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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. Ned Soltz

    Oops... better shoot another take of that Shalom Alechem scene. No kippa!

    August 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  2. T Carroll

    Thank you Senator for sharing your faith with us. May God continue to bless you in many ways.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Martin T

      I have a question for you about god's blessings. How do you explain when a "godly" man falls on hard times, and an openly Atheist man hits the lotto? Is god blessing the atheist and NOT blessing the godly man? Just want someone to give me a reasonable answer, and NOT the "fallback" answer that god works in mysterious ways.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • md2205

      To Martin T: There are many works in Judaism about this very topic. An answer in one paragraph is not going to be in any way nearly complete nor easy to understand. However, it does say that when G-d causes suffering to someone, that eliminates some of the cleansing his soul would have to go through because of anything he might have done that was against what G-d created the world for. So someone who is very good might have some suffering for his own benefit in the long run. And a person who does bad things that go against what G-d wants, may win the lottery, so that whatever good that person did in the world will be rewarded here and he wouldn't get that cleansing for his soul because G-d doens't think he deserves it. This is of course way too simplified, and even a bit weird, because it is a topic that needs much more background and reading about to really understand. The best thing to do is to read books written by Orthodox rabbis which can be found in Jewish bookstores, such as "Think Jewish" by Zalman Posner, or "Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism", by Telushkin. There are so many books written on this topic. It is interesting to note that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that when the Messiah comes, we will thank G-d for everything He caused to happen to us. That is because at that time, we will understand, and not just understand, but really feel the goodness in what G-d did for us. We have to remember that even though things that happen feel bad, and feel very bad, they are, in G-d's eyes, not bad. They may be very sad, but are not "bad". Because G-d doesn't do what is "bad". Painful, yes, sometimes horribly so, but not "bad". The Lubavitcher Rebbe also said that we can hasten the time that the Messiah will come by doing more good and kind things in the world.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Andy

      "The Lubavitcher Rebbe also said that we can hasten the time that the Messiah will come by doing more good and kind things in the world."

      Which is why we're so busy driving those eff-ing Palestinians out of their homes and stealing their land and farms. This feels so great!! I can't wait to meet my Lord and supplicate Him for Paradise, for He is certainly happy with me for doing such good and kind things to the Palestinians.

      August 18, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  3. Eliot Rosewater

    Who cares if he keeps the Sabbath? He isn't going to heaven and will probably end up in h-e-double-hockey-sticks because he doesn't believe in Jesus.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Martin T

      See Eliot, that is the kind of nonsense that makes my skin crawl, the whole "I'm better than you" mentality of the Christians. You have ONE thing right, Joe won't go to heaven, but then again neither will you or me. There is NO heaven, no underworld. Jesus was a myth, god is a man made delusion made up to explain all things that were not explainable in ancient times; well, I live in this century NOT in the first century, so I think I'm a bit more educated and a bit better equiped to understand WHY religion exists. Sad, so sad, that you feel so self important to make a statement like this.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Eliot Rosewater

      Well, if he doesn't want to go to he-ll, he should straighten up and fly right. And what kind of example is he setting for the kids of America? I mean, only amoral people don't believe in Jesus. Terrible example he's setting for our poor, impressionable children.

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

      So what you are saying is a man who takes his responsibility seriously, works for the American People, doesn't do any harm, keeps his religous views in his home where they belong, and doesn't do anything amoral at all, is being a poor role-model for American's children? Really, you don't believe that. What about me, I am an atheist? What do you think of me?

      August 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Martin T, I think you need to say it slower, with shorter words. Eliot didn't get a single word, or he is being funny...

      August 17, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Eliot Rosewater

      Are there any members of congress who belong to the Church of Scientology? I think CNN needs to write an article about how great they are for their steadfast faith in Xenu.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Eliot Rosewater

      Sarcasm sometimes doesn't always come across correctly on an Internet message board. My bad.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • FO Mike

      Two main differences between Christianity and Judaism. Jews pray to G-d as opposed to Jesus (G-d's son). Secondly, we do not believe the Messiah has come yet, where as Christianity views Jesus as the Messiah.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  4. Jim

    Who cares if he keeps the sabbath? He votes for terrible budget deals. He has betrayed his country.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  5. Edward Aguiar

    Glad to see people living their faith.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Cyrus

      Good point...except for Mormons and Muslims. Screw them if them live with their faiths.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  6. Mike

    I bet he has the happiest staff of any member of Congress.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  7. Tom Martin

    I should clarify that Lutherans (who, of course, are Protestants) continue to follow the Roman Catholic numbering system.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  8. Tom Martin

    How to number the ten commandments has been a matter of discussion for at least 500 years. Jews and Protestant Christians believe the sabbath commandment is number 4. Roman Catholics view it as number 3. This disagreement revolves around whether "thou shalt not make any graven image, bow down to them, or worship them" is part of the first "have no other gods before me" or is a stand alone commandment. Roman Catholics divide the tenth commandment about coveting into two, as Jews and Protestant Christians see it, so everyone's total equals ten.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  9. 21k

    oh, for f's sake, who the hell cares? the pope has written in 2002 that while other religious businesses are nice, only the r.c church, inc., will get you into heaven.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  10. Someone

    I'm sorry, but the fourth commandment is is to honor your father and mother, not to keep the Sabbath holy (which is the third).

