Beyond the broader political implications of Al Gore's choice of SenatorJoseph Lieberman as his running mate, for Jews in particular the Liebermanstory holds some important lessons. Long before he stepped into the brightnational limelight, Joe Lieberman's distinguished career in public life hadalready done its part to shatter some widely held preconceptions about thenature of halakic living [following traditional Jewish law].

First, he has successfully pursued his political ambitions while remainingfaithful to the tenets of Jewish tradition. This demonstrates morepowerfully than any rabbinical sermon could that the oft-repeatedcharacterizations of halakah [Jewish law] as somehow at odds with contemporary life arerooted in ignorance of both the halakic process and the reality ofobservant Jewish life.

We are not privy to Senator Lieberman's sources of halakic counsel or tothe full extent to which his personal life measures up to the standards ofhalakah, nor should we have the interest or right to be. Each of us, afterall, has more than enough to occupy us in seeing to his or her own spiritualgrowth.

But one thing is certain--for decades, Joe Lieberman has earnestly strivento incorporate halakah into the warp and woof of his fast-paced,high-profile life, both privately and publicly.

By the same token, for all that Senator Lieberman has endeavored to live apublic life informed by halakic teachings, he has had many occasions--on aweekly, even daily, basis, in fact--to draw a line at certain conduct thatsays to others, and more important, to himself, "This far and no further."

From his high school days, when he was voted king of the senior prom butchose to stay home and observe Shabbat, to his first run for the UnitedStates Senate, when he passed up participating in his own nominatingconvention because it was held on a Saturday, and continuing with hissteadfast commitment to halakah as he has ascended through the politicalestablishment, Lieberman has consistently exalted principle over so-calledpragmatism.

In so doing, the senator embodies a powerful rejoinder to the mistaken,indeed ahistorical, notion that, as a former dean of the Conservativemovement's rabbinical school put it, "In classical rabbinic Judaismgenerally we have never taken 'the Torah says so clearly' as a final,decisive and unchallengeable argument."

Joe Lieberman, like countlessgenerations of his and all Jews' ancestors before him, most certainly doestake the Torah's unequivocal dictates as the baseline for life decisions.

Lieberman's principled lifestyle evokes the example set not long ago by aShabbat observer who excels in a very different sort of arena. TamirGoodman, a Baltimore yeshiva high school student-cum-basketball "phenom," made national headlines last year when he turned down a full athleticscholarship to join the powerhouse basketball team at the University ofMaryland.

Commenting on the teenager's decision, his coach wrote: "So Tamir gave the[university] its scholarship back. They told him that Shabbos was a problem.He told them Shabbos was a blessing. They told him if he didn't play itwould affect his 'career.' He told them if he did play it would affect his'life.' They drew a line in the sand. He planted his feet firmly and toldthem who he was and what he believed in."

One further aspect of Senator Lieberman's fascinating life story merits theattention of the Jewish community and of political strategists as well. Byhis own account, the senator's religious commitment has not hurt, and haspossibly even aided, his career aspirations.

In a public address before a Jewish group some years ago, Lieberman recalledhis first senatorial campaign in 1988. After the media reported that he wasabsent from his own Saturday-scheduled nominating convention, he keptmeeting non-Jews throughout Connecticut who would say to him, "I respect youfor putting something above political success." Often, they would add:"[T]he fact that you put something ahead of your political success, morethan any particular position that you took on an issue in the campaign, iswhy I'm going to vote for you." Senator Lieberman concluded by noting that"we only won by 10,000 votes that year, that was less than 1% . . . . [A]ndwho's to say whether it wasn't the fact that I didn't go to my convention onShabbos that gave me the margin of victory? . . ."

This episode is representative of something that observant Jews in manydifferent walks of life have experienced firsthand. By adhering toprinciple, rather than making accommodations born of discomfort with ourbeliefs and visibility, Jews often engender a profound respect from non-Jewswho find such principled positions refreshing amidst the prevailing"everyone has their price" mentality. And that Lieberman position, no lessthan his positions on matters political, is one Jews would do well toponder.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus