Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have reportedly received another special dispensation from a mystery rabbi to violate Shabbat, in order to perform their official White House duties.
A White House official told Politico Thursday that President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, both of whom work by his side, will accompany Trump on Air Force One en route to Saudi Arabia on Friday night.
The couple normally observe Shabbat, meaning they do not travel or use electronics from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. A high-profile exception was made on Trump’s inauguration weekend, when the couple rode in cars to and from the Inaugural Ball on Friday evening, and then took their family to an interfaith service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.
At the time, Marc Zell – co-chairman of Republicans Overseas Israel – cited a source in the Trump administration as explaining that Ivanka Trump and Kushner had consulted an unnamed rabbi, who permitted them to break traditional Sabbath rules. The reason given was safety concerns, or “pikuah nefesh.”
That 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 Shabbat. People can violate the Sabbath if someone’s life is in danger, since halakha (Jewish religious law) demands breaking virtually any of its laws in that circumstance.
While it would be hard to find a life-or-death justification for the Friday night flight, it would be highly problematic for Kushner – a senior aide to the president – to make separate flight arrangements, given that he is the White House official charged with organizing the trip. Trump will visit five countries over nine days, flying from Saudi Arabia to Israel, and then on to the Vatican in Rome.
In the first months of the Trump presidency, Kushner’s Shabbat observance was cited as keeping him out of the loop during moments of crisis – such as the turbulent weekend following the rollout of the executive order on immigration and refugees late on a Friday in January. And it has been jokingly theorized that Trump sends his most outrageous Tweets on a Saturday morning because his family members are not around to supervise him.
Kushner famously made an exception to his “no work on Shabbat” rule during the presidential campaign, when the “Access Hollywood” story broke and he huddled with the candidate’s team in Trump Tower on a Saturday, strategizing the reaction to the fallout.
Criticism of the couple’s behavior over the inauguration sparked a debate over “shomer shaming” in the Jewish community.
If, as many are predicting, President Trump names former senator Joe Lieberman as FBI director, Jared and Ivanka won’t be the only observant Jews in senior government roles in the Trump administration. Lieberman is Orthodox and also observes the Sabbath, and famously used to walk to Capitol Hill to cast his vote when ballots were held on a Friday night and when attending emergency meetings at the White House.
When he was campaigning for the vice presidency as Al Gore’s running mate, Lieberman explained to the media that he extended the concept of “pikuah nefesh” to the ability to work as a government official during Shabbat, in order to promote “the respect and protection of human life and well-being,” and made his choices on what was and was not permissible on that basis, after working out guidelines with his rabbis.
He did not, however, ever refer to receiving rabbinical dispensation for any of his specific decisions.
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