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Treasury’s First Orthodox Chief

Jack Lew, Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, is the highest-ranking Orthodox Jew in U.S. government history

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White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and President Barack Obama walk on the South Lawn of the White House on March 2, 2012. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
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Jack Lew, President Obama’s current chief of staff and his pick for Treasury secretary, is the highest-ranking Orthodox Jew in the history of the U.S. government. It’s a distinction that imposes some unusual burdens—like having to dodge opinionated congregants who try to accost him about politics in synagogue. The 57-year-old New York native recently told me that he has developed a strategy for such situations. “Your friends protect you—they sit around you and make it a little harder for strangers to come and give you a hard time,” he explained. “I just tell people, ‘If I wanted to work on Saturday, I have this 24/7 job. I come to shul to pray.’ ”

Lew’s nomination to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury chief is the culmination of a distinguished career in public service. Over nearly four decades in and out of Washington, he has been a senior policy adviser to Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill; a special adviser to President Bill Clinton; the director of the Office of Management and Budget under the last two Democratic presidents; and since January 2012, President Obama’s chief of staff—the fourth Jew to occupy the post in the nation’s history. (The others are his predecessors, Rahm Emanuel and Josh Bolten, as well as Reagan official Kenneth Duberstein.)

As the Obama Administration’s most high-profile Jewish appointee, Lew has served as the White House’s point person for outreach to the Jewish community. When the president decided to tap controversial former Sen. Chuck Hagel as his next secretary of Defense, Lew was reportedly dispatched to call AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr and defend the pick. In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, Lew met regularly with Jewish leaders on the campaign trail to reassure them about Obama’s intentions toward Israel, and even publicly debated former Bush Jewish liaison Tevi Troy on that and other subjects.

This past summer, while serving as chief of staff in the White House, Lew hosted the leaders of the country’s different Jewish denominations. And when the White House began blogging the High Holiday recipes of its Jewish staffers in September, Lew contributed his family’s tzimmes recipe. (The New York Times would later report that Lew makes “a mean potato kugel.”) It’s not the only culinary contribution Lew has been responsible for while serving in the administration: The White House added a kosher option to their takeaway lunch menu to accommodate his dietary restrictions.

Over the course of his career in government, Lew has built strong relationships with Jewish politicians on both sides of the aisle. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has spoken highly of him, telling Politico in 2011 that “no one was more prepared and more in tune with the numbers than Jack Lew. He was always very polite and respectful in his tone and someone who I can tell is very committed to his principles.” And when Sen. Joe Lieberman’s retirement party was held this past November, Lew was the Democrat who toasted him—citing a saying from Pirkei Avot—alongside Republican Sen. John McCain. (Lieberman then thanked Lew and jokingly explained how he’d always been envious that Lew managed to “be Jewish and convince people by your name that you’re actually Asian-American.”)

Lew’s ties to the American Jewish community run deep. On Hanukkah in 1998, he was one of the first federal officials to light the Chabad menorah in the nation’s capital. During the height of the efforts to free Jews under Soviet rule, Lew worked with Natan Sharansky and his current Riverdale synagogue rabbi, Avi Weiss, to advocate for the cause. (Weiss, rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, calls Lew “one of the most unassuming, giving, and caring congregants I’ve ever been blessed to have,” adding that it is “rare for a person in such a powerful position to be the quintessential mensch.”) This past December, Lew accepted an honorary degree from Yeshiva University, where he delivered the keynote address at its annual Hanukkah dinner.

Ironically, though, Lew is perhaps most famous among American Jews for a story that never actually happened—at least as it was reported. When Lew was tapped by President Obama to direct the Office of Management and Budget in 2010, NBC claimed that he had once refused to pick up a phone call from President Clinton on Shabbat, even when the latter entreated on the answering machine that “God would understand.” It’s a fun anecdote, Lew told me, with one flaw: “It’s kind of fabricated.”

“The true story is I came home one [Shabbat] morning from shul, and the phone machine was going off saying ‘please disregard the previous message from President Clinton. He just remembered that it’s Saturday and he’s going to call someone else,’ ” Lew recalled in November, when I spoke to him while he was on the campaign trail in Ohio. “He was out of the country and forgot what day it was.” Clinton, he said, was always careful never to trouble Lew on Shabbat unless the matter was urgent, and Lew, knowing this, would never have ignored his call. “He knew that I’d take this call on a Saturday if he needed me; he knew I’d get in a car and come in if he needed me,” Lew explained. That’s why Clinton called back to tell Lew to ignore his initial message. Rather than being an example of a conflict between Lew’s religious and political obligations, the real story “illustrates tolerance and understanding.”

