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THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On the Whole Heter to Fly To Saudi Arabia On Shabboskoidesh Thing
What the Tashmish HaMitah!!
There is a great deal of speculation out there about who gave the Psak Halacha to Jared and Ivanka enabling them to take off in a plane on a Friday and arrive on Shabboskoidesh to Saudi Arabia. The speculation can end. It was me, the Rabbinic Advisor to President of the United States Donald Trump SHLITA.
(And by the way, I have also been given a second title: Christ Killer Advisor to Vice President Mike Pence.)
People wonder about the legitimacy of the travel Psak. They wonder about the Halachic elements in the decision. The worry about the precedent it sets in the mind of the Gentile public re: Sabbath observance. And they contemplate how to get a similar Heter next time they go on vacation.
I know that such people are asking these questions Lishmah. However, I fear they may also be subconsciously driven by dislike for President Trump SHLITA, and are applying their ire to every aspect of the current Administration, professional and personal. Why, some even wonder if President Trump was born in this country, and insist on seeing a birth certificate, given the fact that his father was from Kenya and he was educated in a Midrassa in Indonesia. Who ever heard of such a thing?!?!
Yes, some of my friends, friends with whom I share many sensibilities and a similar world-view, in seeking "personal scandals" such as whether Jared Davened towards Mecca or Jerusalem while in Saudi Arabia, have begun to sound like a progressive version of Fox News. Only without the sexual harassment. I hope.
Indeed, I did give a Heter to Jared and Ivanka to fly on Shabbos. And I would do it again. Here is my Halachic reasoning:
In Beraishis, at the beginning of Parshas Vayayra (Genesis, Chapter 18), Avraham Avinu receives guests. And how does he entertain them? Does he offer them Meal Mart food? Does he order in from the Koisher Dunkin Donuts? No, you Mechutziff!! Shtayt in Passuk, "VaYikach Chem'ah V'Cholov, OoVen Ha Baker Asher Usuh, VaYitain, Lofneihem; Ve'Hoo Oimaid Aleihem Tachasssss HuAitz, VaYoicheilu". "And (Avraham) took butter and milk, and the calf that he had prepared for them, and set it before them; and he stood by them under a tree, and they ate." (Pasook Chesssssss; Verse 8).
Now, as it turns out, these three "guests", we soon find out, are messengers of the Reboinoisheloilum. And how do they respond to the fact that Avraham Avinu served them Basar and Cholov, milk and meat? Did they accuse Avraham of being a bad Jew? Did they abandon their mission on behalf of Hakadoishboruchhu? Do they - not so politely - refuse the food, and ask for uncut vegetables on a paper plate and plastic cutlery? No, you Menuval! The three messengers ate the food, and they enjoyed it!
Does anyone suggest that Avraham was not really observant? No, you Mechutziff! Members of Klal Yisroel cite this story all the time as a role model for behavior - Hachnassasss Orchim, showing hospitality to guests, even strangers. They also refer to the story as the best way to convene an Amway gathering.
We see from here that there is flexibility when circumstances call for it. The interests of humanity, in this case offering hospitality to strangers, can take precedence over Halachic minutia. Does anyone in CHAZAL ever question who gave a Heter to Avraham Avinu? No, you Vilda Chaya! They celebrate Avraham's selflessness, and go so far as to suggest that this meeting occurs as Avraham Avinu and his son Yismael are recovering from having Bris Milahs performed on their... errr... Bris Milahs.
There is certainly no doubt that the Toirah recognizes and respects that even within the boundaries of Halacha there are moments of exception. The Gemara tells us that a person is permitted to be Mechalel Shabboskoidesh to save a life. A person can be Mechalel Shabbos to go to war. A person can be Mechalel Shabbos to take a suffering child to the doctor, even if the child's life is not in danger. Etc. And, of course, a person can be Mechalel Shabbos if there is an important playoff game that night.
So when it comes to affairs of state, for someone who is Karov LeMalchuss, someone who is in a position of power and influence, and whose actions may have impact on lives, it should come as no surprise that the Halacha can be the subject of "creative flexibility".
It is indeed ironic that some of those most open to the application of "creative flexibility" to Halacha, who are critical of the rigidity of some elements of the Orthodox world, and who are active supporters of change-for-the-better in Orthodoxy, including on issues such as conversion, Agunot, and the role of women, have all of the sudden decided to join the Chareidi world in the most black and white interpretations of Halacha and practice with regard to Jared and Ivanka’s travel habits.
Indeed, in our own backyards there are many observant people who are Mechalel Shabbos with a Heter for the benefit of the greater good. Doctors carry phones to Shul on Shabbos, take calls, and travel to the hospital or their offices to see patients or do rounds. Hatzallah and other Observant EMTs use radios and travel on Shabbos, for both emergencies and routine staffing. Soldiers in Israel go to battle or stand on guard duty, even when there is no known threat. And even outside of Israel, an increasing number of Orthodox Shuls have members that engage in guard duty, using phones, walkie talkies, and cameras due to the outside risk that maybe, perhaps, there will be a terrorist attack, despite the very low probability of such event occurring in many of our communities. Why does mainstream Halacha permit such behaviors? Because we live in the world of reality, and reality is not a fantasy book that idealizes our existence in ancient Israel and in all of the countries of the Diaspora in every generation. Reality is here and now.
