JTA: Orthodox Rabbi Basil Herring Roiled Over Haskel Lookstein Inaugural Church Prayer

New York Orthodox rabbi stabs his colleague in the back. How sad.

Rabbi Basil Herring has claimed in a newspaper interview that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein violated an unnamed rabbinic rule by entering a church and reciting a prayer to honor the inauguration of our 44th president.

We say that it is praiseworthy that Lookstein, a world renowned Orthodox rabbinic leader, was invited to participate in this event and laudable that he accepted and represented our community.

We recognize that a deeply-rooted historically-based reluctance exists within Orthodoxy to permit a Jew to participate in a Christian church service.

However there is an equally pervasive tradition in Orthodox rulings that encourages unfettered respect for a national leader, especially in a situation like this, the celebration of the inauguration of a new president.

We are certain that the learned Rabbi Lookstein weighed carefully the context and circumstances of his participation and deemed it permissible, and perhaps even obligitory, that he represent our community in the church event.

Rabbi Herring is way off base in his public criticism. Perhaps motivated by personal jealousy or perhaps driven by misplaced zealousness, Herring had no basis for using his office in the RCA to lash out in this unwarranted criticism of his colleague.

When asked about this by the press, if he could not endorse his colleague's participation, Rabbi Herring should have respectfully replied, "No Comment."
Orthodox group: Rabbi violated rules by joining National Prayer Service
By Jacob Berkman

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The main Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says a prominent member violated its rules by participating in the National Prayer Service.

A Rabbinical Council of America official told JTA that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the religious leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, broke the organization's rules by participating in the service Wednesday at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama's inauguration.

“The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited," the RCA said in a statement. "Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity."

The RCA said that Lookstein’s participation was problematic both because the service was held in the sanctuary of a church, which Orthodox Jews are prohibited from entering, and because it was an interfaith prayer service, which the RCA discourages for fear that such participation could allow missionaries to legitimize their argument that Jews can indeed embrace Jesus... more


Tzvee Zahavy said...

Rabbi Lookstein explains (posted by Dov Bear and Life in Israel):

The following is Rabbi Lookstein's response to why he participated in the service in the church as part of President Obama's inauguration. Rabbi Lookstein sent this email to his colleagues at the RCA in order to explain his actions.

Fellow RCA Members,

The RCA recently issued a press release critical of my participation at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama's inauguration. I write to explain why I did participate in this service, even though it was in the National Cathedral, an Episcopalian Church.

First, I am very much in agreement with the RCA's view, derived from the writings of the Rav zt"l opposing interfaith dialogue and theological compromise. Indeed, I have been in the rabbinate more than fifty years, and I have never participated in such an event. I followed these guidelines throughout my tenure as President of the now defunct Synagogue Council of America.

Nevertheless, I felt not only that it was permitted to participate in this event, but proper for someone in the responsible Orthodox rabbinate and, indeed, necessary.

Herewith, my explanation for my colleagues:

This event was not an interfaith dialogue or meeting. It was an invitation from the new President of the United States -- a man of incredible importance to the fate of our holy community in the land of Israel and here -- to meet him in prayer. Many clergy were invited, and I felt that the interests of our Orthodox community would be hurt if no one from our community participated.

The Shulchan Aruch notes in YD 178:2 that a person who needs to be close to the government may wear even the Torah- prohibited garments of a gentile in order to represent the Jewish community well. The prohibition to enter a church is grounded in the appearance of impropriety, rather than an actual impropriety -- indeed, wearing garments of gentiles is a Torah prohibition and this is generally thought to be a rabbinic one.

It is well known that many Chief Rabbis of England have gone into Westminster Abby when summoned there by the King or Queen, and many other great rabbis have done the same to represent our community. The Chief Rabbis of Israel have engaged in similar activities, and, most recently, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen was involved in similar activities. In fact, he attended the funeral of the late Pope, John Paul II.

Rabbi Michael Broyde told me that he was once asked by the Israeli government to represent the government of Israel ON A VERY SERIOUS MATTER at an event in a church during a time of worship. He spoke to the Tzitz Eliezer about this issue, and the Tzitz Eliezer told him directly that if it was a matter of significant importance to the Israeli government, then he should go wearing his kipa and looking as rabbinic as he could.

Of course, such events are few and far between, and, in most situations, I and other RCA members would never participate in such events. But, I feel that Orthodox participation in this important national event, and the opportunity to say a few words directly to the President of the United States and begin to develop a relationship with the most powerful man in the world is a chance that our community can ill afford to miss. Indeed, when I spoke to President Obama, I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, "If anybody would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again".

The President responded with a clear assent. Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein

Anonymous said...

It is truly a shame that so many people are narrow-minded and fail to note the sepcial opportunity afforded to Rabbi Lookstein,i.e. the day after President Obama was inaugurated, Rabbi Lookstein was able to personally give him a blessing and to put in a friendly reminder about Sderot. What a golden opportunity. I saw the video of the ceremony, and I would not characterize it as Christian per se, but as more across the board. Unfortunately, we, including the groisser knackers are all in Galut, and this is a price we all pay!