When Jared and Ivanka first arrived in Washington, the focus on their religious lives was more or less immediate. Much was made of the special “dispensation” they’d been given allowing them to ride in a car on Inauguration Day, even though the festivities continued well past the start of the Sabbath. Earlier in the day, they’d joined the soon-to-be president at a church service, something many Orthodox Jews would take pains to avoid. Such scrutiny of the couple’s religious lives prompted some to cluck that we shouldn’t “frum shame” them. Don’t we all fudge the rules a bit when it suits us, reminded the big-hearted, and don’t we want the freedom to do so in peace? Others had little patience for such magnanimity. Sure, under normal circumstances we should live and let live, but these circumstances are anything but normal—the counter-argument went—and so we should get a special dispensation of our own.
Much of the fire has gone out of this argument, as we’ve come to grapple with other, weightier matters, but Ivanka and Jared’s religious lives remain a source of fascination, in both the Jewish world and beyond. Never before has Orthodox Judaism been practiced so publicly in American life. And what we learn in watching can teach us not only about Jared and Ivanka’s choices but about the intricacies of Judaism, too.
Last week, for Sukkot, the Kushner family walked the half mile from their Kalorama home to their shul—or at least the adults walked; their three children rode scooters—impressively, even the 18-month old, Teddy. The trip was not unlike one they made in June, for Shavuot, though back then the baby stayed home. A story about that earlier outing in the Daily Mail—which has consistently shown an unusual fascination with the couple’s shul-going habits—prompted Twitter’s @phyllis1lasky to grumble that “If Ivanka and Jared are so religious, their children should NOT be riding scooters to shul!”
The field of what one can and cannot do on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays is among the most densely argued in all of Judaism. And as with all such things, commentators will often disagree. But on the matter of whether a child can ride a scooter on Yom Tov, @phyllis1lasky seems to be in the minority.
The question of whether or not one can scoot on Shabbat was once posed online to Rabbi Chaim Tabasky, a Talmud instructor at Bar Ilan University. “If there is an Eruv,” or symbolically enclosed area, the rabbi opined, “riding a scooter is like any other game.” Biking is another matter. A bike can break and one might be tempted to fix it, which would be a clear violation. “Nevertheless,” Rabbi Tabasky continued, “it is a good idea to get out of the habit of riding scooters on Shabbat if one is over bar mitzvah… so that one can be more involved in the spiritual side of the Shabbat experience.”
Jared and Ivanka’s Kalorama neighborhood is surrounded by an eruv (much of DC is), and their oldest is only halfway to bat mitzvah age. There are many questions where one can take issue with their choices, but on the matter of whether it is appropriate to scoot to shul, the two appear to be on solid ground.
Gabriel Sanders is Tablet’s director of business development.