President-elect Barack Obama's first appointment after winning the presidency last week was Rahm Emmanuel, who was named White House Chief of Staff.
By now surely have heard about Emmanuel's Jewish…
…roots. But you may not have heard that Emmanuel and his wife attend a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Chicago.
The New Yorker reports:
…“I don’t know him in a political way,” [Rabbi Asher] Lopatin [Emanuel’s rabbi at the Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel congregation, in Chicago] 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.”…
What the New Yorker doesn't mention is that Emmanuel is a Yerushalmi. His father fought in the Irgun. His uncle, Emmanuel Auerbach, was killed while fighting for Lehi (the Stern Gang) in 1933. That is when Rahm Emmanuel's father changed the family's last mane from Auerbach to Emmanuel, to memorialize his fallen brother. And Rahm Emmanuel is himself named after a fallen Irgun fighter.
But there is more to this story than that. Emmanuel's father's original last name was Auerbach. Many Jerusalem Auerbachs are related to the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the preeminent haredi halakhic (Jewish law) authority who passed away in 1995.
I haven't done the genealogy on this, but it is very possible that Emmanuel is Rabbi Auerbach's cousin.
This is a bit ironic. Emmanuel's wife is a convert, converted by Rabbi Lopatin. As things now stand, the new Chief of Staff is married to a woman Israel's Chief Rabbinate won't recognize as Jewish, even though her conversion was [may have been] done by an Orthodox rabbi.
Add to this the widespread and vicious haredi opposition to Obama, and Emmanuel's reputation for suffering fools and irritants poorly.
When Williamsburg or Lakewood come looking for favors, what do you think Emmanuel will think of?
My guess is it won't be his nostalgia for chulent.
UPDATE: Rabbi Asher Lopatin responds.