Rabbi Michael Broyde On Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s Appearance In A Church For The President’s Inauguration

Rabbi Michael Broyde writes:

Thus a Jew may join the government service and wear gentile clothes every day — day in and day out for decades violating a Torah prohibition! — so that when the day comes that he can save God’s chosen people, he is in the right place at the right time and wearing the right clothes. That is mutar. Shulchan Aruch YD 178:2 quotes this halacha directly, as well and as far as I know, no one significant argues with this formulation. (Taz and Levush do limit it to sins that are not explicit in the Torah (to exclude, for example, eating treif) but going into a church fits into the former category as well.)

That rationale, I am sure, explains why many a Chief Rabbi has attended events in churches (which is what Westminster Abbey is) and why Rav Shear Yashuv Cohen was sent to the funeral of the Pope (which is a Catholic mass). History is full of such cases.

As Rabbi Lookstein notes, I was once approached by the Israeli Government to do something that it thought was very important to do that involved going into a church during worship. When I was first approached, I said to the person who approached me "this cannot be so important, and I think it is a big sin. If it is really that important, have a member of the Israeli Cabinet call me and talk to me". A day and a half later, I am speaking to a religious Israeli cabinet member about why this is really important. When he finished speaking, he told me that he would go with me to the Tzitz Eliezer [zt"l] who was very old already. I took him up on that offer, and the Tzitz Eliezer listened to the minister, listened to me speak for a few minutes on why I thought this was assur, and then he told me very directly and clearly that I should do what the government asked me to do. (The story has an ironic conclusion, but it is not for now.)

Joel Rich writes: "Who did R’HL speak to about the issue (I don’t mean that he had to ask a shailah but rather given the murkiness of the issue, which guides by the side did he bounce the issue off of?)"

David Gold writes: "This is the kind of torah discussion that we ought to have. I heard Rabbi Broyde lecture once a few years ago in the Young Israel of Woodmere, and I found him to be extremely impressive as a speaker. Someone in the Young Israel there told me that his reputation as the most learned guy around was well know when he was 16 and giving shiur there."

Anon posts: One critical question that has not been answered is who at the RCA made the decision to issue the statement against Rabbi Lookstein. I doubt that it was Rabbi Herring alone but I also doubt that there were more than a few people involved. This is important because, aside from this case, there seems to be a small group of people at the RCA who have been making very strange decisions lately that are certainly at odds with the views of most of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinate. For example, the rumor is that the RCA is trying to reverse its longstanding position in favor of declaring brain death as death. Perhaps even more disconcerting is the decision to put on their Vaad Haposkim a Rabbi who famously publicly humiliated the Rav ztl and who publicly and privately tells people that they can ignore the parts of Choshen Mishpat that address one’s ethical obligations towards the government and gentiles. (I know for a fact that the RCA leadership is aware of this Rabbi’s views). The RCA went to great lengths to cover up for that Rabbi when he famously publicly made very radical statements about ethics when he came to Teaneck/Bergenfield for Shabbos. Who is making these very strange decisions on behalf of the RCA?

Who in the RCA concluded that Rabbi Lookstein is not a "choshuve Rav" while this other Chareidi Rabbi [David Cohen] who tells people that they can ignore many of the ethical halachos in Choshen Mishpat and who publicly humiliated the Rav is a "Choshuve Rav". Is it because the Rabbi who is member of the Vaad Haposkim is chareidi, has a long beard and a long coat? Is that what has become of the RCA? If so, count me out.

I could tell you that many YU Roshei Yeshiva consider this Rabbi to be the furthest thing from a "chosheve Rav" in light of his very dangerous views on business ethics. If we tolerate Rabbis such as him then we have no right to act shocked when frum criminals are arrested and we are a bunch of hypocrites for condemning Christian leaders such as Rev Wright. Those who belive that Yahadus requires compliance with the halachos in CM that relate to dina dmalchusa dina and gezel akum should make it very clear that "Rabbis" who want to do away with such halahcos have no place in the frum community and certainly have no place in the RCA/YU community. The fact that the RCA leadership feels differently is scandalous.

