The Rabbinic Council of America chastised one of America’s most prominent rabbis and long-time member, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein for his participation in this week’s inaugural festivities. Lookstein participated in a prayer service held at the Washington National Cathedral during which prayers were offered by clergy of many faiths. But it’s not even clear what he did wrong!
According to RCA Executive Director, Rabbi Basil Herring “The long-standing policy of the Rabbinical Council of America, in accordance with Jewish law, is that participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited.” But, based a later statement in the NY Daily News, the same group claimed that their opposition stemmed from Lookstein’s entry into the church altogether.

In yet another report, Rabbi Herring said that the issue was one of confusion: either that it was not clear that Lookstein was there in a personal capacity, or that there might be “theological confusion” created by Rabbi Lookstein’s participation in the service. Apparently, people are confusing Orthodox rabbis and Episcopal Priests all over Washington now! Give me a break!!
To be fair, there certainly is a line of reasoning in Jewish law which prohibits not only praying with gentile’s, but even entry into a church.

I disagree with that line of thought, but certainly appreciate how it made sense in a time when Christians were murdering Jews about as often as they went to church. I even accept that for some rabbis, that law still holds. But I can not accept the dancing around and avoidance reflected by these many responses to a single issue.
Instead they offered a mixed-up hash of unclear and rather harsh responses to their colleague. What these tortured responses really reflect is the deep discomfort felt by those who still abide by the prohibitions which they accuse Rabbi Lookstein of violating. Were it anything else, the RCA could have simply taken the opportunity to clarify that Rabbi Lookstein participated in the service in a personal capacity because such participation has been a matter of ongoing conversation among rabbis for many centuries.

They needed to chastise one of their own because they know that absent the threat of public withdrawal of support, or threat of punishment, many of their members would probably not worry about participating in such a service. In other words, this was about ecclesial control, which is never a good way to make religious policy.
If religious leaders are uncomfortable with the religious laws they claim to support, it’s time to change the laws. And if such changes can not be made without feeling a loss of faith or integrity, it’s at least time to make room for those who feel they can make them and are ready to do so.
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