The first ever Orthodox rabbi to recite a benediction at a U.S. presidential inauguration said that his quotation from a Psalm about the longing of the Jewish people to return to Jerusalem was “absolutely intentional.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, 77, who also serves as chairman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he “did not want to get political” in his benediction but added that he wanted to “make sure that people know Jews have been connected to Jerusalem since biblical times,” reports the Algemeiner.
Hier said that this was especially important following the recent UNESCO resolution that neglected to mention any connection between Judaism and the Old City of Jerusalem.
The UNESCO resolution, titled “Old City of Jerusalem and Its Walls,” determined that Jewish settlement in any land beyond the 1949 armistice lines – including in the Old City and eastern Jerusalem – was “illegal.”
In his benediction on Friday, Hier said, “Bless all of our allies around the world who share our beliefs, ‘By the rivers of Babylon, we wept as we remembered Zion. … If I forget you O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.’” (Psalm 137)
“I wanted to make sure everyone understood that if we couldn’t successfully divide Vienna, and we couldn’t successfully divide Germany — much larger territories than Jerusalem — how is anyone going to do that in such a small city?” Hier was quoted by the Algemeiner as saying.
He explained that he chose his words carefully as a representative of the entire Jewish faith at the inauguration. “I was a representative of the Jewish community,” he said. “So it was right to remind those viewing all over the world that the Jews have a historical connection to Jerusalem.”
Furthermore, he said, “The Torah was given to the Jewish people. Surely they didn’t want me to quote Shakespeare.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, Hier told Los Angeles radio station KPCC that when the Inaugural Committee contacted him about his participation he said, “It would be my honor to do so.”
He told the Algemeiner last week that he did not see eye-to-eye with the president on all issues but was “rooting for [his] success.”
“Instead of more divisiveness, let’s hope for the best from him,” Hier told the paper. “[Let’s show] respect for the institution of the American presidency and the peaceful transition of power that comes once every four years.”
Trump’s daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism when she married her husband Jared Kushner, and she and Kushner received special rabbinical permission to drive to Capitol Hill for the ceremony despite the fact that it was held on Shabbat.