Bill Clinton's 'Rabbi' Publishes Book of Their Correspondence

Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014 02:38 PM

By Elliot Jager

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An Orthodox rabbi has published a compilation of letters he exchanged with Bill Clinton during and after his presidency that reveals Clinton's spiritual side, Politico reports.

Rabbi Menachem Genack's "Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership" contains timely homilies written from an Orthodox Jewish biblical perspective often alongside the former president's responses.

For instance, in 1997, on the occasion of Passover, Genack wrote to Clinton about how "historic greatness often emerges from seemingly insignificant acts of hope."

In the homily, Genack asked why the Hebrew Bible does not delineate the genealogy of Moses' parents in Exodus 2:1 as it customarily does when introducing new characters. The rabbi cited a Talmudic tradition that Moses' parents had separated because they did not want to bring any more children into a life of Egyptian bondage. But their daughter Miriam prophesied that Israel's redemption would come and encouraged her father not to give up hope. Moses was later born.

The president replied: "I will try to take the lessons of Exodus to heart and will continue with courage and faith to do the job the American people sent me here to do."

Genack, who leads a small congregation in Englewood, N.J., is an official with the Orthodox Union which published the book. He had been a student of Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, an influential philosopher and theologian, who espoused an Orthodox approach to Jewish life that allowed for engagement with contemporary American life.

Richard Joel, president of the modern Orthodox Yeshiva University, lauded Genack's relationship with Clinton as epitomizing the "simultaneous engagement with both modernity and tradition" that modern Orthodoxy encourages.

The letters include correspondence from 1998 when the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton in connection with the Monica Lewinsky affair.

It was then that the rabbi cited the advice of Psalm 27:14: "Wait on the Lord; be strong, and let thy heart take courage; yea, wait thou for the Lord."

In his introduction to the book, Clinton wrote, "When compiled, the letters Rabbi Genack and I exchanged both during and after my presidency paint a powerful portrait of an interconnected global society at the dawn of the twenty-first century."

Genack's letters are self-effacing. He cites other scholars and the Torah itself rather than pushing his own thoughts, Joel wrote.

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