May A Jew Go To An AA Meeting In A Church?

Charlie Hall writes on hirhurim: Every single Jewish recovering alcoholic I have ever met who has asked a shilah on this reports the following response:

1. Yes, go to AA. There is absolutely nothing there unique to Christianity and in fact it follows the teachings of the classic Jewish mussar sources.

2. Yes, go to AA meetings in churches unless the meeting is in the part of the church building that is the *primary* location for the Christian worship services. Even if the AA meeting is in a part of the church that is regularly used for worship but is not the main sanctuary, attendance is permitted.


Fellow RCA Members,

The RCA recently issued a press release critical of my participation at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.  I write to explain why I did participate in this service, even though it was in the National Cathedral, an Episcopalian Church.

First, I am very much in agreement with the RCA’s view, derived from the writings of the Rav zt"l opposing interfaith dialogue and theological compromise.  Indeed, I have been in the rabbinate more than fifty years, and I have never participated in such an event.  I followed these guidelines throughout my tenure as President of the now defunct Synagogue Council of America.

Nevertheless, I felt not only that it was permitted to participate in this event, but proper for someone in the responsible Orthodox rabbinate and, indeed, necessary.

Herewith, my explanation for my colleagues:

This event was not an interfaith dialogue or meeting.  It was an invitation from the new President of the United States — a man of incredible importance to the fate of our holy community in the land of Israel and here — to meet him in prayer.  Many clergy were invited, and I felt that the interests of our Orthodox community would be hurt if no one from our community participated.

The Shulchan Aruch notes in YD 178:2 that a person who needs to be close to the government may wear even the Torah- prohibited garments of a gentile in order to represent the Jewish community well.  The prohibition to enter a church is grounded in the appearance of impropriety, rather than an actual impropriety — indeed, wearing garments of gentiles is a Torah prohibition and this is generally thought to be a rabbinic one.

It is well known that many Chief Rabbis of England have gone into Westminster Abby when summoned there by the King or Queen, and many other great rabbis have done the same to represent our community.  The Chief Rabbis of Israel have engaged in similar activities, and, most recently, the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen was involved in similar activities.  In fact, he attended the funeral of the late Pope, John Paul II.

Rabbi Michael Broyde told me that he was once asked by the Israeli government to represent the government of Israel ON A VERY SERIOUS MATTER at an event in a church during a time of worship.  He spoke to the Tzitz Eliezer about this issue, and the Tzitz Eliezer told him directly that if it was a matter of significant importance to the Israeli government, then he should go wearing his kipa and looking as rabbinic as he could.

Of course, such events are few and far between, and, in most situations, I and other RCA members would never participate in such events.  But, I feel that Orthodox participation in this important national event, and the opportunity to say a few words directly to the President of the United States and begin to develop a relationship with the most powerful man in the world is a chance that our community can ill afford to miss.  Indeed, when I spoke to President Obama, I thanked him for his support of Israel and I urged him to remember the unforgettable statement he made in Sderot, where he said, "If anybody
would shoot rockets into my house while my daughters were sleeping, I would do anything in my power to make sure they wouldn’t do it again".

The President responded with a clear assent.  Maybe this will save a life or two in the future and maybe it will not; but I felt this was not an assignment I could – or should – turn down.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein

LAWRENCE KAPLAN WRITES: Rabbi Lookstein very brief remarks did not consitute a prayer. He did not invoke the name of God. He expressed a wish that the leaders of this government, endowed with a sacred trust, lead the people with wisdom and grace. I think Rabbi Loosktein deliberately chose not to mention God’s name and to make his remarks as religiously tepid and parve as possible precisely because of his awareness of the sensitivity of the situation. Would that Rabbi Herring had been so sensitive. Possibly Rabbi Herring was caught off guard, but that is why organizations hire Excutive Vice-Presidents, so that when they are asked sensitive questions unawares, they can come up with properly innocuous and evasive answers! The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that, whether one agrees with Tabbi Lookstein’s decision or not, Rabbi Hering;s remarks were a public relations disaster for the Orthodox community.

Y. AHARON WRITES: While I am certainly not an expert in halacha or addiction, I am also not a "nogeah bedavar" and neither is anyone in my immediate family. What I know of the 12-step program is what I have heard from R.D. Twerski and from general information such as can be found on Wikipedia (see 12-step program). Contrary to mycroft’s implication, there is no assertion in the program of lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions. In fact, accepting such responsibility and taking corrective actions is a basic part of the program. What is admitted at the outset, however, is that the addict has no self-control over his addiction. He requires outside assistance, GOD and fellow sufferers, to keep the addiction at bay. We, who are not victims of obvious addictions, must reserve judgement over the mental and physical states of those who are addicted.

The point is that the program is not Jesus centered and it appears to have had a good degree of success. It uses the idea of a "generic" benevolent and omnipotent GOD to help carry the continuing burden of the alcoholic. We make similar requests of GOD in our Yom Kippur tefilot, and have voiced the same idea in our classical literature – "Batel retzoncha mipenei Retzono".

While the idea of nullification of will is not something that a "normal" person will readily entertain, the addict is not normal and is in a desperate situation. I fail to see the basis for considering the program to be against some principle in Judaism.


Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a distinguished Orthodox rabbi with fifty years of service to our community, participated in the national interfaith prayer service convened under the auspices of President Barack Obama. We were saddened to read that Rabbi Lookstein was rebuked by the Rabbinical Council of America, of which he is a longtime member and leader. We believe that the RCA’s public criticism of Rabbi Lookstein is an embarrassment for the Orthodox rabbinate and the Orthodox community.

The International Rabbinic Fellowship, a worldwide association of Modern Orthodox rabbis, believes that Rabbi Lookstein deserves the trust and respect of his rabbinic colleagues. Indeed, the IRF stands for the autonomy of rabbis to make responsible decisions without being subjected to ridicule and de-legitimization by an increasingly authoritarian Orthodox rabbinic establishment.

The IRF has confidence that Rabbi Lookstein carefully evaluated the halakhic, ethical and communal issues involved, and that he reached his decision after concluding that his participation was appropriate. The IRF, which offers a model of Orthodox rabbinic leadership that fosters an intellectually vibrant, compassionate, inclusive and open Orthodoxy, respects Rabbi Lookstein’s right to have made this decision.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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