Senate staffer writes on U.S. law by day, Jewish law by night

By David Gutman

Capital News Service

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The editor proposed that the entry, along with all of Dauster's entries on the parashot, be deleted as redundant, because they were too similar to other Wikipedia entries on the Bible and other religious texts.

The weeklong discussion that followed was argumentative, tedious and filled with coded vernacular familiar to only a small subculture of Wikipedia editors. What stands out, however, are the high praises for Dauster's work from average, anonymous Wikipedia users with no history of editing articles.

"This article and those on the other Torah portions represent the best of modern thinking applied to historic scholarship, encouraging us to question, reexamine and study further. I have used them for Torah study here in the middle of nowhere because they do not push a particular agenda. I think this is a work of exceptional scholarship," one anonymous user wrote.

"As a Christian, I find the articles on the Weekly Torah Portions very helpful in understanding and appreciating Judaism," wrote another.

Ultimately all the articles survived, and although it wasn't the decisive factor, commenters were 26-3 in favor of keeping the articles.

While they're obviously quite different undertakings, the same blunt, straightforward prose flows through Dauster's policy books and his writings on Torah. And, beneath the surface, there are similar themes of law, discussion and prudence.

"The law governing the budget process resembles nothing so much as sediment. It has accumulated in several statutes, each layered upon the prior one," reads the wry introduction to Budget Process Law Annotated.

In his analysis of Bo, the parsha concerning the last three plagues on Egypt and the first Passover, Dauster wrote, "Rabban Gamaliel once reclined at a Passover seder at the house of Boethus ben Zeno in Lud, and they discussed the laws of the Passover all night until the cock crowed. Then they raised the table, stretched, and went to the house of study."

Dauster said that the subtle similarities between his Senate work and Torah study make him better at his day job.

Studying the Torah, "Allows me to study law in a removed environment," Dauster said. "It allows me to do it in a more recreational way that has less pressure and is intellectually diverting to me. As the Sabbath allows us to sort of recharge our batteries, doing this analysis of the Talmud and the Torah allows me to recharge my way of thinking about how the law works."

Every Friday afternoon, Dauster goes to a Congressional Torah study group, organized by Jones, in the offices of Sen. DeMint.

Shmuel Herzfeld, the rabbi at Ohev Shalom-The National Synagogue, often leads the Friday afternoon Torah study sessions.

"He'll nudge me," Dauster said of Herzfeld, "and say, 'Well, is this in your article yet?'"

Herzfeld played down his input.

"Once in a while I'll make a suggestion," Herzfeld said. "But he's really so terrific, he's a master of gathering a lot of information. He's really good and thorough."

Despite their bosses' vast political differences (Reid is leader of the Senate Democrats, and DeMint represents the far right of Senate Republicans), Dauster and Jones are good friends.

"There's not a lot of 'I'm a Republican, he's a Democrat' type of thing," Jones said. "We sometimes have different perspectives on things, but I don't think that's partisan or anything like that, just different people have different perspectives on parts of scripture. Bill's great. He really reflects all that's good about the institution up here. He's a good guy and he gives a lot to the Senate and to folks studying Torah."

© Capital News Service; Dist. by MCT Information Services

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere