IN HIS OWN WORDS:
LIBERMAN ON LIEBERMAN:
United States Senator and Vice Presidential Candidate
The following is a transcript of remarks of
Joseph Lieberman's speech at the Agudath Israel of America's 75th anniversary
dinner - June 1, 1997:
Distinguished rabbonim, gedolei Torah, fellow
honored guests, public officials, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:
I thank David [Zwiebel, currently Agudath Israel's executive vice president
for government and public affairs - ed.] for his kind words, but truly I
have a lot of others to thank: Obviously Hashem for giving me life; my mother
and father for showing me the way, and giving me not only the gift of a wonderful
home, but the gift of Torah, and observant Torah Judaism; I thank all my
family and friends; and all those in the State of Connecticut who have been
so fair as to elect me; and of course I thank this great country of ours,
which has given us more freedom, that I think that we, as a people, have
had anywhere outside of Eretz Yisroel in our history!
David referred to the occasion in 1988 when I did not go to the nominating
convention for the U.S. Senate because it was on Shabbos. And the truth is
that it was enough in me that it never did give me a lot of consternation.
But the wonder of this country, in a way that I never could have imagined,
is that not only did it not hurt me, it actually helped my campaign. Because,
I kept meeting people throughout the State of Connecticut, incidentally,
not Jews, but gentiles - Jews usually gave me tzoris: "Why did you miss the
convention at the Senate? Why couldn't you go?" - but those who were not
Jewish, would say to me: "I respect you for putting something above political
success." And they would often say: "We are different religions, but I believe
in G-d the way you believe in G-d. And, the fact that you put something ahead
of your political success, more than any particular position that you took
on an issue in the campaign, is why I'm going to vote for you."
Well, my friends, we only won by 10,000 votes that year, that was less than
1%. So, you know, the Eibishter [Almighty] works in strange and wonderful
ways, and who's to say whether it wasn't the fact that I didn't go to my
convention on Shabbos, that gave me the margin of victory that boruch Hashem
[thank G-d] made me a member of the U.S. Senate!
And, I have found the same as a member of the Senate, that my colleagues,
when they understand my observance, give me great respect. It's something
I appreciate deeply... I think I may have said to a few of you once before
[that] the very first Shabbos that I had to be at the Capitol, because there
were votes there, I was going to sleep over in my office. And then Senator
Al Gore, probably because he had just finished campaigning for President
in some of our neighborhoods in 1988, came over to me and said, "This is
your Sabbath. Isn't it? Where are you going to stay tonight?"
I said, "I am going to sleep in my office."
"I won't let you do that. My parents have an apartment across the street.
You know, in good European fashion I rejected his offer twice. The third
time, I accepted! And, that night, he took me across the street. He understood
everything; turned on the lights, and turned off the lights when he left.
Looking back I didn't realize that it was my z'chus [merit] that I
have had one of the prominent "Shabbos goyim" in the whole world! - who turned
on and off all the lights. And I'm sure there are some people here from
Baltimore. On the occasions when I have been at the Senate on the Sabbath
(fortunately, they haven't been too often), without fail - I'm sure... as
a result of the instruction that you in the Orthodox community of Baltimore
around [the local] yeshiva have given to my colleague, Barbara Mikulski,
Senator from Maryland - she always comes over to me and says "Good Shabbos
Joe". How could it be better?
Anyway, the message that I hope this gives to your children and grandchildren
is that today in America, no one has to chose between religious observance
and personal ambition. I really do believe that our children, our grandchildren,
can pursue whatever dreams they have for success, and not feel that they
have to dilute their loyalty to Torah Judaism one millimeter. And I hope,
that if my election and my service stand for nothing else, it is that!
I am honored to be here tonight. This is a very special dinner for Agudah,
I know. 75 years... A remarkable record of accomplishment, with really chazak,
chazak going from strength to strength. And, this happened because of the
freedom that America has provided, and it happened because of the growing
numbers of chassidim who are devoted to the various groups that have become
part of the Agudah. But really, nothing like this happens without great
leadership. And you, in my opinion, have had one of the great leaders, not
just in the Orthodox Jewish community, but in all of America, [the now late
president of Agudath Israel of America - ed.] Rabbi Moshe Sherer!
