A little Hebrew at the inaugural prayer service (UPDATED)


Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements (although not the Reconstructionists*) joined Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders as part of Wednesday morning’s Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service.

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism director Rabbi David Saperstein read Psalm 121, beginning the recitation with a line in Hebrew.

Then United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Executive Vice President Rabbi Jerome Epstein and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, were two of eight faith leaders who recited an original prayer with a refrain asking God to "keep this nation under your care, and guide us in the way of justice and truth."

"May the President, Vice President, Members of the Cabinet, Governors of States and Territories, Mayors of Cities, and all in administrative authority who are empowered by our sacred trust lead this nation with wisdom and grace as they seek to serve the common good," said Lookstein, whose participation in the event led to a rebuke from the Rabbinical Council of America. (JTA’s story on that is here.)

"May those who are hungry or homeless, sick or suffering, and all those beset by economic insecurity receive the solace of your comfort," read Epstein. "Stir us to order our social and economic lives that all who live in need may find refuge and relief.

The service at the Washington National Cathedral was mostly interfaith, although a Georgia pastor delivered a prayer, drawn in part from George Washington’s inaugural prayer service, which included the words "Jesus Christ our Lord," the Lord’s Prayer was recited and the processional hymn at the start of the event made reference to the "blessed Trinity." The cathedral is an Episcopal church, but cathedral dean Very Rev. Samuel Lloyd III noted that it was "built to be a spiritual home for the nation." The history of the cathedral posted on its Website points out that the designer of Washington, D.C., Pierre L’Enfant imagined "a great church for national purposes," and the facility has been used for past inaugural prayer services, state funerals for presidents and the memorial service for the victims of the September 11 attacks.

Many kippot could be seen in the crowd of 3,200 invited guests, but since we were way up in the balcony of the majestic cathedral, we couldn’t make out who was wearing many of them. The Jewish guests we did see, or who other sources informed us were there, included United Jewish Communities Washington office director William Daroff, NCSJ executive director Mark Levin, American Jewish Committee legislative director and counsel Richard Foltin, AJC Washington chapter executive director Melanie Maron, Jewish Council for Public Afffairs Washington director Hadar Susskind, B’nai B’rith Center for Human Rights and Public Policy deputy director Eric Fusfield, Rabbis Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation in D.C. and Stuart Weinblatt from Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., and Jewish PR man Matt Dorf, who served as a consultant for the Democratic National Committee on faith issues during the campaign.

*We’re told that Reconstructionst Rabbinical College Dan Ehrenkrantz was in attendance representing the Reconstructionists, but he was not a participant in the service.

Below, a photo of Obama from the service, with Weinblatt to his right and Rabbi Charles Simon, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, to his right.

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