On Friday afternoons observant Jew face a different deadline than their gentile colleagues, they need to be home with their families before sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath. It’s not just a matter of being home for the holiday, we Jews believe that just as God rested after six days of creation, on the seventh day of each week, Jews are commanded not to work or do 39 other activities which relate to “creating.”
Democrats in the NY State Senate tried to take advantage of the Jewish Sabbath, by delaying a vote on an abortion-rights amendment till the Jewish Sabbath so Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, an Orthodox Jew and fellow Democrat, wouldn’t be able to vote. But they didn’t count on Felder getting advice from his Rabbi.
The controversial June 28 deliberations put Felder in a quandary. If he left Albany to observe Shabbat, the abortion proposal had a chance of passing. But if he stayed, he would be violating religious observance.
“The Democrats were counting votes. They were waiting for Simcha to leave. They thought they were going to get away with that,” said Deputy Senate GOP leader Tom Libous.
“I told Simcha, ‘They’re waiting for you to leave.’ They didn’t care. It was extremely insensitive,” Libous added.
Felder agreed it was wrong to have a conscience issue like abortion brought up on or just before a religious observance.
“I was told that they [the Democrats] were waiting for me to leave,” Felder said. “I was pretty dumbfounded why the vote couldn’t take place a day or two before the Sabbath.”
Felder, though a Democrat, is a social conservative who caucuses with the Republicans.
With the abortion issue not coming up for a vote by mid-afternoon that Friday, he consulted with a rabbi on how to proceed.
“I was told because abortion is an issue of life and death, I was compelled to stay and cast a vote,” Felder recalled.
When Felder didn’t leave, Sen. Jeff Klein, head of the four-member Independent Democratic Caucus, finally brought the amendment up for a vote at 4:50 p.m.
Felder voted no, and the bill failed to garner the 32 votes needed to pass. Felder then raced to get home before sundown.
The problem for the Senate Democrats who delayed the vote is there are very few acceptable reasons to violate the Sabbath saving a life, or in this case thousands of lives is one of them.