Educational Experience

By the time Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) ends his campaign for vice president, the American public will be well educated in the practice of Judaism.

It’s been only a week and a half since Vice President Gore selected his Orthodox Jewish running mate, but newspapers, wire services, chat rooms and e-mails already have been busy explaining what Lieberman’s religious beliefs mean.

And just wait till the High Holy Days, when Lieberman leaves the campaign trail.His every move in and out of shul will be covered by the press. And Americans will learn the traditions of every holiday cele-brated by Jews during the Jewish months of Elul and Tishri.

“I asked Hadassah if she plans to build a sukkah in the vice president’s quarters,” wrote one e-mailer who claimed to have been with the Lieberman last Shabbat when they, along with five Secret Service agents in knit kippot, attended services in Washington, D.C.

The larger public’s education began after Lieberman’s first Shabbat since being selected by Gore.That weekend, the Associated Press (AP), the wire service that most daily newspapers subscribe to, did a full report on what Shabbat observance means.

Readers were told that Lieberman entered the sanctuary of Kesher Israel in Washington “wearing a prayer shawl over his shoulders and his yarmulke, the traditional Jewish skullcap worn to cover the head in reverence to God.”

The AP goes on to say that Lieberman’s wife, Hadas-sah, “sat separately, as all men and women must do.”Readers were told that Lieberman will not campaign on the Shabbat because “it is the traditional Jewish day of rest, a time to pray and reflect on God’s creations. It stems from the Torah, the word of God, which says: For in six days, God made heaven, earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “

The story went on to state that the Liebermans keep kosher, explaining that “it is forbidden to eat certain animals like pig or shellfish. Meat cannot be eaten with dairy products.”

AP also wrote a second story entitled “Sabbath traditions.” The story explained the candle-light ceremony, the Kiddush, Shabbat services and Shabbat restrictions against work, cooking and using electricity.Not to be outdone, the Reuters wire service also wrote a story explaining why Lieberman observes the Sabbath. The story said, “The instruction to keep the Sabbath is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, set out in the Book of Exodus and repeated in the Book of Deuteronomy.”

The story went on to explain Shabbat observance, adding that “the day ends with a prayer called ‘Havdalah,’ which means “distinguishing,” in which Jews bless God for distinguishing between light and darkness, between the holy and the profane, between the Sabbath and the six days of work and between Israel and other nations.”

E-mailed reports of The First Shabbat careened across the Internet. While the veracity of eyewitnesses is questionable, several said Lieberman was called to the Torah, at which point the congregation broke into singing “Siman Tov,” a traditional song usually reserved for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.Afterwards, an e-mailer said, the rabbi explained that Jewish law would permit the use of hand-held metal detectors on Shabbat but not the pass-through variety and that recording devices and note-taking were prohibited, as was speaking with reporters in shul.

What Jewish facts will the newspaper wire services write about next?

That may depend on whether a reporter walks in on Lieberman some morning while he is putting on his tefillin. If that happens, American newspaper readers will undoubtedly learn what tefillin are all about and how to put them on.

Lieberman could become everyone’s introduction to Judaism.

This article was prepared by the staffs of the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California and The Jewish Journal.