Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who will not seek a fifth term in 2012, hasn’t announced his future plans. But as a prolific author and prominent observant Jew, Lieberman, 69, says he wants to do “a little bit of missionary work,” promoting Sabbath observance as a divine gift and lifting the mystique about what an observant Jew can and cannot do within the confines of the day of rest. Simon & Schuster will publish “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath,” written by Lieberman and David Klinghoffer in August.
The Jewish Week spoke with the former Democrat and current independent about what motivated the book, some pressing issues of the day and the future.
Q: How did you pick the topic?
A: Rabbi Menachem Genack [CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division] and I have known each other for a long time … and for a while he was nudging me to write a book about Joseph from the Torah, because he was a political leader. But I said, “Rabbi, you know what I have inside me: at some point I would like to write a book about Shabbat, which is so important to me because I experience it.”
Q: Are you dealing with some of the questions people raised when you ran for vice president and president about your limitations on the Sabbath?
A: The book is an appeal to people. I say at the very beginning that I’m describing what Shabbat is and how important it’s been in my life, how meaningful it has been to Hadassah and me in our marriage and with our family. I’m also very clear that I’m doing a little bit of marketing, or missionary work here. …
I have one chapter in which I say, in the middle of a Shabbat afternoon, I’m going to stop now and describe the occasions when observant Jews have a reason to set aside the normal restrictions of Shabbat. [They can be set aside] because there’s a purpose greater than even those restrictions, that are related to the underlying purpose of Shabbat, which is to honor God’s creations. I deal with pikuach nefesh [the precept which says that you can break the Sabbath to save a life], tell some personal stories about how I walked to the Capitol on Shabbat when I anticipated there would be votes; what I’ve done when I’ve had calls come into the house on Shabbat, how I decided whether to take them or not.
Q: What has it been like for you to have your religious views and practices under a microscope?
A: As time went on I felt that perhaps this was some sort of special opportunity in terms of being observant in public life, an opportunity to explain to people why we do what we do and why I do what I do. In the book there are times when I say I made this decision [but] I’m not sure every Jew would have made this decision.
Q: The 2000 election and recount will be debated throughout history. In your heart, do you believe that you won?
A: I do, particularly because I know that our ticket got a half-million more votes than the other ticket … There is no question that it was close in Florida; I think for various reasons that Al Gore and I had won, but life has to go on.
The reality is, I still have — believe it or not, it could just be my nature — a very positive feeling about the whole thing because I was given this extraordinary honor by Al Gore.
Q: There has been growing support for clemency for convicted spy Jonathan Pollard by former officials. Has your position changed?
A: Pollard did some terrible things, not just for Israel but otherwise. And the intelligence community feels it would be a terrible precedent to set. And they are still saying it now, I presume, to not let him go because of what it would say for others … But he’s been in a long time. I guess my own feeling has been that this really is a matter that ultimately must be resolved between the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States, but if you’re asking if I’m going to get involved, no.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I don’t know … When I made the decision not to run again, I was saying my career in elected politics is over. Public service has been so much a part of my life, including the U.S.-Israel relationship, that I’ll always want to be somewhat involved in these issues. But I don’t know, and I’ve got time until January 2013. Nothing specific at all, and I’m enjoying it.