Washington – As an Orthodox Jew, Jack Lew, President Obama’s choice as White House Chief of Staff,, observes the religious restrictions on the Jewish Sabbath, which runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He leaves the office Friday afternoons in time to get home before sundown, and does not use electric or electronic devices, including the telephone.
Once, while working in President Clinton’s director, Lew’s home phone rang one Saturday. He didn’t answer and a familiar voice could be heard from the answering machine, urging him to pick up the phone. Mr. Clinton said he understood the sanctity of the Sabbath, but that it was important that he talk to Lew. He even said, it was later reported, that “God would understand.”
Lew later consulted with his rabbi, who said that taking an important phone call from the President of the United States would be permissible on the Sabbath under the Talmudic teaching that work on the Sabbath is allowed in order to save a life.