“Go, inquire of Hashem on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Yehuda, concerning the words of this scroll that has been found.” II Kings 22:13 (The Israel Bible™)
In the wake of the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump has brought more religion into his politics, calling for a national day of prayer and attending church in Washington, D.C. and Texas.
Though much of his voter base came from religious Christians, President Trump is not overtly devout, nor is he known to attend church regularly. He went to a church service after his inauguration in January, but did not sit in a pew again until Easter.
Though Torah law is certainly not incumbent upon American presidents, it is interesting to note that kings of Israel were required to take part in religious ceremonies. In particular, kings were commanded to read a section of the Torah in front of the people of Israel once every seven years.
Every seventh year, the year set for remission, at the festival of Sukkot,when all Yisrael comes to appear before Hashem your God in the place that He will choose, you shall read this Teaching aloud in the presence of all Yisrael. Deuteronomy 31:10-11
But President Trump seemed to undergo a shift after Hurricane Harvey, turning to prayer in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in US history. Last Friday, he issued a proclamation for a national day of prayer for those who have suffered from the storm.
“We are deeply grateful for those performing acts of service, and we pray for healing and comfort for those in need,” the president’s proclamation read.
“I call on all Americans and houses of worship throughout the Nation to join in one voice of prayer, as we seek to uplift one another and assist those suffering from the consequences of this terrible storm.”
After the signing of the call to prayer, the president asked Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress to pray for him and the nation. A video showing the pastor praying while other clergymen laid on hands went viral.
True to his word, the president set a personal example for the day of prayer when he and First Lady Melania attended Sunday services at St. John’s Church near the White House. This is the first time the president has visited the Episcopal church, popularly referred to as “the Church of the Presidents,” since taking office.
The crisis generated by Hurricane Harvey seems to have caused the president to open his heart and turn to religion in more ways. When he went to Texas for his second visit the disaster area, he stopped off at a First Church in Pearland. Pastor Ken Gurley described the president as being “compassionate and concerned, extremely engaged, and resonating sincerity” during his visit to the church. While there, the president and first lady engaged in the mitzvah (Torah commandment) of handing out food and emergency supplies to the flood victims.
“It is very important that presidents invoke God’s name and connect to religion,” Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin, head of the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership), a right-wing religious party, and former Knesset member, told Breaking Israel News.
Feiglin noted that Trump’s turning to religion is a positive move, and powerfully American.
“In America, it is not a religious matter, and certainly not an exclusively Christian matter. It is a matter of American culture, the roots of the country, and an essential part of the national identity. It is empowering everyone, no matter what their religion. Even the concept of separation of church and state is in order to strengthen freedom of religion, not to eliminate religion.”
Feiglin gave examples of religious symbols in American systems: swearing in presidents on Bibles and printing “In God We Trust” on the currency.
In contrast to the deadly confrontation between left-wing protesters and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville just one month ago, the crisis in Texas has presented opportunities to join together that transcend politics. Texas Governor Greg Abbott echoed in the president’s call for a day of prayer and said this is a time for Texans and Americans to unite in prayer.
“It doesn’t matter what faith or religion or belief that you have,” Abbott told Fox and Friends. “This is a time for Texans and Americans to unite and pray for thanksgiving for those who have risked their lives. The first responders and volunteers who’ve supported our fellow Texans, but also pray for the victims of this horrific storm. And we want to unite as one state and one nation.”