Jul 14, 2010

Jack Lew, we answer to a higher authority

When writing about the appointment of Jacob Lew as Director of the Office of Management and Budgets by President Obama, MSNBC writes an interesting anecdote describing the Jewishness of Lew.

From NBC's John Yang
As an Orthodox Jew, Jack Lew, President Obama's choice to Director of the Office of Management and Budget, observes the religious restrictions on the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He leaves the office Friday afternoons in time to get home before sundown, and does not use electric or electronic devices, including the telephone.

Once, while working in President Clinton's director, Lew's home phone rang one Saturday. He didn’t answer and a familiar voice could be heard from the answering machine, urging him to pick up the phone. Mr. Clinton said he understood the sanctity of the Sabbath, but that it was important that he talk to Lew. He even said, it was later reported, that "God would understand."

This reminds me of Senator Lieberman's famous story with the vote on a budget cut that he asked if he could participate in the vote and was told it is pikuach nefesh and he should.


  1. I love that line: God would understand. He also understood about Monica and the other 30 or so, right?

    I also love how pikuach hanefesh is the way "religious" Jews get out of observing Shabbos nowadays even though there isn't the remotest connection to actually saving a life. Imagine: there's a sale at the mall and I have to go honey. It's pikuach nefesh!

  2. I'm pretty sure that the pikuach nefesh argument was used by Rahm Emmanuel's rabbi when he was in Congress, not Joe Lieberman.

  3. I just did a quick google search and got a few links about Joe Lieberman having to walk 5 miles on shabbos for a vote on healthcare reform and his rabbi told him to go because it was considered pikuach nefesh.
    now that you mention it i remember a similar story about Rahm.

    Once must wonder if it was really pikuach nefesh, why didnt he just drive?

  4. If he walked instead of drive, the entire 'pikuah nefesh' argument might have been to explain being someplace and doing something that was not 'in the spirit' of shabbat without actual violation of shabbat. After all, normally he's not going to congress at all on shabbat or hag.

  5. It is not unreasonable for a maid or child under 5 to pick up a phone receiver, if such an urgent exchange of words was needed.

    Someone else could relay the reply if truly necessary.

    Shame that Clinton thought he could speak for G -d! Such arrogance.

  6. The implication though is that Lew did not pick up the phone; at least not that time.

    I wish the article was clearer about his Rabbi's comment. (Was it Rabbi Freundel?) It might just be that if the President is calling regardless of the topic - it is considered to be of such importance to be the equivalent of pikuach nefesh. (I don't know.)

    And perhaps you recall when, after Israel failed to kill Khaled Meshal, Elyakim Rubenstein flew to Jordan to defuse the crisis on Rosh Hashanah. That probably was a pretty straightforward case of pikuach nefesh.

  7. Soccer Dad - I was thinking like you. if the president calls and knows you normally dont answer the phone on Saturday, it is probably pikuach nefesh (if anything politicians and appointees who sit in offices do would be considered pikuach nefesh)


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