Rabbinic Point/Counterpoint with the President

Posted on January 28, 2009 In Blog

Word got out last week about the brief exchange Rabbi Lookstein had with President Obama.

As related by Rabbi Lookstein, it went as follows:

“….I asked him if I could recite a blessing. He said, of course. I said the blessing we recite when meeting a king as the president is the closest thing to a head of state. I then continued and said, ‘Mr. President, thank you for your strong support of Israel. We will always remember your unforgettable statement in Sderot. He knew what I was referring to. It was there he said “if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that”. The President responded with a clear ascent. I then said to him, ‘May G-d bless you.’ He replied: ‘You know that Barak means’s blessing.’ I said, ‘Of course, blessing is Baruch. You have to be able to say the ‘ch’ sound.’ He smiled and said ‘It’s a little too early in the morning.'”

JTA now reports that another rabbinic participant – Conservative Judaism leader Rabbi Jerry Epstein had this exchange with the new president:

“…..when I approached President Obama, I asked whether he would permit me to recite a priestly blessing of biblical origin. When he smiled and said, “I wish you would,” I recited it in Hebrew and then in English. When I concluded with the words, “Shalom” — “Peace,” he smiled and said “That’s what we need. Peace!” The moment — and his response — gave me spiritual hope for the future.”

It’s an interesting pair of discussions – especially in terms of what each rabbi chose to raise, more than what the President said in reply.

Food for thought.