web analytics
April 28, 2015 / 9 Iyar, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Writing Divrei Torah To President Clinton: An Interview with Rabbi Menachem Genack

Rabbi Genack and President Clinton (Photo by Robert Cumins)

Rabbi Genack and President Clinton (Photo by Robert Cumins)

When most Americans think of Bill Clinton, the Bible is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. And yet, as Rabbi Menachem Genack – CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division – discovered two decades ago, the former president is quite familiar with the Book of Books and has often sought solace and guidance in it.

Rabbi Genack first met Clinton at a fundraiser in New Jersey in 1992. “At the time,” Rabbi Genack recalls, “there was a lot of discussion about President Bush’s lack of vision, so when I introduced Governor Clinton I said, quoting a pasuk from Mishlei, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Clinton liked the remarks and said, ‘You know what? I might use that in my acceptance speech at the convention.’ He did, and ever since Rabbi Genack and Clinton have been friends.

Rabbi Genack is more than Clinton’s friend, however. To some degree, he has served as his rabbi, and over the last two decades Rabbi Genack has sent Clinton numerous “divrei Torah” that he believed Clinton might find enlightening. After Clinton won a second term in 1996, Rabbi Genack began asking other rabbis and noted Jewish thinkers to pen short essays for Clinton’s benefit as well – including such personalities as Dr. Bernard Lander, Cynthia Ozick, and Rabbis Ahron Solovechik, Immanuel Jakobovits, Israel Meir Lau, Julius Berman, and Norman Lamm.

These divrei Torah may originally have been intended for Clinton’s eyes only, but several years ago Rabbi Genack thought that “just as they were useful to Clinton, maybe they’ll be useful to the public.” The result of that thought is Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, containing over 100 miniature essays on such themes as leadership, faith, dreams and vision, and sin and repentance. Released last month, the book includes a foreword by Clinton and a preface by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The Jewish Press: What inspired you to start writing letters to Clinton and what gave you the confidence that he would actually read them? After all, many Americans probably think of writing to the president but don’t bother, figuring their letters will just wind up in a secretary’s wastebasket.

Rabbi Genack: Well, he would often invite me to the White House and we became pretty good friends. Also, I didn’t mail the first letter I gave him; I handed it to him. I’d say the first 20 or so were handed to him. The Secret Service, though, thought that was unseemly, so President Clinton [arranged for me to send my letters through] different contacts in the White House.

How often did you send Clinton these letters?

Usually every other week.

How do you know Clinton read them?

First of all, if you look at the book, you’ll see that he responds to many of them in writing. Also, in her blurb to the book, Ann Lewis, who was the director of communications to the White House at the time, writes that I was once late in sending a letter, and President Clinton said to her, “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a letter from Rabbi Genack; what’s happening?”

By the way, in his memoir, My Life, Clinton mentions that among the things that gave him support during the period of the impeachment were the Bible and these mini sermons that he got from me.

Many readers may be surprised to learn this. After all, people don’t usually think of Clinton as a religious man.

Well, the word religious means different things for different people. What I indicate in the book is just that he’s very familiar with the Bible. I’ll tell you two stories. There was once a meeting in the White House with representatives from different Christian denominations and one of them said to Clinton, “Mr. President, I’ve been praying for you.” The president said, “What have you been praying?” So he quoted a verse and said, “It’s from Chronicles I.” Clinton corrected him and said, “That’s in Chronicles II.”

There’s another story concerning Ron Brown, who was the secretary of commerce under Clinton and was tragically killed in a plane crash. President Clinton went over to the Commerce Department to make some remarks in memory of Brown and asked his staff to find out what his favorite biblical verse was. They came up with something but they didn’t know the source and it was sort of paraphrased. Clinton looked at it and said, “Oh, this is from Isaiah, I prefer the King James translation,” which he in his remarks, unprepared, cited by heart.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Writing Divrei Torah To President Clinton: An Interview with Rabbi Menachem Genack

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
The Straits of Hormuz
Iran Seizes Cargo Ship Under US Protection in Strait of Hormuz
Latest Indepth Stories
Those who need care can least afford it: African refugees.

We could establish cities of refuge for the refugees; they’d become citizens of these new places.

The International Criminal Court building in the Hague, the Netherlands.

There is cause to believe the ICC is an improper venue for sorting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

.The real BDS.

Congress described it as “economic warfare against Israel” yet US Jewish leaders proudly finance it!

World Zionist Congress elections end April 30.

Groups promoting anti-Israel/anti-Jewish BDS right on their websites are running in the WZC election

Pataki is the last Republican Governor to win a majority of Jewish votes.

Obama’s desire to be “fair” enables Iran to get nuclear weapons which will threaten global security

All GOP candidates will continue seeking – and praying – for Jewish money with greater success.

The one reason to make Aliyah outweighs all the arguments not to move to Israel.

“We returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted!”

I don’t fear for the future of our people because I believe Yeshiva University has created an “Iron Dome” of Jewish leadership

Poland’s great Jewish cities where Jewish life had once flourished and thrived, were now desolate

Chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau, stated that the Torah community’s turnout in the WZO election is vital.

Iran has at its core the same ideology as that of ISIS but, inaccurately, is thought a lesser threat

An early Yom Ha’atzmaut gathering for Israel’s 67th birthday with Pres. Rivlin of Israel and guests

Israel’s Memorial Day shouldn’t be a day of mourning, it’s a day to honor, not another Holocaust Day

God’s 3 part promise for Israel: to the Avot; a plentiful land; the eventual return home by all Jews

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Dr. Mitchell Bard

Mitchell Bard is nothing if not prolific. He has written and edited 23 books, including “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East” and “The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East.” Bard, who has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA, is also the executive director of both the […]

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich

You have to understand that Ukraine was really a very, very Jewish place for many years.

What I think is going on here is the Midrash is making a comment about Rut’s love for Naomi being some sort of reflection of how we have to love God.

HarperCollins’s omission was especially egregious because it is a major general and educational publisher.

I said to myself, “This story has got to be told. We’re losing this generation of World War II and if we don’t listen to them now, we’ve lost it.”

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

I was very pro-Israel, I was very proud of being Jewish, and I was living in New York at the time as a single man in my 20s and I was just looking for a little bit more.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/writing-divrei-torah-to-president-clinton-an-interview-with-rabbi-menachem-genack/2013/11/13/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: