August 17th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

My Faith: Sen. Joe Lieberman embraces 'the gift of the Sabbath'

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, looks forward to Fridays, when he can get home, switch his BlackBerry off and just be Joe - Hadassah Lieberman's husband, father of four, grandfather of 11.

Lieberman is an observant Jew who has long made a point to put his faith before politics - even if that means a post-sunset vote in the Senate will force him to walk the four miles from the U.S. Capitol to his Georgetown home.

In keeping the fourth commandment to honor the Sabbath to keep it holy, he doesn't work or get in a car or turn on a light.

Last Friday, he and his wife celebrated a Shabbat dinner, as they do every Friday, in keeping with their faith tradition.

On this evening, Hadassah Lieberman moves with purpose through the house gathering plates and dishes and remarks it will just be the two of them tonight, she and Joey - as she likes to call the senior senator from Connecticut. He putters and mentions he isn't often home in time to help set up.

After a bit of convincing, he agreed to let us come to his house and talk to him about his faith, politics, and his new book, "The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath."

Lieberman sat in a dining room chair in the living room so the shot for the camera would work the best.

"Let me ask you a question," Hadassah chimed in before we began. "Should he wear a jacket? Does he look too casual?"

"He's at home," I explained. "It'll be just fine."

The senator picked up his book and mused that the publisher had sent him four cover choices for the front and told him, "Go with the one your wife likes best." He beamed. She blushed, shot him a smirk, and we began.

Lieberman explained the reason Jews have observed the Sabbath throughout the centuries is that they believe God rested after six days of creation in the biblical account of Genesis. "We aspire to work hard and be creative for six days, and rest on the seventh day, hopefully with some sense of satisfaction about what we've done on the other six," he said.

He walks through the history of the Sabbath and talks about how the observance in the Bible got to where it is today.

As Jewish rabbis began to interpret the Sabbath in their own day they "built a fence around the Sabbath. In other words (they said), 'We're going to give you a list of things you can't do on the Sabbath to protect the essence of the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of gratitude to God for creation, as a day of spiritual regeneration,' " Lieberman said.

One way he tries to honor his wife and the Sabbath is to bring home flowers for his wife and the Sabbath table each week. When a reporter on Capitol Hill learned about that a few years ago, Lieberman was dubbed one of the most romantic members of Congress.

The Liebermans sing songs, recite prayers, light candles, and partake in the wine and challah, a twisted bread. The two parts of the bread twisted together serve as a reminder of the biblical story in Exodus where God provides a double portion of manna, the magical bread from heaven, when the Israelites are wandering in the desert so they won't have to go out and gather the bread on the Sabbath.

And they celebrate wherever they are, even on the campaign trail. Hadassah tells a story of a campaign staffer desperately trying to find a challah bread in Wisconsin during the 2000 presidential campaign when Lieberman was campaigning as Al Gore's running mate.

As they walked through the streets to get to temple in Wisconsin with the Secret Service by their side, "people came running out to see the senator and his family on Shabbat," she said. They even got a few "Shabbat shaloms," the Jewish Sabbath greeting.

In a world of always being on and connected, the Liebermans say they relish the Sabbath and that it has sustained their marriage and family for years.

"It's been a life-saver to our family and our marriage and our home life because it's given us a moment to stop and break off from the nonsense we all deal with," Hadassah said. "We can talk to each other without the BlackBerries ringing in our faces."

When the sun sets on Friday, the matching BlackBerries are turned off and they focus on their faith and each other, unless the land line rings and there is a matter of national security.

Sen. Lieberman is in a unique position. His job can stretch and intrude into his religious practice.

He said when he first got into public service he made a conscious decision not to participate in political activities on the Sabbath.

"As much as my ambitions and my obligations would lead me to do that, it wasn't the right thing to do, it wasn't consistent with the Sabbath," he said.

While it does not happen often, he breaks his Sabbath observance when he has government responsibilities he cannot delegate, like voting in the Senate or dealing with matters of national security.

Then he heads back home to be with his family, pray, or to take part in what he called one of "God's great blessings," the Saturday afternoon nap.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • DC • Judaism • Politics • Torah • United States

soundoff (352 Responses)

Comments are closed.

About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.