- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the first Orthodox Jew on a presidential ticket, has years of kosher experience juggling lawmaking with Sabbath demands that he shun phone calls, work and car rides.
In fact, Orthodox rabbis for centuries have allowed exemptions for nearly any kind of activity that defames the "day of rest" if it is necessary for helping human life and achieving a greater good, Jewish leaders said yesterday.
"His view has been that he will represent the concerns of the people of Connecticut to the greatest extent possible without violating Jewish law," said Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown, where Mr. Lieberman worships on Saturdays.
At the minimum, the rabbi said, Mr. Lieberman "does not do political or campaign activities" on the Sabbath, a 24-hour period beginning Friday at sundown.
On the Sabbath, Orthodox Jews walk to synagogue and are not allowed to use devices either as tools or as transportation.
Yet rabbis, over years of Talmudic interpretation, have provided ample ways for observant Jews to get necessary work done by using a telephone, car or airplane, or by delegating it to a gentile.
The two exemptions, by their Hebrew names, are "pikuach nefesh" to act in "regard for human life" and "tzorchei tzibbur" to act to meet "needs of the community."
"The rabbis have built a framework, whether for the man on the street or for the vice president," said Abba Cohen, director and counsel for Agudath Israel, an Orthodox policy group that is strongly pro-life.
Voting on legislation or making policy can fall under either exemption, though the "community" in need may not be the Jewish person's family.
A task may be delegated to a gentile if it is for the good of the gentile, or non-Jewish, community.
Mr. Lieberman skipped one of his state nominating conventions because it was held on the Sabbath. And during the impeachment hearings on President Clinton, Mr. Lieberman walked from his home in the Georgetown section of Washington to the Capitol a hike of more than 2 miles.
Rabbis and Jewish leaders said yesterday that it will be difficult to balance Mr. Lieberman's Orthodoxy with his public policy.
Mr. Lieberman, who has served in the Senate for 12 years, has solidly backed abortion rights, to include a November vote against a ban on partial-birth abortion and to support Mr. Clinton's veto.
Orthodox rabbis have mandated abortion as moral to save the life of the mother, but do not warrant it for the "health" of the mother.
In that sense, "I don't think we have a pro-life or a pro-choice position," Mr. Freundel said. "We are certainly not pro-choice."
On moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality and women's rights, "To the extent that [Mr. Lieberman] does something that is against the rule of Jewish law, he will have to deal with that in his conscience," Mr. Freundel said.
Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women or allow them to lead prayers, and in worship they sit separately with heads covered. Only a man may initiate a divorce, and unless the man gives the wife a "get," or bill of divorce, she may not remarry as Orthodox.
Rabbi Jacob Neusner, a scholar of Judaism at Bard College and a Republican loyalist, said that some of the senator's Orthodoxy should show up in his policy.
"He's a very admirable person, but where issues contradict his Orthodox Judaism, it doesn't seem to register," Mr. Neusner said. "He is not pro-life."
He said that the Lieberman selection will have a "feel-good factor" for Jews, but that it is unlikely to galvanize a return to religious roots among secular or liberal Jews or increase the Jewish vote.
"I'm Jewish, and for the good of the country I plan to vote for Bush," Mr. Neusner said. "Ethnic voting is no longer a force in middle- and upper-American society."
The senator's observance of his Judaism, other rabbis said, may appeal most to Christians who take their own faith seriously. He has, for example, favored a moment of silence as a compromise on school prayer.
Known for his bully pulpit for decency in the entertainment media, Mr. Lieberman was the first Democrat to boldly scold Mr. Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
On the Senate floor he called it a "disgraceful" and "immoral" demeaning of the presidency.
"This, I think, had very much to do with his being Orthodox," said Mr. Cohen.
In a poll last year, 60 percent of American Jews blamed Republicans for Mr. Clinton's plight; 36 percent said it was his own fault.
The genius of the Lieberman selection is to distance Mr. Gore from "Clinton's shenanigans," said Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, a New York University humanities professor and past president of the American Jewish Congress.
"Here is a God-fearing man who takes his religion seriously," said Mr. Hertzberg, an old friend of the Gore family when he was a rabbi in Tennessee. "He is going to appeal to Christians, and especially the born again."
Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman are extremely close, as illustrated by how the vice president helps him observe the Sabbath. "He uses Gore's Capitol Hill apartment on the Sabbath," Mr. Hertzberg said.
Having a Jew on the ticket will "push the envelope of national politics," Mr. Hertzberg said, but he agrees with others that it will change nothing about U.S. policy on Israel.
"The real Jewish concern in America is to maintain the welfare state, which Lieberman supports," he said. "They worry that if there are riots or social upheaval over hunger or wealth, they would be the first to feel the class warfare."

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