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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. wr

    I would expect the "CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor' to not talk about Judaism like it's some alien, exotic, bizarre secret society. And to know it's not called "challah bread."

    August 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  2. LouAz

    When this jerk decided to play both ends against the middle he collapsed the 60 seat majority that the Dems had in the Senate and is as directly responsible for the turmoil that has taken over our Country since as any person or any group. He should be full of guilt, which is a fundamental part of his silly religion, and needs to stay out of sight for what he has done to this Country. Thanks Connecticut !

    August 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  3. roger smith

    Joke God need rest, what kind of god is this? God told Jews to rest because they are human not like God who need no rest or things we humans required. According to the bible we read written 300 years after it was revealed so how much truth is there and full of contradictions and things does not make sense because it is corrupted by the Jews for profit as it is today.

    As fer as Lieberman his Israel first policy is the result today America is going in the toilet by money, policy that brings hatred to America because senators like him.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • md2205

      The Bible is not understandable because the English translation is so very poor and incorrect, and the Jews were not the ones who translated it into English. The King James Version of the Bible was not translated by Jews. Read "The Bible Unauthorized" and the meaning will jump out at you. You are correct that G-d didn't need to rest. He created the world and then stopped. Most of the things that Jews do not do on the Sabbath are those things that G-d stopped doing when he stopped creating the world. He created the world with fire. So Jews do not make a fire on the Sabbath, and by extension, do not turn on the electricity or drive in a motorized vehicle, as that also uses electricity or other extension of fire. The purpose of the Sabbath is not to "rest", but to refrain from using what G-d used to create the world. The purpose of the Sabbath is not to "work", but to refrain from doing what G-d did when he "worked", so to speak, making the world. Of course, for Him, it was not work. The world exists in G-d's thought, and if He would stop thinking about it, it would not exist anymore.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  4. maryanne

    How totally refreshing to find a GOD honoring politician living his faith and taking the narrow road. Senator Lieberman, you are an encouragement and an inspiration to believers all over this world. Thank you so much for sharing such a special part of your life with the world.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  5. Candygurl

    Well for one who has served self and been a hypocrite to the Torah teaching makes him an affirmation of a Pharisee...

    August 17, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • hi

      a pharisee is a Jew who believes in and follows both the written law (the Torah) and the oral law (the Talmud & Mishnah). That's about 99% of practicing Jews

      August 18, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  6. Reality

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

    August 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  7. BlackYowe

    Does anyone care really? Lieberman is such a turncoat.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  8. COUNTRYCOOK

    I keep the sabbath because God said to.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Doug Roberson

      Because you adopted the belief that god said to.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  9. Confused

    So once a week he tries to take a day off to spend time with his wife, get away from the cell phone, but still goes to work if there is something major happening. Sounds great to me, if more people took a day to relax and show appreciation to their families we'd probably all be a lot better off.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  10. BUICK

    The most disrespectful and intolerant people on the Internet tend to be the irrelgious who post on this site. Why are they so uncomfortable allowing those who believe to live their beliefs? The Liebermans do no offense to any of you by the way they observe the Sabbath in their own home so why must you make offensive comments about them? It seems as if the convictions of believers convict some who disbelieve.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • JayT

      Well said

      August 17, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Doug Roberson

      It is the existance of religious convictions themselves, rooted in early childhood and therefore apparently irrevocable, that bothers me. It says to me that this person's judgement (and that's what we ought to be voting for, right?) is confined to a parameters that he/she adopted before being capable of discrimination, and therefore they cannot be re-examined. That is a very fundamental flaw in my opinion.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • md2205

      Doug, just read how full of hate and contempt are those comments against religion. Remember that children in public school are taught only evolution, and even that it is a fact. They are not emphasized that it is a theory. They don't even know what theory means. Then if they do pick up a Bible, they can't understand one idea of it because the English translation is so incorrect. It reads like mumbo jumbo, and for the record, the English translations we have today are mumbo jumbo. Read "The Bible Unauthorized" and you will see how clear the proper English translation is and what sense and how relevant the Bible really is.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Doug Roberson

      Ok md2205, but why should I take your particular observance of the minutiae of someone's (likely) biased construed analysis as worthy of consideration? I am not a scientist, but I read current articles about science that are translated into layman's terms, and I see no reason not to believe in evolution. What is the reason for your apparent skepticism? If you say 'because holy books say so' you only reinforce my point, and I will not bother to respond.

      August 18, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • BUICK

      Doug, you seem to assume that all people are a part of some religion in which they were raised. There are many people who were raised in a religion that they later left: some for a different religion and some for no religion. There are also many who were raised in non-religious homes/families who later decided to believe and practice a religious faith. It is not all preprogrammed.

