President Donald Trump owns some of the world’s most famous golf courses – so it’s no surprise that first daughter Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner like to hit a few balls every now and then.
But are they violating the Sabbath by hitting the links on Saturdays — and should we even care?
The couple tries to conform to Jewish law even while playing on Saturday, according to the New York Post. They shun golf carts and wait until the next day to tip their caddies. But they might still be defying Shabbat restrictions on certain forms of prohibited labor.
The Post report added more fuel to the fire of a debate that has raged at least since Kushner and Trump took a car to Friday-night inauguration parties. Generally, Jewish norms frown upon the discussion of another person’s religious practice. But Kushner and Trump’s religious observance seems, to some, different. On the one hand, they are public figures and could serve as role models for other Jews. On the other, they play a uniquely important role and maybe that should entitle them to special dispensation, as when safety considerations made it permissible for them to take a car on inauguration weekend.
Conservative Judaism’s Rabbinical Assembly cautions Jews against golfing on the Sabbath, noting that golf clubs bore holes into the ground while being used to hit balls, constituting a form of digging, which is forbidden work on Saturdays.
“Both the digging and the repair of the hole – deliberate actions connected to the game – constitute [forms of work] subsumed by the category of plowing, whose rubric includes the digging and filling of holes in the earth,” wrote Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner, in a paper for the body’s Law Committee.
But he added that the activity could be permissible if golfers used an artificial turf mat to hit their balls. “Nevertheless, there would be no objection per se to hitting golf balls off of an artificial mat within an eruv, since doing so would not involve the creation of divots,” he continued.
An eruv refers to a wire boundary enclosing a given area that allows Sabbath-observant Jews to carry objects outside their homes on the Sabbath. It is not known whether Kushner and Trump have used artificial turf mats.
A rabbinical opinion published on Din Online, an Orthodox Jewish legal forum operated by the Maane Simcha Foundation, took a more restrictive attitude, advising golfers to avoid all Saturday play.
The appropriate behavior to generate a Kiddush Hashem [holiness] would be to avoid playing on Shabbos,” the unsigned response reads. “Such challenges are the kind of things why Hashem [God] puts us here. We need to show Him we care. By accepting to fulfill Shabbos the way you know it should be kept, your “Shabbos experience” in the next world will be more pleasurable than any golfing ever done at any time.”
Kushner and Trump are both Orthodox Jews – and their Sabbath observance has come under scrutiny since President Trump’s election. The two said they received special rabbinical dispensations from an unknown clergyman to travel in a car during the presidential inauguration, which occurred on Saturday, and travel to Saudi Arabia on a plane during another Saturday.
Not everyone thinks it’s appropriate to engage in a public dissection of Trump and Kushner’s Sabbath practice or general practice of Judaism. Andrew Silow-Carroll, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, has denounced the policing of the couple’s observance, in an op-ed attacking the “halakha [Jewish law] police.”
A group of Orthodox rabbis grappled with this tension after Kushner and Trump made that purportedly permitted flight to Saudi Arabia on Shabbat. TORA, which describes itself as an “umbrella group of Traditional Orthodox Rabbis of America” said that while the couple’s work might be important enough to override ordinary practice, the move still troubling.
It could “erode the historic responsibility of employers to accommodate individual religious beliefs,” TORA wrote, telling the Forward that they meant no criticism of Jared and Ivanka.
Silow-Caroll bemoans the lack of civility that has otherwise stained the communal discussion.
“We all should spend less time worrying about how Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, or any of us, observe Jewish rituals and more time asking how we or they affirm Jewish values, he wrote.
Daniel J. Solomon is the Assistant to the Editor/News Writer at the Forward. Originally from Queens, he attended Harvard as an undergraduate, where he wrote his senior thesis on French-Jewish intellectual history. He is excited to have returned to New York after his time in Massachusetts. Daniel’s passions include folk music, cycling, and pointed argument.