Let’s Stop Judging Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s Jewish Observance

Photo credit: Max Goldberg.
Photo credit: Max Goldberg.

It was all over the news. “Ivanka and Jared can ride in cars on inauguration Shabbat” proclaimed the New York Post on Thursday, January 19. “Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Get Rabbinic Pass to Ride in Car on Inauguration Shabbat” said a headline in The Forward. All of my friends were talking about this and posting about it on social media. How could Ivanka and Jared say that they’re modern Orthodox Jews, who observe the Sabbath, and yet they’d be traveling in a car following Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday, after the beginning of Shabbat? Why were they granted special permission by a rabbi to use a vehicle on Shabbat out of safety? After all, my friends would point out, Ivanka and Jared didn’t have to go to the inaugural balls and galas. Other friends were saying that they probably got the dispensation because they’re rich and powerful.

The more I heard people criticize Ivanka and Jared, the more uncomfortable I got. Whether or not I like or support them or the president is irrelevant; I don’t think I have the right to criticize Ivanka and Jared’s Jewish observance.

I often hear people judge interfaith couples and families just as they’ve been judging Ivanka and Jared.

If the Jewish partner truly cared about Judaism, they say, then they wouldn’t have married someone who isn’t Jewish. (For my personal thoughts on this issue, see my post Marrying Out is not ‘Abandoning Judaism’.)

If they wanted to have a Jewish home, they wouldn’t have a Christmas tree.

Their children aren’t really Jewish because the mother is Christian and they never took the children to a mikveh (ritual bath) to convert them.

How could they have had both a rabbi and a priest at their wedding?

How can the Christian mom be raising Jewish kids if she herself goes to church?

Many years ago, Rabbi Israel Salanter said, “Most men worry about their own bellies and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls and other people’s bellies.” What a beautiful teaching! Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could spend less time focusing on and talking about the ways in which other people practice their religion, and more time trying to bring healing to our fractured world?

I spend a lot of time advocating for interfaith couples and families to be accepted by the Jewish community “as they are” and encouraging synagogues and Jewish institutions to welcome and embrace all those who want to walk through their doors, rather than judging them. I think that it’s only fair that I speak out in favor of giving that same respect to Ivanka and Jared. Let’s not obsess over the fact that they traveled in a car on Shabbat – it’s not really news. We’d all be a lot better off, to paraphrase Rabbi Salanter, focusing on our own spiritual and religious lives and concerning ourselves with eliminating hunger and poverty. Now that’s something to talk about.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Judging Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s Jewish Observance”

  • Whatever happened to Judge not lest ye be judged? Why are we commentating on another person’s religious behavior? Who are we, those of us who commentate?
    Are we so perfect and wouldn’t it be better as my mother-in-law said (may her memory be a blessing)…”If everyone kept their own doorstep clean the whole world would be clean.”
    As for her father…she did not choose him and should not be held accountable for him or his actions. She may be obliged to follow and support her husband and it is he that has a position with his father in law.

  • It would be totally inappropriate to pass any judgment on their religious observance. Their Jewish values, however, are totally fair game – and I don’t even know where to begin judging those . . . .

  • I feel the same about this question as I did about Chelsea Clinton’s marriage. It is NONE of our business. Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, including the freedom to practice that religion according to our conscience.

  • We shouldn’t be judging ANYONE’S religious observance. That’s why we live in a country where what you observe and how you observe it is your own business, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights. If they want to be involved in public policy as these two have chosen to do, then it’s not only okay for citizens to judge their actions in that space, but essential. This is especially true if they or others in the new administration attempt to leverage their religious affiliation or stature as a means of lending credibility to a political position or action, as Trump and his advisers/spokespersons are doing daily.

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