Ivanka, Jared, and Shabbat

I was quite amazed by the numerous comments of so many regarding the decision of Ivanka and Jared to participate in the Inaugural celebrations despite the fact that it meant they would be in a car on the holy day of Shabbat.

It is a well-known fact that Orthodox Jews do not drive or ride in the car on Shabbat unless failing to do so would precipitate a medical emergency.

One does not have to be an Internet troll to see the many comments criticizing the fact that they got into a car, lambasting both them and the rabbi who gave them ‘special dispensation.’

‘How could they’, ‘What kind of rabbi did they ask’, ‘They didn’t have to attend’ were the common refrains of the pundits.

However, these criticisms are misplaced and in fact contrary to Jewish law.

Anyone who has experience in Halacha — Jewish law, and the Torah way of life, knows very well that no issue can be decided without having all of the relevant factors at hand. A Psak Halacha, a religious determination, dealing with any question requires a careful study of the particulars of the case and the relevant laws that will lead to a ruling.
Often times, there are opposing and even contradictory factors to take into consideration .Being that Jewish law requires an extensive background before one can delve into even an issue which seems simplistic ,such as the prohibition of driving on Shabbat, I will use an example which recently appeared in the news about a medical situation in India.

It was reported that an 18-year-old girl in India, is gravely ill, suffering from tuberculosis and requires a specific medicine, named Bedaquiline which is produced by Johnson & Johnson. However, being that India, has a disproportionate rate of drug-resistant superbugs, due to a pervasive overuse of antibiotics, a law was enacted that requires controlled usage of medicines such as Bedaquiline . This was done with the intent of preserving Bedaquiline’s effectiveness and preventing it from being used as front line antibiotic – which would soon result in the TB strain becoming resistant to that drug as well.
When the patient applied for permission to use it — she was told the law required her to be tested in order to prove that nothing else would work. This law, if taken in a vacuum seems reasonable given the concern of creating an even more powerful superbug.

Her family physician soon weighed in and stated that the young girl does not have the leisure of waiting for the test results to come back, making a strong argument to necessitate giving the drug immediately.
Furthermore, it was argued that the longer his patient remains in the infected state she in turn can infect others, putting others at risk as well.

Many factors had to be considered in balancing the individual need of the patient against that the community in determining policy.

In Halacha, each person must consult a Rav when questions come up in the real world. Based on various traditional concepts, one is allowed, in fact mandated, to be bound by the decisions of the rav that they ask.

I wonder how many of the critics received ‘favorable ‘rulings from their rav , that others who do not know all the circumstances would readily criticize.

So unless Ivanka and Jared explained their complete situation to those who were quick to voice negative and pejorative opinions, there would be no right to comment or certainly ‘rule’ on the permissibility or lack thereof, for having someone to transport them to the events.
Doing so, aside from being misplaced, presumptuous and arrogant, undermines the very process of Halachic decision making, by stripping away all context and personal situations and attempting to rule simply on the basis of a narrow scope which often times will lead to an improper Psak — be it lenient — or restrictive.

Let’s take the worst case scenario and assume that she did not consult and ask a rav, but rather figured on her own that given the circumstances it would be OK to get into the car.

Assuming this to be the case, at worst she would be considered a Shogeges, one who had a lapse in judgment, but is certainly not deemed to have willfully or brazenly attempted to violate the law.
Such a person requires a level of atonement, but nonetheless is considered a full-fledged Jew, a member of the community, with a share in the World to Come.

However, someone who willfully embarrasses someone in public, as many of the outspoken, brave and yes, often anonymous critics engaged in, may lose their share in the World to Come for their actions.
What was the purpose in criticizing Ivanka and Jared? Was the goal to prevent ‘sinning’ ( assuming all of the facts were presented and those who posted had a clear understanding of all aspects of Jewish law). If so, those who objected should have been actively tweeting and texting Ivanka or Jared days before the inauguration. These thoughtful, preventative measures (which are actually a mitzvah called ‘preventing one from sinning ‘) should also have been done privately so as not to cause Ivanka and Jared any type of embarrassment.

Let me be crystal clear, I’m not trying to justify, excuse or legitimatize what Ivanka and Jared did. If they consulted with a bona fide rav who granted permission, given their unique circumstance, they had every right to follow his ruling. If they decided on their own to get into a car, at worst they would be considered having exercised poor judgment, which is something that should be dealt with between themselves and the Creator.

However, those who criticize them had absolutely no Halachic right to do so. Such an approach shows a total lack of understanding of how the proper Halachic process works, is totally improper, wrong and much worse than anything that they allege Ivanka and Jared may have done.

About the Author
Rabbi Zev Friedman is the Rosh Mesivta, Dean Of Rambam Mesivta for Boys and Shalhevet High School for Girls.