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January 25, 2009

Rabbi Lookstein Responds To The RCA

After reading Rabbi Lookstein's letter, it is clear…

…Rabbi Lookstein has ample halakhic sources to support his decision to appear at the National Prayer Service during President Obama's inauguration:

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

Previous Post.

[Hat Tips: DovBear and RafiG.]


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Oh wonderful, we now have the "great expert" on halacha, Shmarya Rosenberg, throwing his "weight" behind Haskell!

"The prohibition to enter a church is grounded in the appearance of impropriety, rather than an actual impropriety"

If Lookstein is not mistaken, this is at the very least an argument among authorities.

"Rabbi Michael Broyde told me"

I'd love to know if there's indepedent confirmation of this conversation as Broyde, from the extreme Left-wing YCT crowd, has been known to twist halacha around before.

It's possible that Lookstein does have a reliable heter but it's fair to be suspecious of these characters until we know for sure.

That's right Archie, no one can know halacha unless he wears a black hat and sports a full beard. Keep it up. Let's elect a Jewish Pope who will speak ex-Cathedra and whatever he says goes. All the rest of us can park our brains and just obey.

why does everyone feel that unless they are the one to speak to the the president it will never get done....and they use this excuse to ignore halacha...the president has enough people who have the "jewish interests" at heart who has his ear...we have lobbyists,friends in both houses, and even a chief of staff...since when do we supercede halacha when we feel we are the only answer knowing full well that is not the case...do i dare say this may be an ego thing?....and by the way-check out yesterday's haftorah-kind of ironic that it talks about not worrying about "clinging on " to so called powerful people ...i may not be the frumest in the bunch-far from it- but Rabbi Lookstein-give me a break

Sorry but it's got nothing to do with type of dress but rather adherence to halacha.

Basil Herring is not exactly your bearded black hat type of guy and he has a problem with it too.

I knew there would be a backlash at my comment because people don't like un-halachic decisions by the like of Lookstein & Broyde to be challenged.

Leib Tropper & others have big beards & black hats and also distort halacha.

Archibald, as usual, makes a good point. He, I, and others criticize the right when appropriate. We don't give the Charedim a pass either. It is unfair to make statements that only those in big beards and black hats are to be listened to. Moreover, Harav Soloveitchik was not a black hatter, and didn't have a big beard. I would like to see Rabbi Lookstein cite approval from Harav Aharon Lichtenstein, Shlita. That would give him more of a leg to stand on. Broyde I'm not crazy about. I am associated with a party who had a din torah with Rabbi Broyde, and our side came out favorably in the ruling. Nevertheless, he is not one in whom I have much confidence. Please note I was not involved in the preparation for, or the hearing itself, the other side chose Rabbi Broyde, and our group agreed to it. By the way Harav Lichtenstein is a gadol b'Yisroel and does not sport a beard or a black hat to my knowledge.

Rav Lichtenstein shlita is also a PhD in literature from Harvard who wrote his dissertation on Milton's Paradise Lost.

As a leftie traditional of the kind Archie loves to hate, I agree with Haskell. (Note; politically speaking, I'm not left, and Archie and I don't hate each other- I was just using rhetoric).

But given all the uproar, Haskell should have Looked-steined before he Leapt-steined.

Connecting Rabbi Broyde to YCT is just stupid. Everyone knows that Broyde published this vicious criticism of YCT. YCT hates him. see


Rav Goldvicht from the Hesder camp is a huge talmid chacham and the most right wing yeshivish crowd learns his sforim.

I have to leave now for a while but I would like to check out Gil Student's piece later.

I connected Broyde to YCT because of the kollel he runs in connection with them. In any case I wonder if Gil had any hand in getting Broyde to downplay any connection because it's bad for Gil.

Sometimes you have to make a decision because you think that it is the right decision, regardless of who disagrees. I was once asked to get an Orthodox thinker to debate a representative of Jews For Jesus (Vegetarians who love meat) on Radio. Every one that I reached refused for halachic reasons and I was too young to do it myself. End of story the radio station had the debate and Judaism was represented by a reconstructionists. So the J for J's cited the Bible and the Reconstructionists said the Bible is just a story book, a book of fables. Not exactly a victory for our side.

