Emanuel In Full
by Lizzie Widdicombe
When Barack Obama appointed Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff last week, a bunch of old stories went back into circulation, clues, perhaps, to how he’ll run the White House: Emanuel wrapping up a dead fish to send to a pollster who’d made him angry; Emanuel stabbing a table with a knife while shouting the names of people who’d betrayed Bill Clinton; Emanuel saying “Don’t fuck it up” to Tony Blair. These are memorable moments, but Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Emanuel’s rabbi at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel congregation, in Chicago, pointed out that they don’t capture the whole man. “I don’t know him in a political way,” Lopatin said, “but I wish all our congregants were as loyal to the synagogue and as engaged as he is.” Lopatin said he tries not to get involved with politics, since this can lead to trouble (see Wright, Jeremiah; “Sometimes we spiritual leaders say things we don’t mean,” Lopatin said), but he’d taken the liberty of leaving “a couple messages” on his congregant’s voice mail. “I didn’t push him one way or the other,” he said. “I just wanted to congratulate him and tell him it’s a good opportunity.”
Emanuel, Lopatin emphasized, is “a genius at balancing things.” A few weeks ago, Emanuel consulted Lopatin about working on the financial-bailout package during Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi gave his approval, citing the principle of pikkuah nefesh—“To save a life, you can violate almost any commandment,” he said. “There’s no doubt that somewhere in the world there would be a serious risk to lives and personal survival if the financial system melted down,” he reasoned. So Emanuel tiptoed out of the service to take a conference call. But the rest of the time he was in synagogue. “This year, I’d asked Rahm to open the ark,” the rabbi said. “We had to make sure we gave him an ark-opening time that didn’t conflict with the conference call, so he could get down from the bimah in time.” (Lopatin said that he had missed the episode of “Entourage” in which the character based on Emanuel’s brother, the Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel, sneaks out of Yom Kippur services to talk to a studio head on his cell phone. “That is so funny!” Lopatin said. “I like Jewish characters on TV. I think it’s a good thing.”) ...more
New Yorker reveals that Rabbi Lopatin is definitely a creative interpreter of divine law.