Rabbi Lookstein

Rabbi Lookstein

Three Steins Help Launch The New Administration: LookStein, SaperStein, and an EpStein:

One of my favorite Manhattan shuls is Kehilath Jeshurun, and one of my favorite rabbis and teachers is its leader, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. So it saddened me to learn that although change may have come to DC, change is slower at the RCA, the Rabbinical Council of America. Rabbi Lookstein participated in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. And, the RCA announced that Rabbi Lookstein had violated the organization’s rules by entering a church, and by participating in an interfaith service at a Christian house of worship.

Rabbi Epstein

Rabbi Epstein

Rabbi Saperstein

Rabbi Saperstein

The service also included Rabbi Jerome Epstein of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi David Saperstein of the UAHC.

About the author



  • Why saddened? He clearly violated halachah. If the RCA stands for anything, it should be Jewish law. I am more saddened by the fact that someone who calls himself a rabbi lacks the basic integrity to uphold straight-forward Jewish law. I have no respect for such a rabbi. If he compromises on this, where does he draw the line?

  • Come on. That is such a lame jab, and entirely irrelevant. If you choose not to follow the Torah, suit yourself. But if you are an ordained rabbi, with clear knowledge of the laws, don’t put yourself above them. The prohibition against entering the sanctuary of a church is SO basic. For the writer of this post — please explain WHY an ORTHODOX Rabbinical Council should’ve accepted Lookstein’s actions?

  • Stoning Woman for Adultry?

    I didnt know Tom Morrissey was an expert in Halacha.

    Maybe it was him posed as the orthodox Rabbi in the church.

    Only the Sanhedrin can execute the death penalty that you are mentioning out of context to attempt a bashing on Torah cv’s.

    Just to clarify how easy it is to for a woman (and a man) to be executed for Adultery.

    First the woman and man must be knowledgeable in Halacha.
    Second they must be warned by two witnesses that this action they are about to commit is an executable offense and then they must say they know and dont care. Then the witness’s must see the act. What does seeing the act constitute? The Gemara uses the term “putting an eyelash comb in its applicator” A metaphor for the actual act and not just seeing a married woman with another man coming out of a private place.

    The Gemara calls a Sanhedrin that executes someone in 70 years a destroyer. Another Sage says 7 years is a destroyer.

    This is a long about way of me saying that You have no idea what you are talking about when you mention Torah Judaism.

    Or how to stay on topic.

  • Although Tom isn’t Jewish (not that it matters except to those of you who somehow believe he should be an expert in halacha before opining on the wisdom of censuring actions by rabbinical organizations) and I agree that the pronouncement is pretty retrograde, I don’t see what’s so wrong about sarcastically pointing out that Jewish religious authorities are (still) less primitive than Muslim religious authorities. At least, that’s what I assume was the point of his remark.

  • Tom is not the only non-Jewish commenter here, and as always, his comments are highly welcome.

    Besides, since there wasn’t a tabernacle, there was, per definitionem, no church.

  • Everyone has the right to comment. They also have the right to be shown the falsity of their words so they do not spread misinformation over the internet to the hundreds of thousands of people who visit Jewlicious.

    Such as that we draw the line at stoning of women in Judaism. Something which was a rarity and has very complex Laws around it that Tom and most people (including myself) fully understand.

    It could also be that I misinterpreted Tom’s reason for bringing up A women being stoned because of Adultery in this posting that has to do with “For whatever reason” a Rabbi (an Orthodox) one at that went in a Church.

    I have nothing to say about that because we dont know the facts and as for now we must assume that the second hand information is not true.

    I wasnt even going to comment in this article until I saw what Tommy boy wrote.

    I have yet to discover what vilifying and slandering Torah actually accomplishes.

  • LBC, I’m happy to defer to your incomparably greater expertise. Let me ask you this: is there any room for interpretation regarding the rule under discussion? How did the other rabbis come to a different conclusion?

  • I am so amazed at the minimal PR savvy on the part of the RCA. Lets say that what R Lookstein did was against their rules. Why condemn him so fast and so publicly? What do they gain vs. what did they lose? Well the reason might be political inside stuff or a trigger happy PR person. Who knows.

    What is interesting is that we don’t even know all the facts behind Rabbi Lookstein being chosen…

  • Im not a Rabbi or someone who is qualified to poskin a halachic matter. Thats why I have Rabbi Yonah.

    Im sure there is room as Torah isnt black and white.

    Im not an expert on Torah or claim to be. It just happens to be that I am studying a section of gemara dealing with the Laws of Punishment. Capital Punishment cases especially are very complex. Rabbi Akiva (famous Sage) said that if he was part of the Sanhedrin no one would have been executed. He would always try to prove the persons innocence.

    I need to not take the internet so seriously but it worries me not what is written but who is reading it.

    People that dont know anything about Judaism and read the wrong information such as what Cut The Crap writes will either end up Hating Jews or Hate being Jewish.

    God Bless.

  • We Christians believe in redemption, LBC, but Cut the Crap could be the exception that proves the rule….

  • If it’s against the “rules” for him to enter a Christian Church, then it’s a pretty stupid rule. End of story.

