web analytics
March 6, 2015 / 15 Adar , 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)

Where did Clinton attain his biblical knowledge?

First of all, he’s extremely smart. It’s hard to quote a book to him that he hasn’t read. He’s constantly reading. And I guess maybe it’s part of the Southern Baptist tradition [to know the Bible].

Is it true that he asked you for advice when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke?

I don’t want to presume that I’m the only one he spoke to – obviously he spoke to a lot of people – but he did ask me what I thought he should say when he addressed the nation. I told him he should express profound remorse but I also said that presidents have a right to privacy.

The Midrash asks, “Why is it that animals can’t speak?” and answers that if they could speak, they would tell our foibles and failings – since they are all over the place – and no one could survive. So the point I wanted to derive from the Midrash is not just that privacy is a right, but also that it’s an existential need.

[Incidentally], that actually was not such good political advice because Clinton did mention that presidents have the right to privacy, and he was criticized for it.

In his preface to Letters to President Clinton, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes that Jews should be more active in sharing the truths of the Torah with the wider world. Do you agree?

I agree that the Torah has something to say about how we live our lives and that it has a universal message that is meaningful beyond our own daled amos. Adam HaRishon and Chava are buried together with Avraham and Sarah, and Rav Soloveitchik said this indicates that we’re interested in mankind. We’re part of Knesses Yisrael but we’re also part of humanity, and we do have a message.

In fact, the basic documents of the United States [are based on] Jewish ideas – the dignity of man, “tzelem Elokim.” These ideas were absent in the pagan world. So we can be proud that it was Jews who gave this to the world.

The letters in this volume are basically theological or ideological in nature. Why didn’t you take advantage of your friendship with Clinton to write to him about specific issues of concern to the Jewish community, such as the imprisonment of Jonathan Pollard?

There were such letters. In terms of Jonathan Pollard, I was actually the one who spoke to him initially about reviewing the Pollard case. I spoke to him about Pollard several times, and I think he was sympathetic in thinking about it.

In terms of why that’s not in the book: It didn’t belong in the book. The book isn’t about politics. It’s about biblical themes. But I can tell you, having traveled with President Clinton several times and having spoken to him and seen him up close, that he has a tremendous affinity and love for Israel.

It’s interesting you say that because many supporters of Israel dislike Clinton. While the Oslo Accords may have originally been Israel’s idea, it was widely perceived in the 1990s that Clinton pressured Israel into making concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

I disagree with that perception. I don’t think Clinton ever pressured Israel.

How about when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister in the late 1990s? He clearly seemed ambivalent about Oslo at the time and many thought Clinton prodded him to make more concessions to Yasir Arafat than he otherwise would have.

I’m not a foreign policy expert. It doesn’t make sense for me to debate Oslo with you. But I can tell you this – and this is true of both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton: They have a deep affinity for Israel.

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
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Iran’s Zarif Paints Iran as a Lamb, Israel as the Lion
Latest Indepth Stories
Ron Prosor

Values at the very heart of the UN are threatened by extremist ideologies targeting our way of life

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Anti-Semitism today focuses on Israel and the quest to delegitimize it.

Ballots for elections "made in Samaria."

Any Jew who ties his fate to Israel should be able to vote in Israel’s elections-even before aliyah

A young Moshe Meir Weiss introduces his mother, Mrs. Agnes Weiss Goldman, to Rav Moshe in 1979.

There were no airs about him. Rav Moshe was affectionately known as the Gaon of Normalcy.

Israel’s full sovereignty over a united Jerusalem is the only path for true peace in the region.

Just like Moses and Aaron, Mordechai decides to ruin the party…

The president has made clear – I can’t state this more firmly – the policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.

Obama has an apparent inability to understand Islam in particular and Mid-East culture in general

Pesach is a Torah-based holiday whose fundamental observances are rooted in Torah law; Purim is a rabbinic holiday whose laws and customs are grounded in the rabbinic tradition.

In honor of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s successful speech before Congress.

Mr. Spock conveys a message with painfully stark relevance to our world today, especially in the context of PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress.

Obama created the “partisan politics” by asking Dem. party members to avoid Bibi and his address

Enough is enough. The Jewish community has a big tent, but the NIF should have no place in it.

I vote for the right and get left-wing policy. Every. Frigging. Time.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick

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.

A school voucher means the state is giving you a voucher to send your kid to whatever school you want. That might be problematic as far church-state issues are concerned.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

To many Orthodox Jews the issue is “Permitted & Prohibited;” “Right & Wrong” barely considered,

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: