an Associated Press report in Fortune magazine.
The issue for many is not as much the Trump-Kushners’ observance of Shabbat or lack thereof, but the “shomer shaming” as people comment on what the “presumably observant” power couple did.
“Neither Mr. Kushner nor Ms. Trump represent themselves as role models or spokesmen for Orthodox Judaism,” said Rabbi Ozer Glickman, a rosh yeshiva, or dean, at the rabbinical school at New York’s Yeshiva University. “Mr. Zell’s idiotic statement, which he had no reason making, is what raised questions. As far as I am concerned, it is entirely their private business.”
Using pikuach nefesh as the principle on which rabbinic permission is given to disrupt observance of the day of rest is questionable, say religious experts. The concept is generally invoked as justification for doctors using their pagers, phones and cars, or for people switching on lights and engaging in other forbidden forms of “work,” on the Sabbath. People can violate the Sabbath if someone’s life is in danger, as halakha, the traditional religious code, demands breaking virtually any of its laws in that circumstance.
The overriding halakhic principle would be relevant in the case of the Trump-Kushners being driven to the inaugural balls only if walking through the streets of Washington, D.C. to get there would have put their lives in jeopardy. Which, given their presumed protection by the Secret Service is debatable, say some rabbis. They could have elected not to attend the parties, or walked there. Indeed, for his part, any time there was a Friday night Congressional vote, Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, would walk to Capitol Hill.
About Ivanka Trump’s taking photos on Shabbat, Muskat said, “I’m not an Ivanka Trump defender. Taking a photo on Shabbat would be a halakhic problem… If someone uses a legitimate rabbinic dispensation (for one thing) can it lead to other issues? Possibly.”
That leads to important questions about what Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s family practice will be on Shabbat, he said, especially now that Kushner has been appointed a senior adviser by his father-in-law.