“I have found that people are tremendously respectful of things like personal observance that are rooted in beliefs and values,” said Lew. “I’ve been really privileged to work for two presidents—President Obama and President Clinton—who are both people of faith, who value faith, and who respect that others have the same feelings in their own lives.”

In fact, Lew says being Shabbat-observant has helped him prioritize his hectic work schedule. “There’s a great desire that people have in positions that are close to power to be at the meeting in the room,” said Lew. “You have to separate, I believe, your desire to be there from your need to be there. If you’re the only one who can help make or shape a decision, it’s very different from just wanting to see what goes on.”

Drawing that line is difficult, he added, but as “somebody who has managed to balance family and religious values with public life, I think it can be done.” And the rewards, for Lew, are worth the struggle. “I think there’s no higher calling in terms of a career than public service, which is a chance to make a difference in people’s lives and improve the world,” he said. Indeed, “the opportunities to make a difference are probably greater than any other line of work,” which is “not a bad way to spend your professional life.”

***

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ajweberman says:

The Court Jew will standby while Iran develops an atomic weapon and the means to deliver it.

Such a mensch…never mind that he was the chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit that bet billions against homeowners paying their mortgages or that in 2009 he got a $950,000 “bonus” after we, the tax-payers, gave his bank billions in corporate-welfare bailout money. As long as he prays every day all is well.

Henry Beck says:

The story would have been much more informative if it had noted that Lew is hardly the first self-identified Jew to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. was both a great American and a historically-important Jewish leader. Tablet would be a much better publication if it had a bit more of a historical perspective.

What an absolutely horrible pick. Lew’s dishonesty is his defining characteristic. He doesn’t think our $16.5 trillion in debt and over $1 trillion deficits are an issue whatsoever. Disgusting.

CygnusA81 says:

Wait. Why isn’t title of this article not called, “Jack Lew’s Brain: The secret brain trust behind his rise.”

Oh that’s right, he’s a man of the left.

If Lew acts the same way toward Congress as Sec of Treasury as he did as Chief of Staff, then we are all in trouble.

Cute * says:

An Orthodox Jew without a yarmulke! Now that’s epic! You can of course always find a loophole in the rules to get away with it.

Robert Starkand says:

Almost a year ago, as the new Chief of Staff for President Obama, he was asked on the Sunday talk shows why the Senate could not pas a budget for three years. Lew replied that you needed 60 votes and bipartisan support to get it passed in the Senate. That is a lie. For the budget, you only need a simple majority of senators present. Lew was Director of OMB twice. He knows this, so when he went on television and said what he said, he lied to the American people. Jack Lew is not a mensch. He is not a banker either. A career spent as a government wonk, he worked for two years at Citicorp not for his banking expertise, but because of his experience in government. He will serve Obama. Just a suit feeding the Leviathan. Why should we rejoice that such a small man is an observant Jew?

We can look forward to a whole collection of inane anecdotes and vignettes about Lew’s observant status and his various accommodations with religious practice.

They’ll get boring after a while, and we’ll finally accept the fact that 98 percent of government activities are just plain boring to the average reader

Eliyahu Konn says:

So what? For the most part orthodox, conservative, and reform Jews make up the rules as they go along. That means they all are perfectly suited for politics.

This is nothing to cheer about.
When the finanical doo-doo hits the air conditioning apparatus, naturally, the lightning rod for public rage will be the Jew in residence, not the president.
This is the same tactic used by the Polish nobility centuries ago. They hired Jewish tax collectors so that the people would be mad at the Jews over taxation, not the nobles. This is a major reason why anti-Semitism is so deeply embedded in Polish culture to this day.
Since most people are historically illiterate, this tactic will not be recognized even by many Jews here. So, as an added political “bonus”, Jewish American Obamazombies can go on crowing about how much Obama must like Jews, since he appoints them to such important positions….which have nothing to do with Mideast policy, of course…
…Which in turn allows Obama to go on screwing Israel to the max in plain sight, because as long as he can hold up examples like Mr. Lew to the Jewish community, he surely cannot be accused of being an anti-Semite, right?
This is so incredibly cynical and transparent.

Do Jewish folk really look upon those Jews who were the architects of our financial collapse with pride?? Thirty years of deregulation by Jews in positions of power who worship the Milton Friedman school of economics…Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, Lloyd Blankfein, etc., along with the thousands of others in the financial industry chose their economic self interests over the sustainability of the nation. Every culture has a percentage of downright sociopaths. Yours happen to be in banking. I would think you would like to separate yourselves from them instead of patting them on the back for making money at the expense of the country even though it may benefit your community.