--Oh wonderful, we now have the "great expert" on halacha, Shmarya Rosenberg, throwing his "weight" behind Haskell!--

Why should you care? You're Reform.

It's all Talmudic Rabbi schtick.

Torah doesn't forbid this in the first place, there was never a case where Rabbi Lookstein was in question of "aver avoda zorah" which is the bottom line.

Next to show up out of respect of the government we Jews live in and need is simple common sense.

"After reading Rabbi Lookstein's letter, it is clear"

After reading Shmarya's post it is clear that Shmarya wouldn't recognize the halakhic considerations relating to this issue if they jumped out and kicked him in the butt.

"Rabbi Lookstein has ample halakhic sources to support his decision to appear at the National Prayer Service during President Obama's inauguration:"

The proper statement is that there may be halakhic sources - "ample" is a huge overstatement. Furthermore, Rabbi Lookstein did not address the key concern with his actions. And that is not whether one may walk into a church, but whether one may actively participate in a prayer service in a church. Now Rabbi Lookstein will site to the fact that the prayer was designed to be non-denominational. Perhaps that is a valid excuse or perhaps it isn't, but none of the sources cited address that issue.

There is no connection between Rabbi Broyde's Kollel in Atlanta and YCT except that there is a YCT member learning in it.

Hey, where was Rabbi ShemTov? Isn't he the Disraeli & posek of DC? If HE didn't show up the church then there may a shailoh.

He did the right thing. This was not a Protestant worship service, complete with all the attending religious symbols, liturgy, music, religious sermons and preaching (right?), it was a non-denominational get-together of various faiths in honor of the newly-elected President. Yes, it was in a church, but if Chief Rabbis in England go into Westminster Abbey when summoned, how is this any different?

"There is no connection between Rabbi Broyde's Kollel in Atlanta and YCT except that there is a YCT member learning in it."

Oh please. The YCT "member" is the director of a kollel founded by Broyde and located in Broyde's shul and who was brought there by Broyde who is a frequent speaker at YCT.

I also seem to remember both Broyde & perhaps even Gil Student making it sound like there was more of a connection until it emerged that it might be bad for Gil's business & standing in the more orthodox world. Broyde also knows he has to tread carefully or his top position at the RCA will be in peril.

Archie, it seems to me that he is Rabbi Broyde, at least. Not "Broyde". Your iconoclastic tendencies (kovod hatorah) often leave something to be desired.

If you have an issue with some of Rabbi Broyde's written word, kindly enlighten us, but not in this blog. This blog isn't a good place for such.

Another reason I will never be Orthodox, no matter how observant I may become. Not go to the funeral of an old and dear family friend? Not attend the wedding of a co-worker? Why? No one is trying to convert me. No one expects me to kneel or take communion. Perhaps these people are not powerful, but they are influential for good in my life.
The appearance of impropriety applies when there are not personal ties between Jew and gentile - the world the talmudists lived in. When I attend church it is not for interfaith dialogue, it is a courtesy to the people who have invited me to share their sorrow or joy as I include them in mine.

invisible hand, it's sad that you feel that way. I find it hard to believe that no one hasn't at least tried to subtly influence you. It's happened to me & several people I know who have not even been inside a church.

And you are wrong about "appearance of impropriety". It's precisely because secular Jews get to cozy with other religions followers that there is such a high rate of intermarriage. Your state of denial doesn't help much either.

Isaac, an iconoclast is a sacred image.

Is Broyde really such a paragon of kedusha when his wife does not cover her hair & he performs improper conversions?

Is Broyde really such a paragon of kedusha when his wife does not cover her hair…

So now all followers of Rabbi JB Soleveitchik who follow his pesak din are no longer rabbis?

Bunker the Sick, Bunker the Low…

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik was a giant in learning who probably did not have the ability to influence his wife. Yes he may have found some flimsy heter but look where it leads where his own students do not uphold his values on interfaith & improper conversions and YCT. These are the words of a rabbi just as great as him before the formation of YCT.

And the insults from Shmarya? High praise considering the source.

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik was a giant in learning who probably did not have the ability to influence his wife.


He ruled that way for dozens of his talmidim – talmidim who would have accepted a stricter ruling.

Whether or not he ruled that way because of his own wife, he was criticized by one of the rabbis of pre-war Germany, for not only being on thin ice, halachically speaking, but because of where such a psak leads with overall lowering of standards.