Prof Kaplan, there is no doubt that R. Cohen is a noted talmid chocom which makes it all the more imperative that the RCA not associate with him so as not to give any credence to his radical views on ethics and gentiles. If the RCA is willing to speak out against RHL on this matter, how could they not speak out against RDC’s publicly stated positions which are much more radical and are against everything that Modern/Centrist Orthodoxy stands for, particularly when RDC has a much more prominent halachik decision making role in the RCA. I know that you agree with me but the RCA’s position on this just so shocking that it makes one wonder about the values of the leadership of the organization.

While the famous story with the Rav is less important, it is pretty amazing that the Vaad Halacha that was once synonymous with the Rav now has as a member of its Vaad Haposkim a person who publicly attacked the Rav and who, based on an a tape that is available on the internet, seems to have no regret for his actions. It seems like the RCA leadership is willing to go quite far to sell its soul to the chareidi world and its treatment of RHL and RDC only serves to illustrate the point. That is why so many YU musmachim and graduates feel so alienated by today’s RCA.

LAWRENCE KAPLAN WRITES: I am not clear as to why anon is afraid to mention the name of Rabbi David Cohen. His interruption of the Rav during the latter’s hesped for his uncle, Rav Velvele, is very well known, as are his controversial (and, in my view, completely unacceptable) views regarding business ethics viv-a-vis non-Jews. BTW, while I firmly believe that for the above mentioned reasons he should not be a member of the RCA’s Vaad ha-Poskim, he is an outstanding talmid hakham. I have fond memories of learning Masechtot Arakhin and Megillah with him at Camp Munk.

I do not expect the RCA to publicly explain why they felt compelled to publicly criticize RHL. But members of the RCA privately ought communicate their views to the RCA leadership and demand some answers and explanations. In my view, it has become clearer and clearer that whether or not one agrees or disagrees with RHL’a decision — and the discussion between Rabbis Aumana and Broyde regarding this issue is exceptionally impressive -the public rebuke of RHL on the part of the RCA reflected exceptionally poor judgment.

RACHEL WEISS POSTS: I did not understand the criticism of Rabbi Broyde’s basic claim of halacha. Hatzlat Yisrael, he says, permits according to the Shulchan Aruch the regular violation of issurai torah (bechokotayhem). The reason this is so according to the Bet Yosef is that hatzlat yisrael is such an important issue that it permits the violation of all issurai torah regularly, just so that at the right time and the right place, one can be in place (Rabbi Broyde’s formulation). Entering a church is not an explicit issur torah (as many have noted) and the consensus halacha does not treat it as a yehareg ve’al yaavor, as even Rabbi Auman notes, the Rashba, Ritva and Gra notwithstanding Thus, hatzalat yisrael permits entering a church according to both the bet yosef and the drisha. This seems pretty simple and obvious if one follows the logic.
[Rabbi Broyde also seems clear that he has no idea if Rabbi Lookstein is actually in such a situation. Read his last paragraph and he makes that clear.] I thought that this post was very impressive and I look forward to meeting him this Shabbat in the Heights. My home town rabbi once said that Rabbi Broyde is a "world class" posek and "even the charedi world knows that".

FORMER YU POSTS: With regard to the Chief Rabbis of the UK:

It is significant to point out that Rabbi Jakobivitz famously refused to enter westminster abbey and sent the queen a very nice letter reminding her that she as head of the Church of england she was prohibited from attending prayer services of other religions as well.

Rabbi genacks letter declining President Obama’s invitation is also very respectful and well-written.

On a side point the President was I’m sure fully aware of the Orthodox community’s support of Israel and did not need rabbi lokstein to remind him of his words in Sderot. It is difficult to see this as "hatzalat yisrael". There are strong supporters of Israel in the cabinet and as can be seen from the letter other rabbis like rabbi genak are connected in Democratic circles and in case of need will not be turned away at the white house. This isnt 1944.

ZEV POSTS: The whole email exchange proves nothing other than halacha shmalacha, you do what you want. Indeed, I find it rather odd to find a rabbi named Kenny arguing with another named Michael over the niceties of halacha. Each of them know full well that many or all of their activities are considered "treif" by great portions of frum Jews, so to debate what is right or wrong is riddiculous. The same way they are confident in themselves, despite halachic challenges from the right, so too R. Lookstein should be confident in his way.
You dont need books and citations for this. You can find citations for anything in the world, including the fact that it’s ossur to have a blog and its ossur to go on the internet. You basically go by what you feel is right, and justify it afterwards if necessary.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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