    August 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Someone else

      Someone – maybe according to the roman catholic list it's 3rd- but to everyone else, it's 4th (maybe you should have bothered to check first)

      August 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • justareader

      Please help me count...

      http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus%2020&version=NIV

      August 17, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Mike

      The Jewish Bible numbers the commandments slightly differently than the Christian Bible.
      1= I am the Lord your God
      2=No other Gods, including graven images
      3=Not taking the Name in vain
      4=Sabbath
      5=Honoring parents
      6=No murder
      7=No adultery
      8=No theft
      9=No false witness
      10=No coveting
      Regardless of how they are numbered, the content is still more or less the same.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • KC

      There are various numbering systems for the commandments. Go take a Comparative Religions class.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Some folks really need to get this right...notice what those who want the fourth commandment (the Sabbath commandment) to be the third commandment do to the 10th commandment. They arbitrarily divide the 10th so they become the ninth and the 10th so as to preserve the "10". Well, which commandment have they really wanted to get rid of? the second commandment about images. Now if your in America and go into the churches of that group that wants to be rid of the commandment re images, you will find some of those churches have nary an image and some are loaded with them....not until you travel some, especially south and central america, do you see the abject paganism of that church exhibited...then you instantly know why they want to suppress the commandment against images.

      August 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  11. Brandon

    On my Sabbath, I bite the heads off of flying rodents.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • 21k

      thanks a lot. now i got "crazy train" playing in my head.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  12. Faith

    America became poor because it keeps no Sabbath( or the Lord's Day). It's not spiritually right, unhealthy, and ineffective in business. The pagans and natural disasters consume the results of the toil. It's in the Bible.

    August 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • naysayer

      glad you are not an economist

      August 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Martin T

      And Faith, when did you become a nutjob?

      August 17, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  13. Jim

    TAM
    "...If you ,as proof of God's existence,quote from the actual Bible itself,it would be akin to me quoting from "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" or "The night before Xmas" to prove there is a Santa Claus..." – Obviously you are ill-informed as to the complexities and dynamics of the whole reality of the Bible, old AND new.

    August 17, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • mickey1313

      well, this article sure made my openion of him drop, anyone who is devoute, and puts his faith above his sworn oath of office is a dirty POS.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • FO Mike

      You did notice the part where he walks 4 miles to vote on Friday nights and Saturdays right?

      August 17, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • kingnpriest

      Not remotely the same at all, Jim. You must know the Bible is not just a collection of childrens stories, but is tha story of life and redemption. It is a book that must be embraced by faith. If you are not born of God, you will not understand it. You are literally a living dead person, spiritually dead and unable to comprehend spiritual things. I would suggest that you seek God with all your heart, and you will surely find Him, while you have time. BELIEVE John 17:4

      August 18, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  14. myreply

    so glad he's standing up for his beliefs and honoring the Sabbath!

    August 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  15. Tam

    what do you know? I have been censored for speaking out against religion!More specifically against Jews.This happened once before,mr Moderator and it certainly proves to me your pro-semitic and anti-free speech agenda.shameful,CNN...shameful!

    August 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Tam

      guess they let me back in 🙂

      August 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • Helpful Henry

      Tam, Relax your paranoia...

      Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      --–
      ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sl-ut
      sn-atch
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Tam

      thank you helpful Henry,I will take note.It's not really paranoia though,I remember this one article about a Nazi who had turned orthodox Jew AND a butcher (not a good combination in my book,not that being a Nazi was any better,of course) that really incensed me and I wrote something about it and sure enough,I was banned from CNN for I don't know HOW long.But your suggestions are very helpful,one has to know all the loopholes,right? thanks again!

      August 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Jim

      TAM
      "...If you ,as proof of God's existence,quote from the actual Bible itself,it would be akin to me quoting from "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" or "The night before Xmas" to prove there is a Santa Claus..." – Obviously you are ill-informed as to the complexities and dynamics of the whole reality of the Bible, old AND new.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • mickey1313

      CNN is definatly pro-thiest, and pro-zionest.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Martin T

      I don't think that CNN is pro-theist at all. I have been quoted a number of times by CNN and I am clearly an atheist. They do present the Christian view often, but that's ok with me because it gives me a chance to debunk some of the nonsense.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
  16. nothem

    Nice book review. Funny I was in CNN's politics section when I hit this story. Is everything in the political section either a book review or an opinion piece?

