(RNS) Don’t look at me.
I didn’t do it.
Not like they would have asked me.
Neither was it the rabbi who married them — the venerable Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the dean of New York’s Orthodox rabbinate.
So, what rabbi would have given them permission (or, as some reporters put it, “dispensation”) to fly to Saudi Arabia on Shabbat?
I can say with little fear of contradiction: There was simply no way that Jewish law would permit airplane travel — or any vehicular travel — on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday.
Oh, wait — there’s one.
That would be to save a life. When life is at stake, almost any Jewish law can be breached.
That doesn’t apply here.
No, a multibillion-dollar arms deal with the Saudis doesn’t count. It isn’t even close.
This whole “flying to Saudi Arabia on Shabbat” thing has done a great job of reviving the cynical question about Jared and Ivanka’s “real” level of Jewish observance.
Are they “really” Orthodox?
So it has been said.
Ivanka and husband are Orthodox Sabbath and Jewish holiday observers. … She disengages from the business world and is incommunicado for 25 hours. …
Really — shouldn’t they have known better?
Pondering the Kushners’ Orthodoxy is almost a cottage industry.
Peter Beinart — himself an observant Jew — wonders aloud how modern Orthodoxy could have produced a Jared Kushner — someone who aligns himself with policies that seem to be at odds with Jewish values.
And, hey — why doesn’t Jared wear a kippah, or yarmulke, all the time, like other Orthodox men? Have you ever seen a photo of a kippahed-Jared?
Jared would not be the only Orthodox Jewish man to go bareheaded.
The modern Orthodox Joseph Lieberman, reportedly on the short list for FBI director, doesn’t wear a kippah in public, either.
There is some history to this. It was not until relatively recently that Orthodox men wore kippot outside the home. The late Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, Haskel’s father, had always taught that the kippah was an “indoor garment.”
But, the point here is not the Kushners’ level of observance.
No, the real issue is the still anonymous rabbi who offered the heter (permission) for travel on Shabbat.
This is not good for the Jews.
I have great respect for Orthodoxy. But this move only exacerbates the intrareligious Jewish wars.
Remember that Reform and Conservative rabbis have almost no religious rights in Israel, lest they upset state Orthodoxy’s religious monopoly.
Their marriages are not valid; their conversions are not valid; and as for what happens at the Kotel regarding women who want to publicly read Torah — puh-leeze.
Remember that those same Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis have demonstrated more than adequate knowledge of halacha (Jewish law) and Jewish thought.
And yet, an Orthodox rabbi issues such a questionable psak din (halachic ruling).
Right about now, the overwhelming majority of American Jews are experiencing a massive disconnect.
Shoutout to my friend Rabbi Uri Regev and his organization, Hiddush, that has been fighting for religious equality.
But if you really want to get into “bad for the Jews” territory, you need only see how some gentiles are responding to this on Facebook.
I am talking about some of my gentile Facebook friends — especially the Catholics.
Some have cynically suggested that Rabbi Ploni (a classic Hebrew way of saying Rabbi Whoeverstein) must have received some kind of bribe for offering this ruling.
In this rabbinical move, they see all the hypocrisy that they associate with the worst aspects of the Catholic Church.
Some have snickered and compared this ill-founded rabbinical decision to “selling indulgences” — the medieval practice of reducing the amount of punishment for sin.
It was precisely the sale of indulgences that led Martin Luther, exactly 500 years ago, to nail his 95 theses onto the church door in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation.
I do not know — no one knows — if Rabbi Anonymous wound up with a handsome pile of dollars or shekels in exchange for a halachic decision that a Jewish day school kid wouldn’t have made.
It’s actually worse than financial bribery.
It could have been a different kind of bribery — the bribery of fame.
What is the bribery of fame?
You see it all the time: the way that some religious leaders automatically fawn over the rich and famous — even if those rich and famous people espouse political positions that are utterly at odds with the most sacred teachings of a particular faith.
In Judaism, it would be a violation of the Torah teaching of lo takir panim (“do not recognize faces”) — do not show deference to the rich in legal disputes.
Ask yourselves: If some poor or even middle-class Jew had approached this rabbi, and asked if it was permissible to fly to, oh, say, Florida on Shabbat to visit an aged parent — what do you think the rabbi would have said?