Senator Joe Lieberman and Bill Bennett arrived 15 minutes late to last night’s American Enterprise Institute (AEI) event, but they didn’t waste any time in capturing the audience’s attention. Bennett’s first question called for a discussion of “garlic and beans,” two supposedly rabbi-recommended stimulants to help observe the mitzvah of having sex on Shabbat. Lieberman and Bennett bantered back and forth on the subject – Bennett claiming that garlic would actually be an obstacle to his performance of this mitzvah – before the two agreed it was time for “a more serious discussion.”
The Tuesday, September 20, AEI event served as a “soft launch” of Lieberman’s new book, The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of Sabbath. The 240 page book is largely an anecdotal description of the Senator’s Shabbat experiences, but it is also a compelling argument for turning everything off and – as the Senator wrote in my copy of the book – “getting some rest.”
Arguments for Shabbat observance have (obviously) been made by many rabbis and religious scholars in past books. But Lieberman has two comparative advantages: First, Lieberman is “surely the best-known Sabbath observer in the United States” (Michael Medved’s review in Washington Times) and accordingly has a larger platform than even somebody like Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. And second, Lieberman’s extreme political success counters the argument that Shabbat observance is incompatible with a modern, high-achieving lifestyle. Think of how perfect this is for people like Andrew P., Doug H., and others in our community who have recently become more observant, but want to become high-powered bankers or analysts, not rabbis. For them, Lieberman is the ultimate observant model.
But what about we Jews who have little interest in true Shabbat observance? In the question and answer session of the event, I noted to the Senator that only 18 percent of Jews go to synagogue at least once a month, and that only 10 percent of Jews are Orthodox. What message does the Senator want us to take away from the book?
Lieberman welcomed the question because his book is intended as much for non-observant Jews – and non-Jews such as moderator Bill Bennett – as it is observant Jews. To express this point, the Senator shared a story of a friend from Stamford, Connecticut who zealously prayed with Lieberman and the community each Saturday morning. But after services, the friend routinely went to brunch at a diner and then to a movie. Not exactly a Shabbat-friendly afternoon, but the Senator commended it as a routine of rest. Seemingly, the Senator wasn’t at AEI to promote observance of the Jewish Sabbath, but to instead promote resting as a concept. “You need to recharge,” and, “Congress could do with some rest,” were two things the Senator said.
I’m not certain at what point the Senator draws the line – does my 30 minutes of fantasy book reading each night count as rest? – but the point is taken: rest is important because it recharges us and it gives us time for perspective and self-reflection. And remember, this is coming from a guy who has served almost 24 years in the Senate, ran for vice president in 2000, and president in 2008. If he thinks rest is important enough to fit into his day, then maybe we all should consider giving it a spot in the weekend.
Not convinced? Then buy the book.
Other notes from the book/event:
- I wonder how many overworked staff members Senator Lieberman has who grumbled about this book.
- Senator Lieberman is often spotted on Saturdays at Kesher Israel in Georgetown; try to get your book signed there!
- DC Jewish community member, AEI Project Manager, and Kesher Israel congregant Lazar Berman put this FREE event together. So many thanks to Lazar.
- The Senator told how he assisted Sarah Palin in the 2008 vice presidential debate, relating to her as a fellow believer in God and the bible. In particular, Senator Lieberman drew on the Book of Esther, which also happens to be the inspiration for the name of this website!
*** I used to work at AEI.