Washington – The first Orthodox Jewish rabbi to give an invocation at a presidential inauguration said that the biblical passages included in his approximately two minute address were carefully chosen to convey specific messages.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said that he chose verses that, in addition highlighting the concepts of being actively involved and helping others, focused the spotlight directly on the State of Israel.
In a Saturday night radio interview on Zev Brenner’s Talkline radio program, Rabbi Hier said that his statements about Israel were directed not just at President Trump and the American public but the entire world and called Senator John Kerry’s remarks about Israeli settlements blatantly false.
Listen below to Rabbi Hier’s speech.
“This was a complete fraud to have done that 12 or 15 days before a new president takes office, so absolutely it was a message to all of them,” said Rabbi Hier. “There were four presidents sitting on the dais, many secretaries of state and a new secretary of state designate, and the message was: don’t forget Yerushalayim, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, period.”
Rabbi Hier, the first of several clergy members to address the invocation, said he was honored to be asked to take part in the inauguration and that he never once considered refusing the invitation.
“I didn’t have to think about it because it is poshut mentshluchkeit,” said Rabbi Hier. “When you live in a country where yiddishkeit flourishes, you could be chosid, you could wear a shtreimel with a boord and payos, and nobody will fault you for it unlike what the situation is in Europe for Jews today, to have turned down a request like that would be the height of chutzpah.”
After offering the benediction, Rabbi Hier said that he shook hands with both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence as well as all three of the former presidents seated on the dais. The only exception was Jimmy Carter, who was seated in the fourth row, and was described by Rabbi Hier as an uniequivocal believer “in the Palestinian narrative.”
Rabbi Hier dismissed the notion that a $35,000 donation by the Kushner family to the Simon Wiesenthal Center bought him a spot on the inaugural program, noting that the president’s son in law’s family are “wonderful people” and “great baalei tzedaka.”
Asked for his opinion on the controversial halachic ruling given to Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner about traveling by car to the Friday night inaugural balls, Rabbi Hier noted that he was not a posek and therefore could not comment on the matter but personally vouched for the Kushners’ commitment to Orthodox Judaism.
“ They say they asked a posek,” remarked Rabbi Hier. “I don’t know who they asked but I would not question their total commitment to yiddishkeit because I know firsthand that it happens to be genuine and real.”
Brenner also discussed deep political divisions within the Jewish community, where many have been vocal in their opposition to a Trump presidency.
Rabbi Hier stressed the importance of unity and being respectful of the institutions of a country where people can practice their religion without fear.
“ Donald Trump was elected according to the constitution,” observed Rabbi Hier. “It doesn’t matter who has more votes; the constitution says it goes according to Electoral College. He is our president.”
Rabbi Hier advised Americans to give the new president a chance to prove himself.
“We hope he winds up to be a great president, not to take him down before he has even had a chance to even organize his furniture in the White House,” said Rabbi Hier.
Listen below to Rabbi Hier’s interview on the Zev Brenner Radio show