Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Who let Jared and Ivanka fly on Shabbat?

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump depart Air Force One with their children in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Feb. 10, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Carlos Barria

(RNS) Don’t look at me.

I didn’t do it.

Not like they would have asked me.

Neither was it the rabbi who married them — the venerable Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the dean of New York’s Orthodox rabbinate.

So, what rabbi would have given them permission (or, as some reporters put it, “dispensation”) to fly to Saudi Arabia on Shabbat?

I can say with little fear of contradiction: There was simply no way that Jewish law would permit airplane travel — or any vehicular travel — on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday.

Oh, wait — there’s one.

That would be to save a life. When life is at stake, almost any Jewish law can be breached.

That doesn’t apply here.

No, a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the Saudis doesn’t count. It isn’t even close.

This whole “flying to Saudi Arabia on Shabbat” thing has done a great job of reviving the cynical question about Jared and Ivanka’s “real” level of Jewish observance.

Are they “really” Orthodox?

So it has been said.

Ivanka and husband are Orthodox Sabbath and Jewish holiday observers. … She disengages from the business world and is incommunicado for 25 hours. …

Really — shouldn’t they have known better?

Pondering the Kushners’ Orthodoxy is almost a cottage industry.

Peter Beinart — himself an observant Jew — wonders aloud how modern Orthodoxy could have produced a Jared Kushner — someone who aligns himself with policies that seem to be at odds with Jewish values.

And, hey — why doesn’t Jared wear a kippah, or yarmulke, all the time, like other Orthodox men? Have you ever seen a photo of a kippahed-Jared?

Jared would not be the only Orthodox Jewish man to go bareheaded.

The modern Orthodox Joseph Lieberman, reportedly on the short list for FBI director, doesn’t wear a kippah in public, either.

There is some history to this. It was not until relatively recently that Orthodox men wore kippot outside the home. The late Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, Haskel’s father, had always taught that the kippah was an “indoor garment.”

But, the point here is not the Kushners’ level of observance.

No, the real issue is the still anonymous rabbi who offered the heter (permission) for travel on Shabbat.

This is not good for the Jews.

I have great respect for Orthodoxy. But this move only exacerbates the intrareligious Jewish wars.

Remember that Reform and Conservative rabbis have almost no religious rights in Israel, lest they upset state Orthodoxy’s religious monopoly.

Their marriages are not valid; their conversions are not valid; and as for what happens at the Kotel regarding women who want to publicly read Torah — puh-leeze.

Remember that those same Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis have demonstrated more than adequate knowledge of halacha (Jewish law) and Jewish thought.

And yet, an Orthodox rabbi issues such a questionable psak din (halachic ruling).

Right about now, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are experiencing a massive disconnect.

Shoutout to my friend Rabbi Uri Regev and his organization, Hiddush, that has been fighting for religious equality.

But if you really want to get into “bad for the Jews” territory, you need only see how some gentiles are responding to this on Facebook.

I am talking about some of my gentile Facebook friends — especially the Catholics.

Some have cynically suggested that Rabbi Ploni (a classic Hebrew way of saying Rabbi Whoeverstein) must have received some kind of bribe for offering this ruling.

In this rabbinical move, they see all the hypocrisy that they associate with the worst aspects of the Catholic Church.

Some have snickered and compared this ill-founded rabbinical decision to “selling indulgences” — the medieval practice of reducing the amount of punishment for sin.

It was precisely the sale of indulgences that led Martin Luther, exactly 500 years ago, to nail his 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation.

I do not know — no one knows — if Rabbi Anonymous wound up with a handsome pile of dollars or shekels in exchange for a halachic decision that a Jewish day school kid wouldn’t have made.

It’s actually worse than financial bribery.

It could have been a different kind of bribery — the bribery of fame.

What is the bribery of fame?

You see it all the time: the way that some religious leaders automatically fawn over the rich and famous — even if those rich and famous people espouse political positions that are utterly at odds with the most sacred teachings of a particular faith.

In Judaism, it would be a violation of the Torah teaching of lo takir panim (“do not recognize faces”) — do not show deference to the rich in legal disputes.

Ask yourselves: If some poor or even middle-class Jew had approached this rabbi, and asked if it was permissible to fly to, oh, say, Florida on Shabbat to visit an aged parent — what do you think the rabbi would have said?

