January 22, 2009
Rabbi Under Fire for Attending Inaugural Prayer Service
An Orthodox rabbi broke Jewish law by participating in an interfaith prayer service on Wednesday (Jan. 21) at Washington National Cathedral, according to the Rabbinical Council of America.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who leads Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, was one of three rabbis who participated in the National Prayer Service. The others were from Judaism's Conservative and Reform branches.
Lookstein recited a nondenominational prayer during Wednesday's service.
"The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America," the RCA said in a statement, "in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited."
Rabbi Basil Herring, RCA's executive vice president, said he does not expect Lookstein to be punished for his role in the service. "We simply wanted to make the point that he was not going there on behalf of the rabbinical council, and that whatever he did, he did in his own capacity."
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union's Washington office, one of the largest Orthodox umbrella groups in the U.S., said he also attended the service in his "personal capacity."
Asked whether Jewish law prohibits Jews from visiting Christian churches, Diament said, "I'm not a rabbi." Diament also said that he attended Harvard Law School with President Obama and is friendly with the new chief executive.
Lookstein told the Jewish news service JTA that "after consultation with people who are absolutely committed to halacha (Jewish law), I ... decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States."
"Had I pulled out, it would have been something of an insult from the Orthodox community," Lookstein said.
Herring said the criticism of Lookstein was not politically motivated, and noted that the RCA praised Obama's "qualities of mind and leadership" and called his election a "cause for joy."