Robert Starkand says:

You really have to reread Milton Friedman. He is really against all of this. The $60 trillion mortgage security market was wholly created by the government. A market that was guaranteed to collapse.

The collapse was about deregulation in almost all aspects of the financial sector. He played his part for the Oligarchs and the wannabes.

Some Jews deserve to be blamed for economic tyranny. Let’s not pass the buck. It’s not anti-Semitism to point the finger at those directly responsible for our economic demise. Some of the major players in the decades of deregulation that culminated in our 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath were Jews.

Faival44 says:

No kippah, and I have personally heard him dissemble in testimony to Congress, otherwise known as placing a stumbling block before the blind. How Orthodox can he be? Oh, Orthodox Leftie of the Obama sect. Yea, fine man.

brynababy says:

You sound like an ugly Jew. What a hateful commentary. I think it IS Jack Lew who is the Mensch!

brynababy says:

I cannot believe all the ugly comments here. The haters of Obama will try to taint every one who touches him. Disgusting.

Robert Starkand says:

If you don’t want to read Milton Friedman that’s up to you.

Robert Starkand says:

I pointed out facts, you just smear.

If you don’t want to look at the complete picture that’s up to you.

NYCMedic says:

Technically correct about the simple majority. Is it possible he was talking about breaking a filibuster (2/3 vote if 90 are present)? Maybe some other political dynamic? I suggest it as on option rather than the personal attack

NYCMedic says:

Really? “Epic”? Many, many orthodox Jews don’t routinely wear yarmulkes at business when it might have negative consequences. You use “loophole” as if it was obscure and never relied upon. [I will admit that nowadays it is less likely but for senior political positions, it is not uncommon]

Robert Starkand says:

If that was so, wouldn’t have been more politically advantageous to the administration to let the Republicans filibuster a budget bill and take the political heat for preventing a budget from being passed? I think so.

Extreme Right Wing Conservative Paul Ryan didn’t think there was an issue whatsoever when Compassionate Conservative George W Bush took an inherited surplus from JACK LEW; couldn’t build a single penny on it; and then handed back a Depression. Disgusting hypocrisy on the part of every Loyal Bushie (i.e., the Greedy One Percent Party)

let’s be honest about Lew and stop this “orthodox jew” nonsense.

He works for Obama, who is by far the most insensitive, ignorant, immature occupant of the White House (if not anti-Semitic, and that is truly debatable) when it comes to both Israel and Jewish matters. He has ALWAYS put his regressive politics ahead of both his religion and his country. In fact he’s admitted that he went into politics because of Paul Wellstone. Not exactly a patriot or even a good Jew.

Lew has been the hatchet boy for Obama when it comes to delivering nasty messages to Bibi, or pushing the nomination of an overt anti-Semite (never mind he’s not qualified to do the job) Hagel. In short, Jakey Lew, like his (and Obama’s) other benefactor Soros would be at home serving on a Judenrat council back in 1942 – the only difference is that those doomed Jews had no choice. Jakey does.

In short, not Orthodox and his Jewishness is also open to question. Orthodox Jews outside of the lunatic (Neuterei Karta, Satmar) fringe strongly support Israel and always have. They do NOT support, let alone work for Obama – and the Palestinians. Jakey Lew stupidly and arrogantly does.

He (Morgenthau) also said “shush, shush” when confronted with evidence about the Holocaust. Lew is doing the same thing about Obama’s anti-Semitism – and Iran.

You are ignorant. Sorry.

Facts are facts. Obama gave the Palestinians 1.6 Billion and Egypt’s Muzzy Brotherhood 1.5 Billion while Americans were in need, while our own budget was on a “fiscal cliff” – and Lew rubberstamped it.

If you can’t get that, brynnie – then go board the train. Soros, Lew and Obama will be standing on the platform ready to collect what’s in YOUR wallet.

Another Jew appointed to influence by President “the muslim” Obama…

Let’s open the conversation about taking back the concession to print US currency from the privately held Federal (not) Reserve (none) and returning the creation of our currency–debt free–to the US Treasury.

Any chance an orthodox Jew will take ending the Fed (repealing the 1913 Federal Reserve Act) into consideration?

How does control of creation of money assist in promoting domestic and foreign policy agendas? Who are the ‘first spenders’ of late who get their hands on the newly created US dollars?

How does being a ‘first spender’ (QE1, 2 bailout recipients) relate to having connections in high (Jewish) places?

Could there be a conspiracy here to support the Jewish state and Jewish interests over the interests of the other 98% of the US population?

He’s too busy bussing Obama’s ass to stand up, not only for his people – but for this country too.

