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)
  1. JiminTX

    He's a born again Jew. For most of his life he was not practicing. Ex drinkers and the recently religious are just bores to be around.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • NF

      And babysitting a hard-core lush is just loads and loads of fun. (sarcasm)

      August 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  2. Mike Smith

    Unplugging and dropping out to spend 24hrs with ones self or family is a wonderful idea. A family I know in Dallas follow the same pattern and benefit greatly from the practice – No matter ones faith or non-faith disconnecting from the busy world and re-connecting with your self is a terrific idea.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  3. Stu C

    To Joe Blow - you can be sure this is staged and was NOT taped on the Sabbath. As a practicing Orthodox Jew, he would not allow himself to be filmed, or to wear a microphone on the Sabbath. Give him credit for standing up to his convictions. More than could be said for most of us.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  4. joe blow

    "after a bit of convincing" lieberman agreed to discuss his new book??
    What a load of crap... This is free advertising for him! I would also think that his marketing his book on saturday (which IS what this article is all about) breaks his sabbath obligations....what lawyer is going to represent u in front of God so u can weasel out of that??

    August 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • md2205

      People who do not know the laws of Sabbath mustn't assume. In fact he is allowed to talk to anyone on the Sabbath. He is allowed to have them in his house and see what he does on the Sabbath. He cannot write or use a microphone, but he probably didn't need to when they visited him. P.S. Keeping the Sabbath the way it was meant to be kept is truly beautiful and it is a shame that so many people make fun of it and people who do it. They are really missing out on something amazing.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  5. Zohar Freiberg

    שבת שלום ג'ו!!!

    August 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  6. Bible Clown

    Who cares? Everyone hates this guy, right, left, and center.

    August 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  7. streetcar01

    He puts his faith before politics??? There are a lot of things you can put before politics, but faith isn't one of them. Belief in fairy tales will never get you anything in the real world, other than maybe a spouse on one of those singles religious retreats 🙂

    August 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Tam

      wish there were "likes" I could put on this comment and others like it.LIKE!

      August 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Andrew S.

      "Belief in fairy tales will never get you anything in the real world"

      I'm not Jewish, but you're hard pressed to find someone who thinks Jews haven't been successful in business and politics. It's not about the "fairy tales," it's about the message behind them which usually consists of hard work ethic, commitment, family, and a dedication to doing the right thing. Though not the recipe for a success, not quite the attributes of failure.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Magic

      Andrew, "It's not about the "fairy tales," it's about the message behind them which usually consists of hard work ethic, commitment, family, and a dedication to doing the right thing."

      Messages which are also available in Aesop's Fables and elsewhere in ancient history.

      Modern scholarship reveals fables and proverbs of "Aesopic" form existing in both ancient Sumer and Akkad, as early as the third millennium BCE.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Demetrius

      @ Magic

      So? Lieberman is Jewish, not Sumarian or Akkadian.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Magic


      I was pointing out that Hebrews didn't have the corner on the market of this type of ethics, nor were they the first to espouse them (if that is proposed as evidence that they were the one 'chosen' people of a god).

      August 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • md2205

      People forget that just because you can't see G-d doesn't mean He isn't there.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • Martin T

      @md, and just because someone is paranoid, doesn't mean they AREN'Tout to get them...

      August 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  8. Reality

    Rest is good !! Religious mumbo-jumbo is not !!!-----------–

    August 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • md2205

      Read a book called "The Bible Unauthorized" and you will see that it is very much not mumbo jumbo. Unfortunately, the English version of the Bible that we have nowadays is very not understandable and seems irrelevant because it simply doesn't make sense. Read the book I recommended and a whole world will open up to you because it is translated correctly.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  9. rod

    What an amazing testimony from a Senate leader Sen Liebermann. I wish that men in the political world will comeout boldly of their FAITH at a a time when convictions, beliefs before an Almighty Creator is 24 hr headlines! We can no longer hide behind any agenda when convictions and conscience dictates before a SOVEREIGN GOD who give us a loan to stay in this speck of a planet earth viz univere!

    August 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Oodoodanoo

    I think it's cool that an old man and his wife spend all weekend listening to Sabbath. They're probably baked out of their minds.

