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“Jack Lew does not only seek rabbinical advice, he sometimes helps dispense it,” Shemtov said.
Shemtov recalled having to consider a request from a congregant who was called in to government work urgently on a religious holiday. Lew happened to be in synagogue, and Shemtov was able to consult with someone familiar both with governance and halachah, or Jewish law.
“He’s able to give an inside view of the scale of urgency in a way that that can help rabbis and even communal leaders understand things more practically,” he said.
Jewish audiences thrill to such insights. Clevelanders attending a pre-election debate between Troy and Lew enjoyed their back and forth on Israel and domestic policy, but especially lit up when the two recalled their gentle explanations of observance to non-Jewish colleagues. Lew drew laughs when he recalled having to explain to congressional leaders that there was no need to suspend sessions for Chanukah – it was not a holiday requiring an absence from work.
“It was a policy debate, and it was important and it was serious,” said Nathan Diament, the Washington director of the Orthodox Union, who moderated the debate. “The closing discussion about his role as a Sabbath-observant Jew in the highest levels of government was both insightful and inspiring.”