Just take a look at his students at YCT today and no further proof is needed that those words were prophetic.

Now get ready for a dogged defense of YCT from Shmarya since he correctly views it as weakening orthodoxy, not strengthening it.

Just take a look at his students at YCT today and no further proof is needed that those words were prophetic.

And what about the far greater number of his students at YU and at Israeli yeshivot?

Oh! I know! Bunker can't make a logical argument! All he can do is smear.

Archie: FYI< An icon (sometimes spelt ikon) is a religious image. An iconoclast is someone who breaks the images. In church speak, it means someone who doesn't believe in using images as a violation of the 10 commandments.

Orthodox christians use painted icons, and not statues; vice-versa Catholics.

I know the difference between icon & -clast. In my haste this morning I wrote rather sloppily.

"what about the far greater number of his students at YU"

Some of those follow in his footsteps to a tee. Some are more lax and some do not cave to use the uncovered hair leniency.

And who gives you a right to lecture what constitutes a smear, considering that's what you do day & night in your thermal underwear?

ironically, a very high percentage of the wives of YCT students and alumni cover their hair (some rely on the many poskim who permit a partial covering, or only covering the top of the head, but covered nonetheless.) Whether it is a higher percentage than RIETS graduates I'm not sure. Also, to my knowledge, the wives of all of the Rav's students at YCT indeed cover their hair (Rabbi Weiss, Rabbi Berman, Rabbi Helfgot).

Who needs to pray for the coming of the Messiah for the return of a legitimate Sanhedrin.. we have the RCA... an organization that does not take action against rabanim who seek the return of passports to individuals (Pillars of the community) indicted of attempted murder, an organization that includes individuals (no Rabannim) who have cashed checks from synagogues that were not rightfully theirs, an organization that did not see fit to take action against the OU for its part in the Rubashkin fiasco and the illegitimate defense of a pedophile, but seems to think that the attendance of a Rabbi to a national event because it happens to be in a Church is something to quote halacha about. God help us.... Judaism has gone to the crapper ! Thank you RCA for telling the rest of us what's appropriate and what's not. Please, do all you can to keep us in a mental ghetto now that we’ve made our way out of the physical ghettos of old Europe.

ONE QUICK QUESITON FOR THE RCA LEADERSHIP: How much money do I need to give to receive a "get out of jail free pass" ? I hear they're not even that expensive.

Archie: "It's precisely because secular Jews get to cozy with other religions followers that there is such a high rate of intermarriage"

You say this as if "cozying up" is something new ! Ever seean Indiam jew ? They look like they are from India... nearly all of them. Ever see a jew from an Middle Eastern country or a North african country ? they look like they are locals.. unless you knw of another way for this to happen, it happens via inter-marrage. The only reson we can identify these individuals as Jews is because their great grandama or grandpa got their way and the individual of another people joined us... for everyone that joined us, there were one or more that went the other way. This is nothing new.. go back to the time of the greeks, the Romans and others and you will see the same thing. Sorry Archie.. people are people... and people will intermingle.. I for one am just happy when the others among us will accept us rather than kill us :)

Way back when there were two opposing Torah giants who agreed to disagree with each other. Despite some wrangling amongst their students in later times, there was always peace between them. Their names were Hillel and Shammai.

For some reason we all seem to forget that there can be legitimate disagreements within Torah. Oddly, at least in the times of the Mishna, we followed the more lenient opinion in all but a handful of cases.

There is also the story of another Rabbi--perhaps not such a Gadol because he never donned a black hat--who engaged in open and public dialogue with non-Jew about Jewish and Christian matters. In the end he won and published the debate. I guess the Ramban might have risked censure from the RCA, but they still all read his books and follow many of his halachic decisions. Go figure. He certainly knew the dangers of such a dialogue but still took the risk for the Jewish community. (My understanding is that the Ramban eventually settled in Israel and despite his "cozying up" to non-Jews never married out.

It's easy to take a hard line on all issues. It is easy to say no. It's easy to make light of historical precedents. You can agree or disagree with Rabbi Lookstein, but he does have his own svara. He most certainly came to his point of view through his understanding of Halacha. You may disagree with his conclusion, but it doesn't mean that he doesn't have a valid point of view.

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