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The Schmooze

Was Ivanka Texting At John McCain’s Funeral On Shabbat?

Footage of Ivanka Trump at John McCain’s memorial service shows the first daughter and presidential advisor focusing on something in her lap during several eulogies, including those given by former senator Joe Lieberman and bereaved daughter Meghan McCain.

Now Nancy Jew — girl detective and halakhah sleuth — must solve several mysteries: Was Ivanka Trump texting? Does texting count as breaking Shabbat? And is it ever acceptable to text at a funeral?

Was Ivanka Trump texting during the memorial service?

Here is the video that is being cited to claim Trump was texting during the service:

The evidence: She’s gazing down at her lap. Her eyes are making small, scanning movements. She’s moving her right (and dominant) arm.

The counter evidence: Neither her husband nor the person sitting to the right of her appears to notice — something you would expect if a major celebrity whipped out an LED screen at a televised memorial service.

Verdict: It is impossible to prove definitively that Ivanka Trump was texting or even holding her phone. She could just as easily be looking at the printed program of speakers. The perceivable movement of her right arm indicates turning a page more than sending a text message.

If she was texting, does that constitute breaking Shabbat?

The notion that there is one set of rules for Shabbat observance that all observant-identified Jews interpret identically is, of course, laughable. But even the most moderate rabbi would find it hard to interpret halachah as allowing for text messaging on Shabbat, an act that combines electricity usage and writing. In her 2009 book “Women Who Work,” Trump herself defined her family’s Shabbat observance as including breaking with electronics. In the past Trump, as well as her husband Jared Kushner, have said that they received rabbinic permission to do certain forbidden acts on Shabbat, including riding a car on inauguration day and flying in an airplane. However, in the latter case, known Trump rabbi Haskel Lookstein described reports that he gave the couple permission as “fake news.” Besides, Rabbi Lookstein is busy with his own scandals this week — it’s unlikely that he would have given permission to text.

Is it ever okay to text during a funeral?

No! Well…let she among us who hasn’t texted in a radically inappropriate place be the first to condemn. Some pointed out that Ivanka Trump has small children, and therefore must be on call at all times. Though it’s hard to sympathize with her parenting struggles, since she helped her father win by promising benefits for working mothers and then cheerfully abandoned them the moment he took office!

Hey now! Didn’t Joe Lieberman break Shabbat too, by speaking into the microphone?

Aha! So easy to blame the (constantly and decisively morally bankrupt) woman! Whether or not Trump really was texting can’t be known, whereas Lieberman spoke into a microphone in plain sight. The difference is that Lieberman’s act isn’t hypocritical — he specifically identifies as “observant,” not as Orthodox — though he joked about having to walk to McCain’s service, he is forthcoming about his Jewish observance not cleaving exactly to halakhah. And, even among some Orthodox rabbis, there is a dispute about whether speaking into a microphone constitutes breaking Shabbat — some argue that it is no different than leaving lights on.

In any case, isn’t this frum-policing all a bit too much?

Nope, not really! As long as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are using their Judaism as a political tool (see: Jared invoking his survivor-grandparents to help elect the President, Ivana Trump gloating that her daughter might become “the first Jewish POTUS,”) their Judaism is open to scrutiny.

There is only one safe thing to do in these confusing times: watch this video —

Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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