Exactly.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

18 Comments

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  • Was it permissible in the 19th century to sail on a ship from Europe (probably Hamburg) to this goldineh medina of America over Shabbos?

  • As long as you were a passenger observing Shabat, where’s the problem? As a crew member, there could be a problem.

    Considering some of the outfits Invanka Trump has been photographed in at various functions, this isn’t the only question that arises about her commitment. Sleeveless dresses, low-cut necklines and slits up the thigh almost to the waist don’t exactly comply with the Orthodox definition of modest attire, do they?

  • Let us look at one Jew, from another Jew, with “a good eye.” You are a Reform rabbi. We avoid scoffing at one another, in any case. For us to speculate on matters which we only have a superficial knowledge of what are the specifics? Is this a fair thing? Do we publicly criticize other Jews on matters of observance, when we are easily able to simply write them a private letter?

    I forgive all Jews, and anyone who has angered or vexed me, or sinned against me, either physically or financially, against my honor, or anything else that is mine, whether accidentally or intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, in this incarnation or in any other — any Israelite; may no man be punished on my account. B’H.

  • I do not wish to criticize the Trumps for their level of Shabbat observance or adherence to clothing standards. This is especially true for Ivanka because doing so can lead to the sin of oppressing the convert. They should be entitled to do what they feel is best for them and their family. Nor should we give any credence to accusations of bribery (this is a different question than do the rich and famous get special treatment).
    What I have a problem with is the hypocrisy of some in the Orthodox world who have no real problem with this heter, but say that Conservative Jews driving to synagogue on Shabbat, or Reform Jews using musical instruments on Shabbat, is destroying Judaism. We all make our allowances, ours are just different than yours.
    Finally, I disagree with your categorical statement that vehicular travel is always forbidden absent medical necessity. Some Orthodox authorities have ruled that it may be permissible to ride in a vehicle driven by a non-Jew, like a free public bus. There are even more shades of gray, such as whether a non-Israeli Jew visiting Israel may travel in a vehicle on the second day of yom tov [certain major holiday observed for two days outside Israel but one day by most in Israel] to visit a relative in the hospital, for example. Finally, notwithstanding the putative equivalence of electricity to igniting a fire, the growth of all-electric vehicles will muddy the waters even further.

  • Excuse me, but Jews don’t need a dispensation or a heter from a rabbi. We were given free will by God and can exercise it at our will. So, if Jared and Ivanka choose to fly on Shabbat, they are responsible only to God and not the public. If they are not afraid of God, why should they be afraid of us. Secondly, the question of travel on Shabbat has been answered by rabbinic law centuries ago when people were traveling by ship. No one was expected to abandon ship in the middle of the Mediterranean because it was Shabbat. They were expected to remain on the ship if it docked on Shabbat. The Kushners left the US before sundown and with the time differential they landed in Israel…when?
    Z

  • Funny to note as a piece that begins and ends as a Jewish piece of debate cannot help to sport at least a few lines of Catholic bashing.

  • It seems to me that even the Rabbanut has ruled that an El Al plane that takes off before Shabbat must come down, and when it comes down is irrelevant. As mentioned, it did so, so this is a “tsimmes” about nothing. But worth reading, as usual.

  • Halachah allows government officials and their families certain leniencies. This case was when they left before shabbos and due to time zones they arrived after shabbos. This is no different than riding a ship like many kosher cruise rides. Also, making peace in Saudi Arabia is life or death. They are probably saving many lives by this trip. Since NY and Florida are the same time zone, such a trip wouldn’t be possible. You are just a bigot seeking to spread hate instead of remembering the Torah’s command to love converts. Which rabbi gave you permission to write slander, lies, and hatred?

  • R. Kolakowski makes some valid points.

    Having said that, I wonder why people are looking to R. Lookstein with such questions, who has had connections with them in the past, when they have subsequently relocated to a different area. It has been reported that JK has significant ties to the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect, in the DC area (as well as prior to that), that he visited the grave of their late leader before the election, and so on. So it seems quite logical to assume that he may discuss such things with them, since he seems to consider them appropriate religious leadership.