Look at yourself in the mirror – and damn it, stop making excuses for Obama’s overt anti-semitism. Chuck Hagel isn’t exactly the poster child for the Jewish people. But I’ll bet you had a heart attack when another RINO similiar to Hagel uttered “f*ck the Jews”. If Obama can pick Hagel, he could easily pick Jim Baker too. And Lew still licks Obama’s ass.

Get a brain, please.

He (Lew) even looks like a hatchet-faced schmuck. Not to mention an arselicker who’ll rubberstamp Obama’s other not-exactly-Jew (or America) friendly appointees Hagel, Kerry and Brennan. As said before, he’d be right at home on a Judenrat Council back in 1942.

And he will be as stone silent as Roosevelt’s “Jews” – i.e., Morgenthau, Stephen S. Wise, when Iran gets the bomb and his boyfriend Obama does nothing about it.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, THE conspiracy continues. CONSPIRACY OF THE JEW WORLD ORDER–Kindle.

We’ve always had court Jews. Yet another guy who seems to get rich in public service.

TomSolomon says:

The most prominent reason for his selection is not mentioned. That is, an unquivocal “yes man” for the president, so the later could bounce ideas and get a reflexive, “yes, Mr. President, I agree wholeheartedly”.

say Obama gives this Orthodox Jew the job. Means nothing actually nothing if he’s just a yes man. I believe there were Norwegian are Swedish Jews. put Hitler up for the Nobel Peace prize being Jewish means nothing. Some the biggest haters of Israel call themselves Jewish ,

Lew is Jewish, how nice for us. But let’s look at his dubious accomplishments, as detailed in tne following piece from Truthdig:

The Inconvenient Truth About Jack Lew
By Robert Scheer

I suppose that he can’t be much worse than Timothy Geithner, but that should be scant cause for cheer over the news that the president has nominated Jack Lew as Treasury secretary. Both championed the financial deregulation craze of the Clinton administration, and both are acolytes of Robert Rubin, the former Clinton Treasury secretary who unfettered Wall Street greed and then took his own considerable cut of the action.

Rubin went to work at Citigroup, the world’s largest financial conglomerate whose legality was enabled by legislation he advanced while in government. He made off with a salary of $15 million a year during his decade at that bank, which specialized in toxic mortgage derivatives and had to be bailed out by taxpayers to avoid bankruptcy.

Lew’s association with Citigroup was a far briefer and less rewarding three-year stint, but then the alternative investments unit of which he was chief operating officer in 2008 didn’t do so well with its hedge fund and private equity investments. As Jia Lynn Yang points out in The Washington Post, “Massive losses in that unit helped drive Citigroup into the arms of the federal government, which bailed out the bank with $45 billion in taxpayer money that year.”

But the taxpayer bailout did not interfere with Lew raking in more than $2 million in salary and bonuses in 2008, despite his unit’s glaring failures. Nor did he seem to learn much from the experience as to the need for restoring the sensible government regulation of the financial industry that President Franklin Roosevelt had instituted to prevent another Great Depression and the Clinton administration had destroyed.

When asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at a Senate confirmation hearing in 2010, when Lew was nominated to be head of the Office of Management and Budget, whether the deregulation pushed by Rubin and former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan had “contributed significantly” to the banking crisis, Lew responded:

“Senator, I don’t consider myself an expert in some of these aspects of the financial industry. My experience in the financial industry has been as a manager, not an investment adviser. My sense, as someone who has generally been familiar with these trends, is that the problems in the financial industry preceded deregulation. There was an increasing emphasis on highly abstract leveraged derivative products that got us to the point, that, in the period of time leading up to the financial crisis, risks were taken, they weren’t fully embraced, they weren’t well understood. I don’t personally know the extent to which deregulation drove it, but I don’t think deregulation was the proximate cause.”

Really? That is a statement of such deliberate ignorance that one must marvel at Lew’s audacity in uttering it. He was one of the top economic officials in the Clinton administration when the president signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act into law that declared all of those “derivative products” exempt from the reach of any existing government regulation or regulatory agency. It was aimed at silencing the warning of Brooksley Born, who, as head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, attempted to control the burgeoning market in the toxic assets that have carried such a huge human price in foreclosed homes and lost jobs.

Not only did Lew go along with the Clinton administration’s policy, he continued to endorse a radical deregulatory approach to financial markets as a board member of the Hamilton Project, funded by Rubin at the Brookings Institution. Lew’s myopic view of the origins of the economic meltdown, at odds even with Greenspan’s own admission of culpability, hardly qualifies him for the top economic position in the Obama administration. As Sanders told the Post this week, “In my view, we need a Treasury secretary who is prepared to stand up to corporate America and their powerful lobbyists and fight for policies that protect the working families in our country. I do not believe Mr. Lew is that person.”

