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‘washington Post’ Cites Finkelstein Incident in Criticizing White House Services

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The Washington Post today expressed reservations about certain aspects of religious services in the White House in the wake of the participation Sunday in such services by Dr. Louis Finkelstein, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The Post, while not disputing President Richard M. Nixon’s “right” to hold services in the executive mansion, felt that the manner in which the current weekly services was being held lacked dignity.

“Unfortunately, the way religion is being conducted in the White House these days–amid hand-picked politicians, reporters, cameras, guest-lists, staff spokesmen–has not only stirred needless controversy but invited…the suspicion that religion has somehow become entangled…with politics,” it said. Dr. Finkelstein had been invited to play a role in the seventh Nixon private service in the East Room. He was the first rabbi to participate in a White House worship service. He delivered a sermon and ended the service with the song “Adon Olom.”

“When Mr. Nixon said last Sunday that Rabbi Finkelstein had already served three Presidents, we flinched,” the Post said. “Served? Are rabbis, or priests or ministers in the business of serving political leaders or the causes they represent? Is it really in the best of taste, with the White House as the setting, for Rabbi Finkelstein to pray that ‘future historians…may say that in a period of great trials and tribulations, the finger of God pointed to Richard Milhous Nixon. giving him the vision and wisdom to save the world and civilization?’ Or for the President to praise the Rabbi as ‘one of the most distinguished leaders of our time–one of the few who have been on the cover of Time Magazine.’ “

The Post commented that the practice of holding the White House services–which are billed as non-denominational–“invites more trouble than it’s worth–as witness the controversy which quickly developed about the inclusion of Christian dogma into Rabbi Finkelstein’s services, attended by a large number of Jews.” This reference was to the singing of a Doxology which contained the words “Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” a reference to the Christian concept of a holy trinity which plays no role in Judaism. Dr. Finkelstein did not sing the hymn and said later that he had no criticism of its inclusion in the service. He said that his presence did not imply any acceptance of the ideas contained in the hymn and that from a Jewish viewpoint, participation in such a service was not incorrect. The service, he said, was “done with great dignity.”

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