(JTA) — Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been called the two most influential Jews in America, owing to their proximity to Ivanka’s dad. But is Shabbat preventing them from having the president’s ear?
That’s the contention of an article in Vanity Fair, which claims that Jared and Ivanka were unaware of the growing protests over President Trump’s ban on refugees and other travelers from predominantly Muslim countries because Trump signed the executive order close to sundown on Friday. Shabbat observance includes abstaining from electronics from Friday at sundown until Saturday night, and usually renders observant Jews incommunicado for that 25-hour period.
The article says Shabbat may also have been to blame for Ivanka’s tweet, posted just after midnight Sunday morning, showing her and Jared in the formal wear they wore during that night’s exclusive Alfalfa Club dinner, at the same time that protesters were massing in airports nationwide against what critics were calling a “Muslim ban.” Because Shabbat had just ended, the article says, Ivanka was only “obliquely” aware of the unrest. Twitter lit up with criticism of the couple’s glamour pose, often with the hashtag #lethemeatcake, a reference to the legendarily aloof Marie Antoinette.
(Trump signed the order at 4:42 p.m. Friday. Candle-lighting, the moment when many observant Jews begin Shabbat observance, came in at 5:06. Sundown, the latest possible time by which Shabbat must begin, was 18 minutes later, at 5:24. Shabbat ended Saturday at 6:08 p.m. )
Shabbat hasn’t been an obstacle to other observant Jews in senior government roles. Jack Lew, a Shabbat observer who served as President Obama’s chief of staff and treasury secretary, would get on the phone during moments of crisis. Lew told Tablet in 2010 that previously, as a special adviser to President Clinton, he took calls when the administration needed his input.
“He knew that I’d take this call on a Saturday if he needed me,” Lew said. “He knew I’d get in a car and come in if he needed me.”
Perhaps the most famous Orthodox Jew in government, former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, also made Shabbat observance work with his obligations to the country. During the debate over universal health care in 2010, Lieberman once walked five miles across Washington, D.C. so he could attend synagogue and then participate in a vote, according to The Hill. The article also said Lieberman answered his phone during “times of national emergency.”
Even Jared and Ivanka themselves have reportedly bent the rules of Shabbat in deference to their new advisory roles. The couple allegedly received a rabbi’s permission to travel in a car after sundown on January 20 so they could safely attend post-inaugural events. If the pair refrain over Shabbat from face-to-face conversations with members of the vast White House staff, it would represent Herculean restraint in the pressure cooker that is Washington. Jewish law prohibits the observant from discussing their business matters on Shabbat, although wide latitude is giving for those involved in public safety or life-saving professions.
Others have speculated in the past that Shabbat has undermined the moderating role Jared and Ivanka are expected to play within Trump’s inner circle. A September Huffington Post profile of Ivanka posited that some of Trump’s most inflammatory tweets came on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, when similar restrictions apply. The article cited Trump’s retweet of a six-pointed star containing the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” stamped on an image of Hillary Clinton and hundred-dollar bills. Jewish groups blasted the image as echoing anti-Semitic stereotypes.
The Vanity Fair’s most significant contention, at least from the perspective of Jared and Ivanka watchers, is that the couple’s influence in the nascent administration is “flagging.” “Less than a fortnight into his new post, Kushner appears unable to control both his father-in-law and those around him. (On the same day as Trump’s visit to the Pentagon, the White House acknowledged International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a statement that omitted mention of the Jews.),” according to the article. “Ivanka, meanwhile, may be impeded in her attempt to lobby on behalf of working women by various measures, from Trump’s executive order to dismiss parts of [Obamacare] to his derision of the Women’s March, that appear to have set them back.”