Thursday, January 29, 2009

More on R' Lookstein and BHO

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 BHO’s (POTUS) Jewish liaison to be a backup for another Orthodox rabbi who was considering going. RHL said he would think about it, and to let him know what was happening. Later that day, he was invited, and accepted.

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 BHO in the election.

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 BHO during the picture-taking, in which he blessed him as one would a king, with shem & malchut, and thanked him for his statement on Sderot, to which BHO reiterated his agreement. They also talked about his name, Barak vs. the Hebrew pronunciation Baruch with a ‘ch’.

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.


The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

> all we small-time bloggers and commenters nipping at his heels mean nothing.

Well speaking as the quintissential small-time blogger, I still have issues with this. For one particular reason: what was Rav Lookstein's main motivation to be there? To perform a kiddush HaShem? We would all like to think so but from various articles on the subject I seemed to have gleaned the following:

1) He had to go because the Conservatives and Reformers were sending representativies and Orthodox had to be represented.
2) All the halachic support around his attendance seems to lean towards that: I had to do it, he seems to be saying, but good news! There's ample proper support for what I did.

And that may be the case, but a standing ovation aside (well what did you think would happen, it's his shul for crying out loud!) I have a different concern:

Some guy in the crowd looks out and saying "Well, isn't that nice. All three 'streams' of Judaism are here today." Whether he wants to or not RHL has just conferred religious legitimacy on non-religious rabbis and lowered Orthodoxy's standing to just one amongst many. And that troubles me.

thanbo said...


That battle was lost long ago. C/R are the dominant streams in America. If anything, RHL reinforced the idea that O is still relevant, not completely rejectionist, on the American scene.

Garnel Ironheart said...

That's all well and good from the "outside" perspective but within the Orthodox community, there is still a dichotomy - either you're observant or you're not. Conservatism is failing in numbers and influence while rapidly morphin into a ritual-heavy version of Reform. Reform has little to no authentic Jewishness left to it other than meaningless slogans like "tikun olam" whose real meanings they ignore anyway.
For the Orthodox, it's not about being relevant or irrelevant, but about being right. For an Orthodox rabbi to stand on that podium means he's just another Jewish rep, and Judaism is just another religion in America. It defies the Torah concept of uniqueness amongst the nations that comes with proper observance of halachah. Is the whole world against that? Have we ever cared before?

Litvak said...

As has been stated elsewhere, it was ironic that this happened right after the passing of Rabbi David B. Hollander z"l.