Klal V'Choimer when we are speaking of affairs of state in which lives are at stake - perhaps not today, but in the medium and long term. When we speak of Saudi Arabia, a country which borders on Iran and which is a significant influencer on the Sunni Moslem world, we speak of a country that has serious relevance to Israeli and American lives, as well as the lives of others in the region. Would a public reapproachment between Saudi Arabia and Israel potentially save lives? Would influencing the funneling of Saudi money away from Hamas, Al Quaida and other extremist groups potentially save lives? Would establishing more robust defense capabilities in Saudi Arabia potentially save lives? Would increased intelligence cooperation in the struggles against Iran and ISIS potentially save lives, especially if President Trump does not reveal these intelligence sources to the Russians, or to the general public in a 3:00 am tweet?
Of course! You do not need to be a brilliant Toirah scholar like me to acknowledge the above.
So if the presence of Jared and Ivanka has relevance to and impact on such meetings, then it is a no brainer that there is flexibility in the Halacha. I know it may be hard for you to accept or to admit. But please do not hurt yourself trying to follow the logic.
I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The RAMBAM, as is well known, was a great Rabbinic scholar who lived for most of his life in Egypt. He was also a philosopher and a doctor, a skill he learned from reading the Gemarra and studying while in the Bais HaKeesay. His prominence and expertise as a doctor resulted in his being the personal physician to the Vizier, the equivalent of Prime Minister, to Sultan Salah A-Din.
One Shabboskoidesh, as Salah A-Din was in the throes of battle to regain the Holy Land from the Crusaders, a royal chariot led by two horses came to the RAMBAM's Shul right after Leyning, and the RAMBAM was summoned to come into the chariot and travel to Salah A-Din's castle. He did so immediately.
The next day at Shacharis, one of the RAMBAM's congregants, Menachem Mendel Goldstein, came up to him and asked, "Rabbi RAMBAM, how come you traveled on Shabboskoidesh? You were Oiver on many Melachois!"
RAMBAM smiled a broad smile, extended his arms to Menachem Mendel, and pulled him closer to hug him. While clenching Menachem Mendel, the RAMBAM kneed him in the groin with all of his strength. Menachem Mendel fell to the ground, doubled over and sobbing. "But Rebbe", Menachem Mendel protested, "All I want is the truth!"
RAMBAM bent over to where Menachem Mendel was lying in a fetal position and spoke to him softly, in a barely audible voice, "You can't handle the truth! You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to." (Talmidim: Extra credit to anyone under the age of thirty who gets the reference.)
V'Ee Taymah, and if you want to claim, that Jared and Ivanka's actions, well intentioned or not, have a negative impact on Sabbath Observant Jews everywhere and threaten to chip away at the legal protections earned for Sabbath observers in the workplace over the last 70 years, I would suggest that Jared and Ivanka’s actions will not be perceived as representative in any way. That sort of thinking is similar to those who fear walking in the streets of Manhattan wearing a Yarmulke. It is a ghetto mindset. We no longer live in Eastern Europe, although I am sure that you, you Mechutziff, like to make believe you do, particularly when you try to convince your wife that you cannot take the time to bring her to her... ummm... Makeh B'Patish because the Cossacks might be attacking any minute.
Now, I know that not everyone agrees with my Psak or with my perspective. One such person is my beloved rabbinical colleague, the RADAMN. On this topic he has publicly stated, "The problem with the counter-factual you present is that it attempts to apply a subjective standard to what is most certainly governed by an objective reasonable person test. The question is not what any one person would do. The question is simply does the act or decision allow or preclude Sabbath observance in general in the work place, school or event. Again, I am not advocating for personal preferences as to how to observe but simply the right to observe. (By way of analogy, the constitutional distinction w/r/t voting is whether the governmental act precludes the right to vote at all versus the right to an informed vote. Generally a governmental act impact the former will be deemed unconstitutional whereas the latter is presumed constitutional).”
I must admit: I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about. You see, he went of Princeton, and they apparently speak a different dialect of Aramaic.
In any case, I personally believe that President Trump SHLITA is off to a perfect start. However, if one wants to find fault with his administration, I am sure that there are one or two things that some may find objectionable, such as:
-- An emerging pattern of secret contacts with the Russians amongst many in his inner circle
-- Firing the head of the FBI during an investigation of the Russia connection
-- A pattern of irresponsible tweets, including a tweet accusing Former President Obama of bugging Trump Tower, which has been debunked at all levels of the security establishment
-- Failure to produce an alternative to Obamacare that ensures coverage of the existing ensured
-- An ill-thought out wholesale ban on travelers to the country
-- Lowering of business taxes without a viable plan for replacing revenues, while at the same time promoting increased spending on defense and private prisons
-- Signaling to NATO leaders a less than full commitment to NATO, which has been the lynchpin of military stability in Western Europe since WWII.
In addition, he performed a sword dance with the Saudis, and did not even know the right dance steps!!
So, Mistama, there may be a little room to criticize President Trump. But the Sabbath travels of Jared and Ivanka are arguably legitimate from a Halachic standpoint, and are, frankly, irrelevant, to any broader concerns about President Trump SHLITA.
Ah Gutten Yuntif You Menuval
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess