Judaism Inspires Leadership: Joseph Lieberman’s Inaugural Lecture

By: Shayna Darling  |  November 13, 2014

Joseph "Joe" Lieberman, a former United States Senator from ConnecticutLook around the halls of Stern, YC, and Syms, and you’ll see future doctors, teachers, therapists, and accountants, among others. But there is one highly impacting career path that often does not manifest itself in the college classroom, nor is it accompanied by a specific major: the path of public service and leadership.

On October 28th, in a talk entitled “Judaism and Public Service,” former Senator Joseph Lieberman addressed the Yeshiva University community for the first time as the Joseph Lieberman Chair in Public Policy and Public Service. Funded by benefactors Ira and Ingebort Rennert, the public policy program was created to provide students with the tools to embrace careers in public life while also ensuring an Orthodox lifestyle.

After meaningful remarks by President Richard Joel on the importance of humility in leadership, Lieberman discussed a variety of topics related to leadership. Lieberman’s main talking points included his own path to political leadership, how the Torah and Jewish leaders throughout history have served as models of successful and inspiring leaders, and the need for a public service chair at Yeshiva University.

With forty years of experience in public service, notably marked by his run for Vice President in 2000 with presidential candidate Al Gore, the former Connecticut Senator had many thoughts on what led him to his role in leadership. He described the influence of role models, like former Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, and identified the most important guiding factor for his career to be the lessons and values of Judaism, “Judaism hauled me into public service.”

Lieberman reiterated that he did not feel that being observant interfered with his career path; rather, it brought him the respect of others for committing to a personal set of values. Lieberman cited biblical leaders as the true models of the ideal Jewish leader: Avraham, who left the safety of his family to stand up for the path of G-d; Moses, who knew that making a difference in the world was a balancing act of prayer and action; and Jonah, who taught us that when G-d wants us to lead, we cannot run away from that responsibility.

Both President Joel and the former Senator emphasized that there is a great need today for the public policy chair, particularly at Yeshiva University. Lieberman pointed out that the U.S. Orthodox Jewish population is growing very quickly, and will require leaders who can best represent the distinct needs of our community within an evolving society. He posited that Yeshiva University “is the very best place for such a chair to be created” because YU students are educated involved in public service, and are from communities that value involvement in public life. In Lieberman’s view, we are the next generation of strong Jewish leaders, with the task of “[making] G-d’s work our own.”

Lieberman concluded by answering questions from the audience ranging from how he balanced being an observant Jew and a politician, the influences on his decision-making process, and who he thought would win the Senate seats in the midterm elections on November 4th (which he correctly predicted).

“Judaism and Public Service” was the first of three public lectures that Lieberman will be giving during the 2014-2015 school year. His next lecture, according to YUNews, will be on Tuesday November 18th at the Cardozo School of Law, on the topic of “The Emerging Law of Cybersecurity.” Lieberman will also be teaching an undergraduate course this coming spring semester on the Wilf Campus.