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Jan 22, 2009

participating in a church ceremony

(originally posted on DB)

I was in the supermarket this evening and I bumped into a friend. He asked me a question, and I did not have the answer. Something specific about the Obama inauguration irked him, and he was very disturbed by it.

He was disturbed by the fact that Rabbi Lookstein participated in the ceremony, actively participated by giving his blessings, in a church on behalf of Barack Obama yesterday? My friend insisted it is clearly prohibited to do so, and even if there are certain situations in which one can be lenient to go into a church, clearly halacha does not allow it as part of a ceremony, and even worse to participate in the ceremony!

I don't know enough on that topic, so I am not going to voice an opinion. But I will ask the question.

According to my understanding, and it seems the RCA is of the same opinion (as the RCA put out a statement against Rabbi Looksteins actions), Rabbi Lookstein was wrong and it is not allowed. Do you know, or have any suggestion, on what he based his opinion that he was allowed to participate?
I am assuming he was aware of the problem and decided it was permitted. I am sure he did not just flagrantly go against the halacha. he must have had reason to consider it permitted.

Does anybody here have a suggestion why he would have thought so?

Another question - from Barack Obama's point of view, why hold a non-denominational ceremony/service in a church? Why not in a neutral location, such as a conference center of some sort? A church is not non-denominational by any stretch of the definition....


  1. What statement did the RCA put forth? I seemed to have missed that.

  2. I take it back. I just saw the Forward article about it.

    Funny, I'm an RCA member and didn't even notice this happening.

  3. http://jta.org/news/article/2009/01/21/1002407/rca-says-lookstein-violated-its-rules-by-participating-in-national-prayer-service



  4. i'm pretty sure that when there is a royal event such as a wedding/jubilee celebration, in a church, the Chief Rabbi here (head of the central orthodox United Synagogue) either goes or sends a representative. so presumably there is some halachic leniency.

  5. Maybe he wanted to see the Darth Vader Grotesque:

  6. I remember when watching Princess Diana's funeral (the recap on Motzai Shabbos), the commentators made note of Rabbi Sacks standing in the crowd outside the church and that he was not inside the church as it was 'his sabbath' and he had walked in from his home...

    It was quite obvious to me that he was not inside the church bc it was church

  7. 1. any time someone tells me that the halacha is "clearly" one way or another, I already know it's really only their view. There is NO halacha in the world where how we apply it doesn't have a machlokes attached - regardless of how we pasken. keep shabbos, oh yeah, what about tea bags and kli shlishi? what about eruv. etc.... NOTHING is clear cut.

    This ignores the simple fact of kiddush hashem and more so - possibly chillul hashem if one refuses to appear because of "religious " reasons.

  8. Also,

    A church is a building. When that building is not being used for church services and is used for anouther purpose, esp when it is a ceremony involving a new president, there are more than enough reasons for someone to attend.

    The ceremony was ecumenical, meaning non-denominational. There were christians, muslims, jews etc all offering their own benediction for the prez.

  9. Why not contact him directly and ask. Assumedly he knew he would take flack and had a well thought out response?
    Joel Rich

  10. I will say that I have been told, offline, that at least one other prominent rabbi was approached by the Obama people about participating in the service. He refused, and then they went to Rabbi Lookstein.

    I got that info from a relative of the originally approached rabbi who asked him directly about it.

    And there was no chilul hashem caused by his refusal. (though you could say there was no chilul hashem because a different rabbi averted it by saying yes...)

  11. The Way: For that line of reasoning to apply, we'd have to see that it is indeed a consideration in halacha. I believe the halachic position of a building's status is exactly the opposite, as evidenced in the sources.

    Personally, I don't enter churches. OTOH, I've never been asked to be part of a state ceremony. Sources in England recently pointed out two things: After the Pan Am Lockerbie murders, Rav Jakobovits (sp?) did enter the church there during the memorial service. And the present Chief Rabbi's office confirms that Rav Sacks will enter Westminster Chapel for a state affair when directly invited by the Queen's office. He does not say any prayers, nor does he sit on the dais. He passively sits in a pew to show the Jewish community's support.

    Lastly, the RCA did not censure Rav Lookstein; they only stated in response to a media query that his choice was not according to RCA policy.


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