      Also, there are intelligent believers and ignorant believers, intelligent atheists and ignorant atheists. One's belief in God is not predetermined by IQ. I do not mind that some consider the evidence and disbelieve while others consider the evidence and do believe. I certainly object to those who attack people like Sen. Lieberman just because they do not believe about God what he believes about God. That is bigoted, intolerant, narrow minded and unintelligent. How about the humility to admit that none of us know everything and each of us can learn from the rest of us?

      August 19, 2011 at 5:28 am |
  11. Neighbor

    Yep – no kippa. What a hypocrite!

    August 17, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Zohar Freiberg

      You don't have to put a Kippa on your head to be an observant Jew. What matters is your intentions.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • hi

      Sabbath> head covering (kippah)

      August 18, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  12. Christian Sabbath Keeper

    Finally someone speaks of the Sabbath:) I am a Christian and keep the Sabbath too. It is the 4th commandment. We should keep all of the Bible commandments, not pick and choose which ones are convinient for us only. I worship God on this day that was made for him.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  13. Lee Cherry

    All you sunday Christians should take the hint. Jesus kept the Sabbath. Why dont you? Jesus never changed the rest day to sunday. Man did. In fact, Jesus rested in the tomb on Sabbath. Hello!
    All of heaven honors the Sabbath except most people of the earth. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy..."

    August 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • GeekSquadAgent

      please explain this to me – Acts 20 verse 7 - "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread." This was written AFTER the Pentecost. The Sabbath law was given to the Israelites under the Law Of Moses. Jesus kept the Sabbath because the new covenant wasn't in affect UNTIL Jesus died. Once Jesus died, the "new covenant" was established and the "old covenant" was no longer needed.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Jesus said He is Lord of (even of) the Sabbath Day...therefore, the only Lord's day known in scripture is the 7th day Sabbath....Jesus could hardly have said anything more pointed to the Jews that He is God...except maybe referring to himself as I AM.
      Christians would do well to study this matter...if scripture (the sword of the Spirit) is the rule of faith, there is no question but that the 7th day Sabbath is God's holy day. Scripture from Genesis to Revelation knows nothing of a Sunday holy day, day of observance, absolutely nothing is commanded regarding Sunday...scripture upholds the Sabbath or the Lord's day throughout.

      August 18, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  14. Ellen

    This is nice. Good for them.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Faith

    People should take complete Sabbath(the Lord's Day) once a week for godliness, health and prosperity.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  16. Bob

    Good for him, adhering to old stone-age beliefs despite centuries of knowledge, education and progress. It's worked out well for the Muslims, after all!

    August 17, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • md2205

      Not every idea from the stone age was bad.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • jnab

      Wipe your butt little child.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Doug Roberson

      Bravo!

      August 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  17. Real

    WE ARE REPLACING THIS CLOWN IN CONNECTICUT

    August 17, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • BlackYowe

      please do he is really pathetic. The way he treated Obama during the election was outrageous too. He is so two faced.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  18. cbr

    It is very easy to comment negatively about someone's religious beliefs. Often the comments are made through ignorance. We should be able to read this article and admire the man for his religious beliefs and his love of family. That should be the
    focus.

    Acceptance of people who disagree with us is sorely lacking. I may not agree with Senator Lieberman but I have respect for him and forthe way heleaves the issues outside and enters his home on Friday evening to practice his faith.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Doug Roberson

      It seems to me that you admire cognitive dissonance. Am I too long out of Psych 101 to understand why you would admire that?

      August 17, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  19. will7370

    Good for him! How peaceful it is to have a clean conscience. And have nothing to worry about in the next life. Everyone else has to deal with the "what ifs" for the rest of their lives.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  20. ytuque

    While he takes his Saturday nap, young Americans are dying in 2 foreign wars which he supports. And none of his offspring serve in the military.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • md2205

      People are dying all over the world while you nap also.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • J

      He's working on Sundays when most of Congress members are taking THEIR naps...

      August 17, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Sarah, Northern Colorado

      I bet you say nothing when Congress takes a 2 week vacation for Christmas.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • afuh

      He places allegiance to Israel even above America. That is why he voted for the Iraq war. Perfect stereotype on why there was and still is so much animosity and hostility towards his community over the centuries. Traitorous leech just like Bernanke and Greenspan

      August 17, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • md2205

      Animosity, like abuse, is not caused by the person it is directed to. It is caused by the person who exhibits it. The person who exhibits it may choose, and frequently does, to blame the victim, but that is only his rationalization as he won't bring himself to believe that he is bad, or doing bad.

      August 17, 2011 at 11:53 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.