One of the most well-known “thou shalts” in the Torah, and one that has best withstood the test of time, is one of the Ten Commandments: the one that says to honor your father and mother. Actually, you’re supposed to go even further - the concept moreh av v’em means you should stand in awe of your father and mother. Even if you have converted to Judaism and your parents haven’t, like Ivanka Trump, you’re still obligated to treat them with respect. You’re not even supposed to contradict them. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143:22)
There are, however, exceptions. If your parents ask you to do something that is a violation of a law in the Torah such as stealing or lying, you’re not required to do it. (Baba Metzia 32a, Yevamot 5b) But it’s easy to get caught between thou shalts and thou shalt nots. For example, you’re not supposed to lie, but you are supposed to be socially gracious. Should you say “Oh, your baby is so beautiful!” … or not?
Which begs the question: Is Ivanka Trump caught between commandments? What are the limits of honoring one’s father and mother for Ivanka, an observant Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher and Shabbat, by not working or spending money or using electricity. She appears to take Jewish law and all it entails very seriously. The Huffington Post took up Ivanka’s conflict on Sept. 8.
What does it mean that she has repeatedly trespassed moral and ethical laws by defending her father’s all too often indefensible speech and actions - speech that has on more than one occasion, teetered precariously close to out and out anti-Semitism? How does one reconcile one’s love and honor for their parents with bigotry and anti-Semitism, especially as an observant Jew? History is rife with powerful people who have followed their parents into questionable situations out of love and devotion (Exhibit A: Isaac following Abraham up Mt. Moriah with wood…)
It’s a conflict complicated by her relationship with her husband, Jared Kushner, whose own father, Charles Kushner, spent two years serving jail time for submitting false campaign finance reports and tax returns. Jared, who was an NYU law and business student at the time of his father’s incarceration, flew down to Alabama to visit Charles in prison every single weekend, while taking over the reins of the family business. In doing so, he made a statement and set a standard about his own family loyalty and values, but perhaps Ivanka’s as well.
Ivanka and Jared have gone above and beyond in their fulfillment of the commandments to honor and stand in awe of their parents. But there’s a difference between being machmir – religiously stringent - and extreme. Even the most stringent Jewish laws - and best of intentions - come with reasonable limits. If we assess her situation charitably, it seems that Ivanka might be in a difficult position, caught between her father and her conscience, between honoring her father, and preserving her own integrity, Jewish and otherwise. On the other hand, as the Huffington Post posits, she and Jared might have no qualms about Donald Trump’s character flaws, so hungry are they for power and prestige. If she’s not feeling painfully conflicted, she has a problem. And inasmuch as her lack of conscience, or her hunger for power, facilitate her father’s successful bid for the presidency, we all do.
Ivanka Trump Is Supposed to Honor Her Father — Right?
Rabbi Jordie Gerson works as a full-time Rabbi for Adventure Rabbi in Boulder, Colorado. She is an accomplished writer and speaker with a blog at the Huffington Post religion. Follow her on Facebook.