Last weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump demonstrated for all of us the real meaning of chillul haShem, desecrating God’s name.
The first instance was the trumped up story that some rabbi gave them permission to travel with President Trump on his flight from Washington which left there on Friday and arrived in Riyadh on Shabbat. The phantom rabbi has not been identified but, presumably, it was the same person who gave them permission to ride around Washington on January 20th to attend the inauguration balls that evening.
The second instance was in Riyadh itself on Shabbat, where video records of the President’s meetings there showed Jared and Ivanka getting in and out of vehicles to attend those very same meetings.
Now one might ask what the big deal is. They are not the first Jews in politics who were or are seen not observing the Sabbath. That, of course, is true and while it may bother us from time to time, we know that not every Jew observes all of the strictures of Jewish law.
But in their case they trumpet their orthodoxy to the world and wear it as a badge of honor. When politicians choose to do that they perforce take on themselves an obligation not to break the Sabbath and do whatever they can to ensure that they are shomre Shabbat, that is Sabbath observers as Jewish law dictates. Everyone knows that there is no orthodox Rabbi who would give permission to ride on the Sabbath except in circumstances of pikuach nefesh, such as the need to save a life or some similar emergency such as defending oneself from imminent attack.
One could argue, for example, that given the fact that the inauguration parade in January ran into the Sabbath, it would not have been safe for them to have walked home and, as such, it was permissible to ride. But to go to the inauguration balls that followed on Friday night? To ride around Riyadh on the Sabbath to attend meetings with the Saudi king? Do they not realize the shame they brought on the Jewish people for not being observant of their own faith? Does anyone think for a moment that the Saudis would have scheduled such meetings on Friday? Or that this message of chillul haShem was lost on the Saudis?
Yet, even more critical is the message that this sends to the luckless Jew working in a business in Little Rock, Arkansas, for example, who tells his boss that in the winter he needs to leave work early to be home for Shabbat. And his boss’ answer? “I really don’t understand, the president’s daughter and son in law are observant and they get permission to work on the Sabbath, why can’t you?”
When I was going through officer training in the US Army so many years ago, Jewish officers had to attend a special session with the Jewish chaplain. One of the lessons he taught (at that time they were all “he’s”) was that whether or not we were personally observant we needed to be careful what we did and did not do on Shabbat because our conduct could negatively influence how a religious enlisted person would be treated by his superior when a request came up not to work on Shabbat. Regardless of our individual observance levels once we thought about it we knew that the advice was spot on.
Jared and Ivanka can choose to be non-observant and do whatever they want to do vis-à-vis Jewish practices and, while I wish it would be otherwise, I can live with that. Or, as they claim to do, they can choose to be compliant with Jewish law as the Orthodox interpret it, but then they have to stick by it. No phantom dispensations, no mockery of the faith and no shortcuts. It is their choice but, once they make it and brag about it, their choices are limited to what is generally accepted as permitted.
Roy Disney once said “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” It is an axiom that the Kushners would do well to learn so that they don’t continue to be an embarrassment to those who try to live their Jewish values truthfully every day.