But if we need that quality in a Treasury secretary, we certainly need it even more in the president, and given Obama’s appointments—from Lawrence Summers through Geithner and now Lew—it is clear that he is not that person. In announcing Lew’s nomination, the president only once referenced his chief of staff’s Wall Street experience, noting, “He helped oversee … one of our largest investment banks.” That he also helped destroy it was buried as an inconvenient truth.

It is also an inconvenient truth for those “progressives” who gave Obama a pass on the dismal economic performance of his first term when he bailed out the banks but not their victims. At a time when the Federal Reserve continues to purchase $40 billion each month of Wall Street’s toxic assets and provide the ever more concentrated financial conglomerates with interest free funds, the president dares brag that “We’ve put in place rules to prevent that kind of financial meltdown from ever happening again.” No, he hasn’t, and with Lew holding down the fort at Treasury, he won’t.

Should we be happy or very sorry? A religious Jew managing the government’s coffers?So blame the Jews when the next recession becomes official.

FifthHorseman says:

“If your going to blame someone make it a Jew”. As my dear old Jewish step-mother would say. “We get blame for everything”.
President Obama has been wise to pick a Jew since who would say anything about a Jew in office and live another day.
All he has to do is say yes to everything Obama says and his head stays on.
Is he not a good servent of Americas leader.
Reminds me of another leader, but this one was from the 1930s in Germany who had similar yes men. President Obama whos mentor he was is fellowing that style of running the government.
Oh! Am I going to get killed for that statement!!

FifthHorseman says:

Remember that President Obama gave the Muslim Brotherhood a Billion and a half dollars to their cause.
I wonder how Lew looks at that?

Cute * says:

Negative consequences?! Why would one be hesitant or afraid of negative consequences if he isn’t going to do something wrong/illegal/unethical? I think he has realized that politics is a dirty business and he doesn’t want to give orthodox Jews a bad image. One of the many reasons that orthodox Jews wear yarmulke is because they want others know they’re orthodox when they do a good deed. The ironic thing is that if he was an ordinary orthodox guy not wearing a yarmulke people wouldn’t even say hello to him but a high ranked person can get away with it and receives so much attention and respect!

While there is no pasuk in Torah that demands or even suggests a kippak should be worn, there are viable resaons to wear a kippah at all times, other than just custom. First while we have no desire to distinguish ourselves we do not want to be recognized as being like others, ie non-Jews. Plus the numerous Barachot we make during the day, the time-outs we take from secular activities to immerse in study, or simple utterances of Baruch Ha’Shem – we certainly do not want our heads to be oncovered at those moments. I understand the position often adopted of removing the kipah when giving court, or similar, testimony – so as not to appear overly pious and allowing more than warranted trust placed our statements. I do not know Sec. Lew’s man wearing a kipah in public or not appearing on Friday night/Saturday news shows.

ednastvincent says:

Ohhh… such brave words. As though from your armchair you are doing more to prevent Iran from developing an atomic weapon. As though being far from the centers of power will allow us to have more influence. Esther ha-Malka was a court Jew and we still remember her. There is no holiday to remember the people who died at Masada because they didn’t accomplish anything.

ednastvincent says:

Spin around five times and put your finger down on any Jewish law. Whatever you happen to be pointing at will be more important than wearing a yarmulke.

ednastvincent says:

I didn’t realize we had elected you Pope. Next time I have a question about whether someone is actually an Orthodox Jew, I will be sure to call you. Although the Satmarim say that anyone who uses the internet is a goy so how can the Jewish Pope even be making this comment. Can you tell us when the Messiah will come? Because that would actually be helpful. If you can’t tell the difference between working for the Obama administration than you know nothing about the Shoah. I have never heard a Holocaust survivor compare anything that Jews experience in America to anything they experienced in Europe — so perhaps you can have some respect and consider learning something about your history.

Al Einstein says:

Since the murder of JFK has there ever been a Treasury Secretary or Fed Chairman who was not jewish? Were any non-Israeli citizens allowed in these positions?

Our government has been hijacked and the criminal Federal Reserve/Israel is where the power resides.

The zionist banksters are the shadow government headed by the Rothschild Mafia who created Israel for their personal military force.

Now they have created DHS as their domestic military to enslave America, just as zionists created the Soviet Union to enslave the Russians. Russians overthrew the zionists who are now banned from Russian government.

This comment will likely be censored as all truth about zionism is banned.

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Treasury’s First Orthodox Chief

Jack Lew, Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, is the highest-ranking Orthodox Jew in U.S. government history

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