Impeachment Trial Will Infringe on Sabbath

by Melissa B. Robinson

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's no fun to work on the weekend, especially when your job is to sit in silence, listening to lawyers argue for removing the president from office.

But for Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the Senate's only Orthodox Jew, this weekend's task is complicated further by the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday.

"It's obviously not going to be the kind of Sabbath I normally like to spend, but I think we can, you know, work it out," said Lieberman, who won't answer the phone, ride in an elevator or turn on a light during the Sabbath observance.

Yet, Lieberman says his responsibility as a juror in President Clinton's impeachment trial comes before his personal preferences, even in matters of religion.

"In this case, the continuing pursuit of justice takes precedent, and therefore, without any hesitation, I'll be there," Lieberman told reporters this week.

House prosecutors began arguing their case against Clinton on Thursday. Their presentation is to last three days, after which the Senate is to recess until Tuesday. At that point, Clinton's lawyers are to open their arguments.

For observant Jews, the Sabbath generally means attending services at a temple and spending time with family. The use of mechanical and technological devices -- even toasters and pencils -- is shunned, and work is to be avoided.

When he must work on the Sabbath, something that happened less than two dozen times in his 10 years in the Senate, Lieberman makes allowances.

Sometimes, he takes a hotel room on Capitol Hill; but he's also been known to walk from his home, several miles away, sometimes accompanied by a Capitol police officer for security. At work, he takes the stairs. He won't write, but he'll vote by voice.

"I've found it possible to go and not violate any of the particular prohibitions that I accept on myself on the Sabbath," he said.

The impeachment trial, actually, could prove more accommodating than other sessions. Senators are required to sit silently throughout the proceedings. They've been asked to turn off all beepers and cellular telephones.

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