The positions, arguments, and suppositions are tenuous. Essentially, did President Trump expect Ukrainian President Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption, or did he just want Mr. Zelensky to say he was going to investigate without doing so, and that would be sufficient for the president?
The Republican position on this is that no investigation was ever launched, military aid was sent to the Ukrainians, and that there was no quid pro quo, which means that the aid from the United States was not contingent on the Ukrainian leader doing anything in order to receive the money.
This entire political process seems both aimless and superfluous. The Democrats know that they cannot successfully impeach the president to the point where he is forced to leave office.
While I am in my office during the week I have the hearing playing on a computer screen off to the left. The volume is usually pretty low so as not to interrupt phone calls or conversations we are having in the office.
But then the other day, as the hearing went on fairly late and I was listening and watching as Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was pontificating on one legal matter or another, I was wondering if there is some other purpose this elongated and time-consuming process could possibly have.
Then it occurred that some of the questions and conversations seemed to feature a Talmudic tinge to them. There it was to analyze and think about. The Democratic prosecutors did not need the Ukrainian president to actually investigate Joe and Hunter Biden’s possible corruption. All he required was for Zelensky to announce publicly he would do so and that was sufficient.
On the other side, the Republican advocates for Mr. Trump submitted the same idea but this time in the president’s defense — that is, that there was no quid pro quo investigation or anything resembling it.
There it was, almost right out of Tractate Nedarim when a person vows not to enter his friend’s house under any circumstances. The Gemara explains that the person who made the neder is indeed not allowed to enter the home that is the subject of the vow, but that does not mean that he cannot be in the house so long as he can configure some other way to find himself in the home other than the conventional way of entering through a door or window.
In a more contemporary but historical context there is the matter of the late Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren. In the immediate aftermath of the capture of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Jordanian troops in June 1967, Rabbi Goren was faced with the dilemma of demonstrating Jewish sovereignty over Har HaBayis. Rabbi Goren, however, subscribed to the idea that because of the eternal holiness present in parts of the Mount, it was prohibited for a Jew to enter the holy place, which features an area referred to as the Kodesh HaKedashim, or Holy of Holies, where to this very day there is a palpable Divine presence.
Borrowing a chapter from the above exegesis, Rabbi Goren determined that while it was not permitted to enter Har HaBayis, if he could somehow get there without entering in a conventional manner it would be permitted. As a result, it was a military helicopter that flew the chief rabbi on to the Mount and allowed him to singularly declare Jewish sovereignty without technically violating any longstanding prohibitions against entering that area of Jerusalem.
I tossed around these ideas as I watched day after day of the hearings aimed at the effort to corner President Trump and try to trap him into somehow, even unknowingly or unconsciously, having committed a crime that Congressman Adam Schiff and the other Democrats brimming with hostility for Mr. Trump could determine an impeachable offense.
A great deal of these proceedings so far has dealt with what the legal system refers to as hearsay evidence. This idea is rooted to an extent in the Talmudic discussion of “eidim” or witnesses. In other words, what type of evidence can we accept as valid that is delivered by certain witnesses and under what circumstances is whatever it is that they say accepted as truth.
So far, from what I have been able to observe, the witnesses called before Congress to testify have been unable to effectively directly implicate the president in anything illegal. Some of the narrative they have been communicating is perhaps not the most befitting way for a president to communicate, but, simply stated, that is Mr. Trump’s way. Maybe it’s not so pretty, but it is far from illegal or impeachable.
But that is all politics, all this back-and-forth and whether European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland “presumed” or overheard or had the impression that the president cared about investigating corruption in the Ukraine over assisting that fledgling country. At the end of the day, Ambassador Sondland could not have been an acceptable eid because for the most part he had no undisputed direct knowledge about any of the events he was testifying about.
The Gemara states explicitly on the matter of the mitzvah of blessing a new moon that two witnesses have to observe the new moon in the sky and then report to beit din that they have seen the moon with their very own eyes. If these witnesses heard from two other people that they saw the moon and the two who heard that there was a new moon ran to beit din to report it, their testimony is not valid.
And that in part is what we saw last week. The best shot the Democrats had was a person who was sitting in a restaurant in Kiev when Ambassador Sondland was on his cellphone talking to President Trump. This individual, David Holmes, testified to the intelligence committee that he heard the president confirm to Ambassador Sondland that he — the president — is more concerned about investigating corruption in the Ukraine than what is in the best military interest of the small country that was once part of the Soviet Union.
That kind of testimony might be somewhat politically salacious and the stuff that makes headlines and attracts attention, but it’s just not good or reliable testimony. Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) asked Ambassador Sondland what the president said just before that or just after that. The witness fumbled and said he wasn’t sure, that he had to check his notes. In other words, this was a shaky witness and unreliable testimony.
The effort to save the country from Mr. Trump and the fact that these hearings and the multi-year effort to damage the president has been futile and has had absolutely no redeeming social value leaves us with a question: What is this really all about?
I don’t know if you saw it that way, but if nothing else these hearings have served as a way to stretch our minds to every direction while considering all ideas and possibilities. These silly hearings will end, as will our study of Shas, on New Year’s Day. The striking contrast is that on the very next day after the great siyum HaShas taking place around the world, we will start again, and they will not.