I wish I had met Rabbi Sherer earlier in my life, and I would have tried
to convince him to become my campaign manager! Nobody better! He has built
this organization to extraordinary strength within, and as you have grown
in Agudah within, he has reached out and made Agudah strong, and credible,
and influential in the greater world outside; building from within with loyalty
to Torah; and the study groups; and the extraordinary broad programs of Torahs
study and education; with the day schools, particularly bringing generation
after generation in to the mainstream of true Torah Judaism. And with a very
skillful hand, and with a strong hand when necessary, fighting for, advocating
and advancing, and obtaining, unprecedented rights and respect for Orthodox
Jews in this country.
Rabbi Sherer has been with the Agudah now for 54 years! I don't consider
myself particularly an expert of gematria [Hebrew numerology] But
you don't have to be too advanced to see there three times chai. So Rabbi
Sherer, I wish you, I thank you for three times chai in which truly you have
brought to life the principles and the purposes of Avrohom, Yitzchok and
Yaakov, our three forefathers. And may Hashem bless you with four and five
and six and seven times chai, we need you! Thank you, Rabbi Moshe Sherer!
I want to talk for a few minutes, very briefly, not just about the first
extraordinary 75 years of Agudah.
I want to talk, if you allow me, about the 75 years and beyond. And in the
spirit of the parshah of this week Bamidbar, I really want to talk about
numbers. Because part of the strength of Agudah, the Torah-true Orthodox
Jewish community, is in numbers.
But, I want to begin with an article that appeared in the Washington Jewish
Week, the Jewish newspaper in Washington last week. I must admit that I did
not see the article, but everybody in my shul in Washington was talking about
it yesterday. The author of the article took the numbers, the census, of
the national Jewish population study and projected four generations forward,
based on rates of intermarriage and rates of birth in the various Jewish
groups: non-affiliated Jews, Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Modern Orthodox
Jews, and, tonight I'll say, Agudah Jews. And it was quite something, four
How many of 100 secular Jews will still be Jewish by this prediction? Five.
(Don't hold me exactly with my numbers, because I'm giving you this on
hearsay...) How many of the Reform Jews will be Jewish in the fourth generation
of the 100? Ten. How many of the conservative Jews? 40. How many of the Modern
Orthodox Jews? From 100, there will be 350. How many of the Agudah Jews?
From 100, 2500! [The exact numbers of that study, authored by Anthony Gordon
and Richard Horowitz, are are 5, 13, 24, 346 and 2588, respectively - ed.]
This is a remarkable story. In some ways it is extraordinarily good news
and in some ways, of course, for K'lal Yisroel, in a broader sense, it is
very troubling news. It is of course good news because it tells us that if
these trends continue, the number of [Jews] in [the] Torah [community] will
increase enormously. But the bad news is of course what we will have lost
is hundreds of thousands of "Yiddishe neshamos" [Jewish souls], a
kind of bloodless extinction that will hurt K'lal Yisroel.
I want to suggest to you tonight: These 75 years of Agudah have seen
extraordinary growth and strength. I'm going to believe that the next 75
years will see, as these numbers indicate, even more. As the Torah and our
sages tell us, with that strength, and with that power, will come new
responsibilities, and new accountability. Because the role of the Torah true
Orthodox community within the American Jewish community, even if these numbers
are not exactly right, by any standard or tradition will grow more important.
So I say, with greater importance, with greater strength, comes greater
responsibility. We Orthodox Jews will, for more and more Americans, be the
Jewish community, and it will become more and more important for us to truly
be a light to the nations, to show them that we are not only ritualistically
observant, but that we are committed to Kiddush Hashem [sanctification of
G-d's name] in all of its manifestations, that we are committed to tzedokah
[charity and acts of kindness], that we are committed to doing good work
for our own community and for the community at large.
My friends, I could tell you: David has referred to the work that I've been
doing in trying to convince people who run television and movies and music,
to take the violence, to take the indecency, to take the vulgarity off of
the airways. I can tell you when I go back to Connecticut or I travel anywhere
around America, this is what people want to talk about.