    August 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Tam

      LOL!!so true about the baked part...all religious people are baked out of their minds ..hahaha

      August 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  11. rod

    Its still a beautiful world SenatorLibermann for the courage, honesty, encouragement amidst the indifference this confused and chaotic society has on God. Your surely set the TONE for a rewarding lifestyle! HIS laws, precepts, mandate for a HEALTHY and HAPPY relationship to a LIVING God remains unchanged and forever rest on the concictions and obedience of those who acknowledge HIM as HEAVENLY FATHER of HIS creation! I thank you and your wife for setting such a good and genuine example!

    August 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  12. Magic

    If you have chosen the wrong god, these oldies-but-goodies will be mighty angry that you didn't worship on *their* day:

    All English-speaking people honor the Moon (Monday), the god Tyr (Tuesday), god Woden (Wednesday), god Thor (Thursday), goddess Friga (Friday) and god Saturn (Saturday) and the Sun (Sunday) every week...(and god Janus (January), the pagan ritual of Februa (February), god Mars (March), goddess Maia (May), and goddess Juno (June) every year.)

    August 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • md2205

      Actually, that also isn't true. In the Bible it says that the Sabbath, on Saturday, is only for the Jews and no one else is allowed to keep it that day. People who aren't Jewish are allowed to keep the Sabbath on any other day they want, but not Saturday.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  13. Doc Vestibule

    The Bible is full of little nuggets of advice, of which some are eternally relevant.
    God sez: Take a day off once a week. Good advice!
    God sez: Be nice to your parents. Usually good advice!
    God sez: Don't each shellfish or pork. Practical advice in the days before the words "trichinosis" and "salmonella" existed.
    God sez: Stone to death mouthy and/or slu.tty kids. Not so good advice.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Bob

      I wouldn't imagine you would like that last one too much. You would have to be ducking all the time.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      Are you implying Doc sleep around?

      August 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Doc V has nothing to worry about – you don't get, or at least shouldn't, stoned for speaking the truth!

      August 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • md2205

      You are assuming that the kosher dietary laws were given for health reasons, but the truth is that G-d didn't give a reason for the kosher laws. He didn't give any reason for them. Some laws He gave us are to be done just because He wants them to be done, and He knows the reasons, but didn't tell us. His intelligence, being infinite, is far greater than ours, and many things He wants cannot be understood by our limited intellect. Just because you say the laws were given for health reasons doesn't mean they were.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  14. Habemus Papam

    Millions of Christian youths from all over the world are praying for world peace and love in Madrid, Spain, yet the MSM ignores them.

    Blessings to all,

    Please follow the World Youth Days:


    August 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Tam

      One of the biggest cons in the world,the Catholic church.The funny part is that the priests are asking the young people to "go and evangelize others" and that's exactly where respect for other human beings ends and why they and other religions are so hated.Who the $%^& is anyone to go and "evangelize" (a.k.a. brainwash) others so that the big mafias can keep getting more money and keep controlling more people under the guise of "God"? It makes me sick how people are so easily fooled.Thank goodness I am not one of those.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  15. joeliberman

    Doo doo doo. Let me strap on my yarmulke, and waltz on over to Capitol Hill to vote for more war. Doo doo doo. I'm an observant jew.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  16. shiney

    AGuest9, I sympathize as some jobs tend to be more demanding (i.e. police, firefighters, soldiers, doctors, nurses) on the schedule. We have a lot of those types of folks in our congregation. Just serve as best you can in whatever way you can given you scheduling constraints – God knows your heart. Serve with all your heart – little is much when God is in it. Just remember the widow with her two mites.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  17. Bo

    =================@Tam10:29===========That, I think is just why you and those like you are atheist; you want to live your lives as you very well please, not that you don't necessarly don't believe there is a living God, but by accepting that fact would restrict your choice of lifestyle and you don't want to change. How correct am I?

    August 17, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Tam

      Bo, God is just as much of a fairytale as the rest of the lies fed to us since we were kids.Being able to do what I want when I want and to keep all my hard-earned money and not give it to some "religious" leader is the most gratifying feeling of them all.I have no restrictions in my life,at least none imposed by some clown dressed up in some "religious" outfit telling me how to dress/talk/eat etc. If you want to be one of the mindless sheep that follows along,so be it.I am happy being my own person,and not what some fairy tale book says I should be to "get into heaven"...what a joke!

      August 17, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Nonimus

      "not that you don't necessarly don't believe there is a living God,"
      Is it just easier for some theists to think that atheists are deceiving themselves, rather than listening to them when they say that there isn't any evidence that god(s) exist and therefore no reason to think that one does?
      Does the fantasy that everyone believes as you do, whether they say so or not, make you feel more comfortable?

