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Typically in the US, members of Congress and other government officials are sworn in on a bible appropriate to their religion. Is it appropriate for Jews to be sworn in on a Tana"ch, or should some other text be used?


Note 1:A corollary to this would be to ask what Sen. Joe Lieberman was sworn in on, seeing as he is fromm.

Note 2: While according to Koren's catalogue, a first edition of their Tana"ch is used for swearings-in of Jewish officials in Israel, it does not mention whether this is done by religious politicians or only secular ones.

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    Regarding Note 1, While Sen. Lieberman's particular behavior is of interest given his prominence, he's just one of, I suspect, very many observant Jews who have faced this issue, including public servants, naturalized citizens, and participants in the legal system. – Isaac Moses Sep 22 '14 at 15:01
  • @IsaacMoses, Jack Lew is the only other religious Jew I know of who is in such a position. Also, thank-you for the edit! – Noach MiFrankfurt Sep 22 '14 at 15:31
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    those two are the ones in positions that make the papers, but oaths of office are taken in the US by many federal employees, all members of the military, many state and municipal employees, etc. – Isaac Moses Sep 22 '14 at 15:43
  • @IsaacMoses, I realise, however I don't have any example of other oaths on hand. – Noach MiFrankfurt Sep 22 '14 at 16:09
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    NoachmiFrankfurt, many positions in the US government require people to swear in to office, and many Orthodox Jews serve in such positions. Some are performed with less ceremony, but as @IsaacMoses, commented, people are also sword in to give testimony in court proceedings. If your question is about whether it is appropriate to use a TaNa"Ch, and not about whether it is appropriate to swear, then Joe Lieberman's practice when he was a senator would seem to be irrelevant - unless it can be attested that he was given such guidance by his rabbi. – Seth J Sep 22 '14 at 20:47
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Article 2 section 1, clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution allows the president to use the term "affirm" instead of "swear" when s/he (O.K., we haven't yet had a female U.S. president, but it will happen, some day.) takes the oath.

The Constitution also does not require the use of a Bible or any book, whatsoever. Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible, and John Quincy Adams swore on a book of law. See Wikipedia for additional info.

I don't know what the rule is regarding Senators, governor, or mayor, etc. However, since freedom of religion is a strongly held U.S. law, I assume that the same rules applying to presidential swearings would apply to everything else.

You may want to email Mr. Lieberman directly, regarding both what he's done and what the U.S. (and perhaps, Jewish) law is. From my understanding, even though he is quite busy, he does eventually answer such questions. FYI, he is no longer senator, so, perhaps, he is not as busy! (You can relay him Shanah Tovah from me, too :-)

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    The question is pretty clearly about what's appropriate from the point-of-view of Judaism. – Isaac Moses Sep 22 '14 at 20:41
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My problem with this question is that it presumes that Federal employees or elected officials must be "sworn in." The rabbi who was m'gaier me, Rabbi Bertram Leff, said that I should avoid taking "oaths" or "swearing" whether in becoming a Federal employee or being a witness in court. Fortunately, Federal law gives me that option. The text of the "oath of office" is:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

Since I can "affirm" there is no shavua here.

The second assumption that bothers me is that one is required to swear on a Bible or some other religious tome. Most Federal employees are sworn in without a Bible, because there is usually a room full of us taking the oath at the same time. The use of Bibles is for photo-opportunity occassions, like the swearing in of an elected official or a Presidential appointee. Also members of the military often use a Bible for the photo-op of their taking the oath on commission, enlistment or reenlistment. I've attended some such swearing in ceremonies -- the last one for an Orthodox Jew who was an assistant secretary of Treasury. As I recall, he used a Tanach -- but he just as well didn't use anything. Since there is no obligation to use a Bible there is no issue about choice of religious text from the Federal point of view.

Similarly, Federal and state courts permit a witness to declare or affirm, rather than swear, that they are testifying truthfully or risking penalty of purgery or making a false statement to the Government, whichever is applicable. Given that, use of the court's Bible, or substitution of one's own is irrelevant.

  • Do you have evidence that the Enlish word "affirm" does not constitute a Halachic שבועה? – Double AA Sep 23 '14 at 19:26
  • @DoubleAA: I don't have time to discuss it now, but I don't believe that affirming the truth of one's testimony, or affirming that you will follow the Constitution under secular law has the same binding power of a Shavua. As for examples of a shavua made on a Torah scroll, I can't find any in the Gemara, but I may not be using the right search terms. I found things in Sanhedrin where someone would swear by the Law of Moses, generally, but I believe the outcome there was that he said nothing. Please show me an example that says the last paragraph is wrong. – Bruce James Sep 23 '14 at 21:43
  • Rambam Shevuot Chapter 11 – Double AA Sep 23 '14 at 21:45
  • @DoubleAA, The reason why American law has this "affirmation" is specifically due to religious sensitivities of not making an oath (it is apparently a Christian thing to consider it insulting or something like that). So the word choice is with the intent of saying "I am not swearing just giving my word" and both sides should understand it that way. – Yishai Oct 23 '14 at 19:46
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    @DoubleAA, Gil Student reports getting a Psak that it does indeed make it not-an-oath. – Yishai Oct 23 '14 at 19:57
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I recall seeing a video of an Orthodox Australian official being sworn in while holding an ArtScroll Tanach

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