If a Jew demonstrates his or her commitment to the Torah for all the world to see, does that mean it is necessarily a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name?
I ask this after hearing about a special request made by David Schoen, one of the attorneys representing former President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, which began Tuesday. Schoen, an Orthodox Jew, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer requesting that the proceedings be paused before sundown on Fridays to ensure he would not violate Shabbat.
“I apologize for the inconvenience my request that impeachment proceedings not be conducted during the Jewish Sabbath undoubtedly will cause other people involved in the proceedings,” Schoen wrote in a letter to Senate leaders last week, as reported by that bastion of journalism, the New York Post (whaddaya want from me, it was the first article that came up). “The practices and prohibitions are mandatory for me, however; so, respectfully, I have no choice but to make this request.”
As you would expect, Schumer quickly agreed and now we are all witnesses to the lengths the Jewish people will go to for the sake of keeping our holy Sabbath.
I learned yesterday that, although I do not recognize Schoen, he is a member of my shul on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In fact, in two of the daily emails that the rabbi sends to the entire congregation, he recognized Schoen’s special request and how the attorney had the chutzpah—in the positive sense—to write such a letter in the first place. No matter your politics, he wrote, Schoen’s audacity was a clear case of kiddush Hashem that showed the world how even the country’s chief legislative body would not hold an observant Jew back from fulfilling his responsibility to his God.
Indeed, politics aside, everyone has the right to an attorney and a robust defense, and no matter your opinion on Trump and his actions on January 6, most of us would agree that Trump is no exception. If serial killers and pedophiles are allowed legal representation, so should Trump, and Schoen is doing nothing less than his constitutional duty in representing Trump, and we can be proud of him for continuing this tradition that is part of what makes the United States special.
It’s one thing to represent Trump during his trial on the Senate floor. It’s another to draw attention to yourself and your religion. Whereas my rabbi, whom I like and respect, and much of the Jewish world applaud Schoen for bringing his commitment to Torah values to the forefront, what others see is a Jewish shyster who will protect the former president for inciting an angry mob to rush the U.S. capitol, infiltrate the building, murder one policeman, call for the hanging of Vice President Mike Pence, and storm the Senate floor like the foxes running in and out of the Holy of Holies during the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. Members of Congress were told to lie on the floor and wear gas masks and, fearing for their lives, resorted to hiding in the building’s basement and inside various offices.
In other words, Schoen, the Orthodox Jew, is front and center as a primary defender of Trump’s actions that day. Not a good look for Jews in general, nor Orthodox Judaism in particular.
Again, I don’t begrudge Schoen for representing Trump, and if you believe in the justice system—that has, on the whole, served the United States well for centuries—neither should you. As he should, Schoen is keeping our long-standing mantra—innocent until proven guilty—going for the sake of ensuring that all citizens are able to speak up in their own defense.
But let’s be real for a second. Donald Trump is on trial for encouraging a coup on the government he led, having failed to convince Pence to break the law on his account to overturn an election he lost fair and square, no matter what he, Alex Jones, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rudy Giuliani, or Sean Hannity tells you. Even if you are of the opinion that Trump was not responsible for causing the insurrection—and I think there’s a case to be made there, after all, Trump did tell the crowd that they should demonstrate in front of the capitol “peacefully”—we can agree that he waited two hours after the rioters pushed pass the capitol’s nominal security forces to instruct his rabid supporters to go home. Oh, and it came via a video in which he told the murderous mob “We love you, you’re very special.”
I’ll say it one more time for the sake of clarity: Schoen and Trump’s other attorneys have a responsibility to represent the accused, and that goes whether the defendant is paying top dollar for their services or if they’ve been appointed by the court.
But this isn’t district court, where no one’s going to raise an eyebrow if a trial ends a little early on a Friday afternoon. This is the latest trial of the century and everyone is watching. In shining a flashlight at his Jewish traditions, Schoen is telling an increasingly anti-Semitic world that this proud Jew is on the side of the indefensible, Hell-bent on protecting his client who sits accused of subverting a nearly 250-year democracy.
Next time Schoen oughta just handle it like the rest of us: Tell your co-workers you have to punch out a couple hours early on winter Fridays. And if they’re not OK with that, find a job at another law firm.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this article was written, Attorney David Schoen withdrew his request for the impeachment trial to be halted on Shabbat, as he determined that other members of his legal team can defend the former president at that time.
Gabe Kahn was editor of the New Jersey Jewish News and The Jewish Advocate in Boston before running both, almost 200 years of Jewish journalism in all, into the ground in 2020. He sleeps at night by telling himself it was because of Covid. Follow him on Twitter: @sgabekahn.