      August 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      "accepting that fact would restrict your choice of lifestyle and you don't want to change."
      You are totally wrong. You are trying to portray atheists as selfish deniers, and that's NOT true.
      If one doesn't believe (and truly, I don't see how one CAN), why would we be making a 'choice' to not change? Indeed, if belief is predicated by sufficient evidence to be convincing, then we are not making a CHOICE, we are exercising our capacity to determine truth from falsehood. I have yet to see one REAL piece of evidence that demonstrates god exists. I have seen thousands of pieces of evidence that god does not exist, in particular, religious divisions, religious inaccuracies, and religious requirements that go against any and all good sense.
      I don't deny god because I am selfish, I deny god because I am unconvinced of its existence. Why do you have such a low threshold of belief?

      August 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Lin

      Tam, you claim God is a fairy tale? Prove it. And along the lines of the fairy tale metaphor, remember that the sheep who go off on their own make things a whole lot easier for the wolves.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • Nonimus

      fair·y tale
      fairy tales, plural
      A children's story about magical and imaginary beings and lands
      Denoting something regarded as resembling a fairy story in being magical, idealized, or extremely happy
      – a fairy-tale romance
      A fabricated story, esp. one intended to deceive

      The Bible seems to fit pretty well.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Geekalot

      @Lin – "Tam, you claim God is a fairy tale? Prove it. And along the lines of the fairy tale metaphor, remember that the sheep who go off on their own make things a whole lot easier for the wolves."

      This is a logical phalacy that many believers try to perpetuate. The burden of proof is on the party without evidence. It is not necessary for me to attempt to prove the non-existence of something for which not one shred of real, tangible data has yet been produced.

      And as to your second comment, I postulate that the sheep on their own might occasionally become prey to some predator (though we quickly learn to look around), but in my experience the wolves are more often dressed in sheep's clothing, perpetuating fables and bilking folks out of money and time and independent thought.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • md2205

      Tam, it is a fallacy that someone who does what they want is the free person and the one who follows religion doesn't use their mind. In fact, when you do whatever you want, you are following your bodily desires and impulses. Any higher deeds that you do are done because you have found them to be either right by virtue of being taught to you as an idea that originated with religion, or right by virtue of the fact that you want to do it. But when you follow what G-d says, which for all peoples of the world are seven commandments: To believe in One G-d, not to blame Him for our problems, not to kill, steal, or do adultery, to set up effective courts of justice, and not to eat the limb of an animal that is still alive, you are using your body to do what you were created for: to make this world into a place where G-d will be want to be. You are following infinite intelligence, without rationalizations, which could otherwise come so easily to justify "doing whatever we want".

      August 17, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  18. joeliberman

    Too bad he doesn't honor "Thou shall not kill."

    August 17, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • joe blow

      He only believes in killing gentiles so it should be okay right? NOT

      August 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  19. Josh Gonzalez

    Senator Lieberman may be religious, but that does not make him a good Senator. He prevented the public option from becoming law and millions of God's children have suffered for it.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Nonimus

      @Josh Gonzalez,
      Do you have any savings? A car? A television?
      Think of all of "God's children" that you could have helped, if you didn't have these unnecessary things.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • LP

      Josh – the article was not about Joe Lieberman's success as a Senator. It was about how he balances his work and personal lives and how he fits his religious observance into what is likely a very busy schedule. I'm not a fan of him as a senator, nor am I a fan of religion; but he seems to have achieved a balance that we could all do well to emulate.

      He also sets a good example for the "noisy-christian" politicians out there: you would do better to keep your professional and religious lives separate.

      August 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  20. Dulcie - Denver

    Scanning through the comments here, I'm disappointed at all the ignorant and callus responses.

    I'm not Jewish myself, but I am inspired by Joe Lieberman's devotion to his faith, family and the effort he puts into observing his religion. I'm especially impressed by the respect he shows his wife in all this. Bringing flowers for their Shabbat table is a really lovely tradition. I also loved that he blessed each of their children. Another lovely family ritual that reminds children that they are loved and cherished.

    Beautiful piece! Thank you

    August 17, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Lin

      Very well said.

      August 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • joe blow

      Are you another of the brain washed masses? He's a cretin and a killer...this is just propaganda...he was advertising his book (aka work) on the sabbath, so he's just full of it

      August 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • md2205

      He is allowed to talk about his book on the Sabbath.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
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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.