    August 17, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  17. Bo

    ============@Tam===================== In spite of the fact that you are an atheist, I really respect your viiews, a you seem to be intelligen, that's good. In Geekalot's 2:08 post he asked you to prove that God does not exisit, but, in your2:08post you skirted the question and attacked the church leaders and I presume the Bible.I wish to give you a couple reasons that show there must be a God. In Job 38:31 God asks Job:Can you bind Pleides or loose the band [belt]of Orion?Pleidies is a group of stars traveling together through the universe.The belt of Orion is made up of three stars that are always moveing about, but this was not discovered[proven]until the telesope was invented.So how did Job,4000yrs ago, know this unless reveled to him by some supernatural power? David, wrote in Psalm8:8 that the fish of the sea passed through the paths[currents]of the sea. The currents of the seas were not even discovered until the late 1800's. How did David know about currents about them unless revealed to him by God?

    August 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Tam

      Bo, thanks for your comments on my intelligence.I try to respect "believers" but they always come at other people trying to evangelize them in one way or another and that is,at the end of the day,what ticks me off. Back to your question on God: If you ,as proof of God's existence,quote from the actual Bible itself,it would be akin to me quoting from "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" or "The night before Xmas" to prove there is a Santa Claus. So.... sorry,good try,but anything you quote from the bible to prove something has absolutely no credibility whatsoever.Give me cold scientific proof and then we can talk.

      August 17, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Prove that god DOES NOT exist –> Come on, why do you guys keep on trying to use this as an argument? I'm positive this logical fallacy has been explained to you many times before. Very disingenuous. Here it goes again: -One cannot prove something that does not exist. The proof of existence must come from those who make the claims.- That means the burden of proof lies with the one who makes the claim. We can't do your job for you. When you present some actual proof, then you will get a response.

      The constellations you mention have been visually observed (and named) by civilizations well before 4000 years ago. Ancient astronomers used mathematics to study them before the telescope was invented. By the way, the terms "discovery" and "proof" do not mean the same thing. Huge difference. Look it up.

      Pleiades star cluster –> The Pleiades is an open star cluster which is visible to the naked eye in the constellation Taurus. The Ancient Greeks saw seven stars in the cluster, and named them after the Pleiades, the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione.

      Orion's belt –> Although the Greeks gave the constellation of Orion its present name, it was known to civilizations long before that. As far as the belt goes, those are by far the easiest stars out of the constellation to locate because they are very bright. It is called Orion's "belt" because the entire constellation depicts Orion the Hunter and he is wearing a "belt". He even has a sword, known as the Orion nebula.

      How dose this prove the existence of god? It doesn't, at all, whatsoever.
      Also, the bible is not proof – "It's true because the bible says so!" is not a valid argument.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • mickey1313

      bo bo bo, nice try with the stars my friend, but you do know that EVERY megalithic culture from 7000 BCE on has mapped the pleadies and orion with temples. And did you know that the hindu, egyptian, and sumarian cultures existed long before the time the bible claims the whole earth was created. That is why the judo-christians are foolish, they give easily countered "facts" in there book. A book based on fact, that can have 1 fact countered, is rendered full fraudulent, aka the bible is BS.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • mickey1313

      Bo, also, you can not prove a negitive. If someone wants someone to believe in something, expecally if it is far fetched, then the burden of proof is up to them. Just like court, the burden of proof is up to the thiest, not the athiest.

      August 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • md2205

      I guess it is that a person cannot prove something that doesn't exist, but also cannot prove that G-d does exist, because He is not something that can be visually seen or felt. However, if you will be open minded enough to learn about the Jewish ideas about how the world came to be and why, you will be exposed to ideas you have never encountered before, and that would make you think. You might adjust your position at that point. The thing is that a person does not have a standard of proof that he would accept should one try to prove the existence of G-d to him, because He cannot be seen or physically felt. A very interesting book to read is "To Know and To Care", true stories about how the Lubavitcher Rebbe interacted with the people who came to him, and even with people who never came to him. This will introduce you to a man whose very holiness shines out and affects everyone around him. Having never met a truly holy person in one's life, it would be very hard to "prove" that G-d exists. But once you read about him, you will see what I mean.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  18. lordpet

    I am Iron Man

    August 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Jim

      Are you Ozzie?

      August 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Love it.

      I AM IRON MAN
      Has he lost his mind
      Can he see or is he blind?
      Can he walk at all,
      Or if he moves will he fall

      Is he live or dead?
      Has he thoughts within his head?
      We'll just pass him there
      Why should we even care?

      He was turned to steel
      In the great magnetic field
      When he traveled time
      For the future of mankind

      Nobody wants him
      He just stares at the world
      Planning his vengeance
      That he will soon unfold

      Now the time is here
      For Iron Man to spread fear
      Vengeance from the grave
      Kills the people he once saved

      Nobody wants him
      They just turn their heads
      Nobody helps him
      Now he has his revenge

      Heavy boots of lead
      Fills his victims full of dread
      Running as fast as they can
      Iron Man lives again!

      August 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  19. secularbear

    Who cares, religion is a bunch of dark ages nonsense.

    August 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Jim

      secularbear
      Obviously you are ill-informed as to the complexities and dynamics of the whole reality of the Bible, old AND new. Your empty shallow life perhaps could use some depth.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  20. Bo

    =================@Tam

    August 17, 2011 at 4:47 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.