In the 1992 campaign, somebody consulting with President Clinton said "It's
the economy." Well, of course it's the economy, the economy is important.
But last year there was a poll taken by the Los Angeles Times. People were
asked "Are you more worried about the economic future of America or the moral
future of America?" 60% of the people said that they were more worried about
the moral future of America.
Agudath has the answer. Begin with an understanding of where we came from
and where we're going and what our mission is here; why we're on earth...
Agudah has a movement based on values, the best of values. And I say here
that America is yearning for those values of family purity, honesty, avoidance
of lashon hara [gossip], all that's involved in this [divine] law that we're
commanded to follow.
I want to suggest yet another calling beyond the community, and that is we
consider those numbers in the diminishing numbers of Jews in America. There
is a special calling that I want to make to you tonight, an appeal to reach
out and try to bring more into your/our community; to reach out to those
souls that are fading away and show them the light and truth of Torah; to
be in the best sense "missionaries" for other Yidden [Jews] so that those
neshamos [souls] will not be lost.
We are coming to Shavuos. We are in the midst of the sefirah [the period
of "counting" between Pesach and Shavuos] now. And to me, I've always been
fascinated and disappointed and there's a kind of metaphor here for different
schools of Judaism, the different denominations, that Pesach is the most
popular of all Jewish holidays. Whatever the denomination, even if you don't
belong to any denomination, almost everybody seems to celebrate Pesach. But,
Shavuos may be one of the least observed of our holidays. And in that is
the message, is the point, which is that those millions of Jews in this country
who are celebrating whatever their way Pesach but forgetting Shavuos have
missed the point. Yetzias Mitzrayim [the exodus from Egypt] was for freedom.
But freedom without values and order leads to chaos. Yetzias Mittzrayim was
for a purpose, which was to go to Har Sinai [Mt. Sinai], to receive the Torah,
and to carry the Torah forward over the generations.
My friends, it is with great humility that I go to text in the presence of
so many Gedolei Torah [illustrious Torah scholars]. But it struck me as I
was reading as we approach Shavuos, that on the first day of Shavuos, in
the Torah reading that day, we of course recall the movement of B'nei Yisroel
[the Jewish people] to Har Sinai. And in the passage that is to familiar
to most you, it is described that B'nei Yisroel encamped in the wilderness,
bamidbar, and that there and elsewhere the word vayachanu - the plural word
for camped, is used. But then when the words are repeated that Israel camped
there, the Hebrew word is vayichan which is the singular... And, of course,
Rashi brings us the lesson that what the Torah is telling us is that, at
that climactic, difficult, greatest moment of Jewish history, the millions
of children of Israel stood as one, one heart, one soul. Then, and only then,
were they ready to receive their greatest calling which was to receive the
direct word of Hashem and the Torah that we have taken on from there.
To achieve that unity, our Sages have reminded us over the generations since
then, that each of us has an obligation to reach out and to be concerned
about the spiritual and material needs of our fellow Jews, and I stress here
the spiritual. You and Agudah have done that magnificently.
And, I appeal to you tonight, as we think about the disappearance of so many
Jewish souls that are predicted by the numbers I have described that each
of us in this great movement has to reach out and bring them back. Sit with
them, talk to them. We cannot dilute our halachic beliefs. But we have to
try to convince them to come in our direction and convince them that we
understand the principle of ahavas Yisroel [love of fellow Jews]. So that
we will move again toward that same kind of unity that enabled B'nei Yisroel
to receive the Torah on Har Sinai. So that next week, on Shavuos, and on
each succeeding Shavuos, Klal Yisroel will grow stronger because we will
grow closer together.
And I say to you in this country, and in Eretz Yisroel [the land of Israel],
the role of Agudah, the leadership role of Agudah, will grow stronger and
stronger. In some measure it will be especially up to you to bring us to
duplicate once again the unity the B'nei Yisroel experienced at Har Sinai,
so that thereby we under the direction of the Gedolei Torah will merit once
again the coming of Moshiach tzidkeinu b'mheira b'yomeinu [the righteous
Messiah, quickly, in our days]. Thank you very much.