Bill Clinton Is an Expert in Talmudic Law

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Clinton and Lew. Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

Jacob Lew is an Orthodox Jew. That rhymes, and it's also the background for a story, courtesy of First Read, about Bill Clinton trying to convince Lew to pick up the phone on the Sabbath, during Lew's first stint as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget:

Once, while working in [sic] President Clinton's director, Lew's home phone rang one Saturday. He didn’t answer and a familiar voice could be heard from the answering machine, urging him to pick up the phone. Mr. Clinton said he understood the sanctity of the Sabbath, but that it was important that he talk to Lew. He even said, it was later reported, that "God would understand."

It may appear at first that Clinton was just doing anything to get Lew on the phone, even making uninformed assumptions about God's personal feelings. And if he was wrong, eh, it's just eternal damnation in the eyes of the Lord. But it turns out Clinton was right after all.

Lew later consulted with his rabbi, who said that taking an important phone call from the President of the United States would be permissible on the Sabbath under the Talmudic teaching that work on the Sabbath is allowed in order to save a life.

Discussing the budget is "saving a life" now? That's a slippery slope, rabbi.

Lew didn't answer earthly authority [First Read/MSNBC]