I just received the sermon, more of a report, Rabbi Lookstein (RHL) gave last Shabbat at his shul. In it he further explicates his decision-making process, and some of the fallout. Since I haven't asked permission to repost, I'll summarize, but in the spirit of apei tlata (or in this case, apei tmanei meiot), high public interest and public defense of a TC (therefore a to'elet), it seems sufficiently public information to post. Ah, this sermon is already out there - this week's Jewish Press quotes it.
About 10 January, R’ Lookstein was invited by
As of 15 January, JTA and other outlets knew that RHL would be speaking at the National Prayer Service, according to some googling.
Monday, 19 January, Rabbi Herring (RBH) called RHL, saying that another rabbi had called him in a tizzy, claiming to have been invited, and when he declined, that RHL had accepted, and why was RHL being allowed to represent Orthodoxy? It turned out that the whistleblower was a third party, who had not actually been asked (RHL investigated). RBH noted his opposition based on the issur of entering a church, and RYBS’ opposition to interfaith services, and suggested RHL consult a posek first, because, he intimated, the RCA might impose disciplinary action.
RHL consulted an Orthodox person who often represents the Jewish community in government, who said that he himself had recommended RHL for this, on the grounds that it would look bad for a Conservative and Reform Rabbi to do this, with nobody from the Orthodox, especially since the Orthodox didn’t particularly support
RHL also considered his great-grandfather’s precedent – the RaMaZ, then the doyen of American Orthodox rabbis, attended the funeral of Louis Marshall, sitting front and center in the Reform Temple Emanu-El, which would have contravened the RaMaZ’s successor (as rav of Boston) RYBS on going to heterodox synagogues.
21 January, RBH calls back just before an RCA Executive Committee meeting, RHL notes that he consulted with somebody, and explained why he went through with it, and it seemed RBH had accepted that.
RHL talks about the beauty of the service, the setting and the decorum.
RHL was allowed a few words with
After the RCA issued its statement, the JTA called RHL for an interview, in which he said the things already reported. According to the Jewish Press, the RCA's press person said this wasn't a real press release, just a statement of policy about attending church services, not addressing anyone by name.
By 22 January, he had hundreds of emails supporting his action, including one from R’ Broyde (who is not a lefty-Chovevei-type as some would portray him – he founded a Young Israel, and heads one of the most respected permanent batei din) noting the Shulchan Aruch on violating goyish clothing for important governmental interaction; R’ Broyde’s own psak from the Tzitz Eliezer on representing Israel at a church service; and that R’ Shear Yashuv Cohen the chief rabbi of Haifa had attended the funeral of Pope JP2.
However, he bemoans the fallout of the RCA’s public opposition – it highlights a halacha that we really don’t need the whole world knowing about. E.g., the doorguard of the Middle School asked RHL “so why can’t you go into churches?” It makes the Orthodox look bad in the eyes of the non-Jews.
My conclusion? There is precedent, and RHL, far from being censured by the public, should be celebrated for having has Daas Torah [instinctive Torah response arising from one's lifelong immersion in Torah, as defined by R' Simcha Weinberg] match that of those considered greater than him. Further, his own community validated the decision, all 800 congregants giving him a standing ovation on Shabbos. The RCA does seem to have considered its position as a group, not just as an off-the-cuff remark from Rabbi Herring. Other rabbonim and precedents support him. So there's room for disagreement. However, all we small-time bloggers and commenters nipping at his heels mean nothing.