  • All the reasons to refrain from flying are Rabbinical. And in my mind it is reasonable to raise the question: did the rabbis have in mind flying with the President of the USA [or equivalent] on such a political journey, where a remark can have world-shaking impact – and the Jew has a chance to make such a remark? When thinking about this, I thought of Queen Esther living with King Ahashuerosh; in Sanhedrin 74b the Talmud asks why she did not refuse and take the consequences? Rava answers: the purpose of the King was not to cause her to do a sin but for his own enjoyment [or benefit – YH]. Here, too, Trump wants them with him because he trusts them and it gives him a good feeling – to take his Jewish daughter and his Jewish son-in-law, his close and trusted advisor with him. In summary: what they do is not an Issur Torah, and one cannot say the Issur Derabannan should be considered valid in such a situation. For instance: we fight in the armies of the nations in which we live and desecrate Shabbat [and Yom Kippur], and do not choose to be conscientious objectors.

    In my long experience, I have presented questions to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Eliashiv, Rabbi Wosner, Rabbi Yitshak Kolitz – later Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem – questions which applied to specific cases, in which the “normal hlacha” prohibited these actions, and there was not ONE case where they did not permit the action. NOT ONE.
    HERE is another response:
    http://jewinthecity.com/2017/05/does-flying-on-a-plane-on-shabbos-make-you-not-orthodox/

  • To my knowledge it is halachically incorrect to say that a person is only responsible to G-d. From an orthodox Jewish viewpoint — and that’s what we are talking about — HaShem’s authority is invested in the Rabbis. Obedience to rabbinic authority is a cornerstone of Orthodox Judaism. What you say about responsibility to G-d alone looks more like Protestantism.

    As to your comparision to traveling by ship I would say that if the Kushners left the US before Sundown on Friday, they would have arrived in Riyad on Shabbat at about noon, because Washington DC time is about six hours behind Riyad and the flight takes about 12 hours.

    Additionally, there are many complications with modern traveling which make it difficult to observe Shabbat. Think of such issues as electronic devices. Traveling by ship seems to be still possible, provided precautions have been taken and once’s room in the ship is “Shabbat accessible” as it is called.

  • I’m sorry, Rabbi, but I don’t understand your argumentation. If making peace in Saudi Arabia is a life or death issue, exactly what peace deal was to be made there? As far as I know there was not a peace deal involved at all. If you mean to say that there was a certain risk or potential loss of life involved, the whole concept of pikuach nefesh is made utterly vague and worthless, since such risks always exist.

    Besides, I don’t understand why exploring the questions raised by this incident has anything to do with spreading hate and slander, or lack of love for converts to Judaism. This is not about slandering Ivanka Kushner, but about exploring a problem raised by an offical statement of a rabbinical permission. I don’t question Ivanka’s sincerity or integrity.

  • Maybe they realize that Judaism like all religions are based on erroneous foundations:

    To wit: (once again)

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinker bells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • Um… Yah I highly doubt that they asked any Rabbi – it seems to me that they simply lied.

  • Of course if you are already on a ship and shabbat comes in you stay on the boat. But you cannot embark or disembark on Shabbat. There is many issues of Techumim here.

  • It’s great to see Ivanka and Jared committed to a level of Jewish observance that exceeds most American and most Israeli Jews. I appreciated Ivanka’s earlier comments on what their family does on a typical Shabbat and why, and I think that’s something all Jews should try to emulate. It’s also interesting to see the range of discussion of what Jews can and should do on Shabbat that has hit the press. Not since the Conservative ruling permitting driving on Shabbat has Jewish practice stirred up so much discussion and discussion is generally a good thing in my opinion. I wonder, do the Kushners really consult a Rabbi before making these kinds of decisions? If they were to ask me (disclaimer: I am definitely not a Rabbi and have absolutely no credentials to make decisions for anyone) , as someone who tries to maximize my own Jewish observance, I would say don’t fly the plane yourself but if it’s already going and you don’t have to control it, consider it like a Shabbos elevator and go for it if that makes sense to you. I certainly hope and pray folks aren’t basing their political decisions on the religious practices, or their religious practices on the politics, of the President’s son in law and daughter. I also wonder who is it that the press consults with to learn the Kushner’s religious practices — seems so anonomous as to have little credibility. In any case, in my opinion and experience, all who are committed to Jewish observance encounter “conflicts” with the ideals of Judaism, and the demands/needs of employment, family , health, etc. and ultimately decide for ourselves how to deal with these challenges just as we make decisions about all life defining events including when to and when not to “ask a Rabbi”. This is not “hypocritical” in my opinion but a fact of trying to lead a Jewishly observant life.

  • They are causing the pilots, guards, and airline staff to work on Shabbat when even our animals are allowed to rest.

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