“We observe the Sabbath. From Friday to Saturday we don’t do anything but hang out with one another,” Ivanka Trump declared in a March 2015 interview with Vogue Magazine. “We turn our phones off for 25 hours,” her husband, Jared, chimed in.
Flying on planes, it would seem, is a different matter.
This past week the Jewish world was abuzz with news that the self-proclaimed Shabbat-observant couple travelled on a plane with President Trump which landed in Riyadh after the onset of Shabbat. A spokesperson said they had special dispensation from a rabbi.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the couple’s Orthodox rabbi (responsible for Ivanka’s conversion), insisted he had not been consulted on the matter.
What he did not say however, was whether he would have granted permission had he been asked.
This is not the first time a “violation of Shabbat” has occurred. The Kushners were also driven in a car on Mr Trump’s inauguration day on Shabbat. Most Jews were more forgiving then as it would have been deemed a security risk for the Kushners to have walked, and risk to life is grounds for the suspension of Shabbat laws.
Flying to the Middle East, however, begs greater clarity. The plane itself was being flown by a non-Jew and, assuming there were no other violations committed, there is a range of exceptions to having a non-Jew do work for a Jew on Shabbat.
I have personally consulted with halachic experts on a variety of atypical scenarios that involved non-Jews driving Jews on Shabbat. If, as it is purported, Mr Kushner can play a pivotal role in the Middle East peace process, then arguably that constitutes a great need and indeed could save lives.
It would not, however, justify Ivanka flying, nor explain why they could not have flown a day earlier. I do struggle to ascertain a basis for the allowance, though far be it for me to judge.
My takeaway from is threefold: Rabbis who grant dispensation should have the power of their convictions to put their name to it. Those who criticise should look in their own closets and determine if their observance is so squeaky clean. Lastly, the Kushners should take their cue from many Anglo-Jews and next time, park Air Force One around the corner.
Yitzchok Schochet is Rabbi of Mill Hill shul