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Rabbi’s participation in National Prayer Service irks RCA

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Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is drawing criticism for participating in the service Wednesday at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama's inauguration. (Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun)

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is drawing criticism for participating in the service Wednesday at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration. (Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The main Modern Orthodox rabbinical association says a prominent member violated its rules by participating in the National Prayer Service.

A Rabbinical Council of America official told JTA that Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the religious leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, broke the organization’s rules by participating in the service Wednesday at the National Cathedral on the morning after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

“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," the RCA said in a statement. "Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity."

The RCA has been in conversation with Lookstein, but at this point is not seeking to sanction him, a source familiar with the situation said. But, the source added, any RCA member can suggest that another member be brought before a disciplinary board for violating rules. It is not clear if any member intends to do so.

Lookstein joined six representatives of various religious communities, including Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, in reciting portions of a nondenominational responsive prayer. Most of the overall service was nondenominational, but there were a few distinctly Christian references.

Lookstein said he was satisfied with his decision to participate.

“After consultation with people who are absolutely committed to halacha, I had originally decided to do it because I felt it was a civic duty to honor the new president of the United States. That is why I originally agreed to do it,” Lookstein said. “But the people who spoke to me about it indicated it was an important contribution to the Orthodox community because it is only right for the Orthodox community to be supporting the president in a visible way when he is being supported by representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements.”
 

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