  • I guess what Rabbi Lookstein should have done was:
    1. get invited to the national prayer event
    2. decline to participate
    3. incur the wrath of people who will perceive his gesture as an insult to America, a disregard for diversity, an attempt to be insular, and reinforce the perception that people who identify as “Orthodox” voted Republican
    4. just have rabbis saperstein and epstein participate, and have no rep from the RCA

    it makes me recalls the time that the chief rabbi on england went to the funeral of a much beloved liberal rabbi and jewish leader in london. he was then insulted by some fellow rabbis for attending the memorial service of a person they did not feel was “religious” enough

    it also makes me recall a event when i was growing up. several rabbis came to a fund raiser at the local Jewish center. They gave invocations, but the local Orthodox rabbi declines to participate since he did not want to be on the dais with the non Orthodox rabbis.

    C’est la guerre

  • Tom, the other rabbis went because they’re not Orthodox and so halahca is not a consideration.

    Simply entering a church is a problem if you’re really strict (full disclosure: I fully intend to visit the cathedrals in Europe some day, just to see the stained glass and appreciate the architecture), but the bigger problem was probably R. Lookstein’s apparent participation in an interfaith “service” (I use quotes because I’m not exactly sure of what such a “service” would consist).

    If R. Lookstein actually participated in an interfaith service in a Christian church, that’s a very big problem, since it could give people the impression that it is acceptable for religious Jews to pray in a Christian cghurch, thereby creating the impression that Jews think Jews practicing Christianity is acceptable. I am sure that this is precisely the agenda of some who push for this sort of “interfaith dialogue”.

    A Jewish guy I know, who is a member of a Conservative shul and almost brags about the fact that he doesn’t keep Shabbat of keep kosher, tried to give me a jar of homemade jam. When I demurred, he got extremely angry and yelled “It’s good enough for my rabbi, why isn’t it good enough for you?” He knew I knew he didn’t keep kosher, and he knew I did, but since his rabbi took the jam, he was insulted that a Chaim Yankel like me, who isn’t a “rabbi” and who therefore obviously has no standing to refuse his gift, was placing himself above his “rabbi”. By giving me the jam, he was, in essence, trying to get me to admit that I was being a snob for keeping kosher. This is sort of the same thing: some Jews don’t want to be seen to be snobs by refusing to attend such “services”. An Orthodox rabbi attending such a service is a huge statement, since he does not go as an individual, he goes as a representative of the Orthodox community.

    Jews and Christians can be perfectly good friends and have perfectly good and mutually respectful relations with one another without attending each others’ religious services. It seems to me that the proper Jewish take on “interfaith relations” is to try to be as nice to everyone as possible and politely agree to disagree on theology.

    And from the Jewish perspective, “interfaith dialogue” should be limited to explaining Judaism to gentiles so they can, it is to be hoped, understand why we are not Christians.

  • Texas Jew says end of story so its the end of the story.

    END of story.

    Larry wrote:
    incur the wrath of people who will perceive his gesture as an insult to America, a disregard for diversity, an attempt to be insular, and reinforce the perception that people who identify as “Orthodox” voted Republican

    What kind of wrath or we talking about? Psychical wrath? Verbal wrath?

    “Orthodox” Jews who follow the Laws of the Torah dont reject certain laws to please the Non Jews so they will love them. There are no picksies choosies in Torah Judaism, if you want that there is a comfortable chair in the other “sects” of Judaism.

    We werent at the Church so we dont know what happened or why the RCA is so excited. It is a mitzvah to judage ALL Jews favorably. That means Me, You Larry, The Rabbi, the RCA, and even the Texas Jew.

  • “It is a mitzvah to judge ALL Jews favorably. That means Me, You Larry, The Rabbi, the RCA, and even the Texas Jew.”


    מי יתן וכולם יידונו לכף זכות, ובצדק
    Let it be that all will be judged favorably, and rightly so

  • Ephraim– if you’re planning on visiting the cathedrals for the stained glass and architecture, you’re not there to pay homage to Jesus. Likewise, I can’t imagine anyone thinking the invited rabbis attended so as to worship Jesus. Is intent is the test, not the mere physical act of entering the space? Then one can certainly respect a prudential decision to attend.

    I suspect the term services causes undue ooncern. ‘Services’ to me suggests a generic, non-liturgical, non-Christian proceeding (as opposed to a standard Catholic mass, for example). Services are to churches what meetings are to other public spaces. It’s just a word you use, as George Costanza explained in a very different context.

    I have a very different understanding of interfaith dialogue, and find yours a bit, um, eccentric, at least to the extent your concern is over syncretism, or (even) embrace of the other guy’s theology. I think it has much more to do with forging respect and understanding. I think it’s a good idea for Christians to know that Jews are still out there and hold to their age-old faith. I don’t imagine your visit to Chartres will result in your conversion, but if you come away with some sort of insight into Catholicism you didn’t have before you went in, great. In a world in which people can hold the crudest, most malevolent beliefs about their neighbor’s religious practices– think of all the anti-Semitic canards through the ages– a little respect and understanding is no small thing.

    One of the enduring images of the current papacy will be that of the pope standing in prayerful silence beside an imam at Hagia Sophia: interfaith dialogue– though wordless– at its best.

  • ….Today the pope and the imam, tomorrow Middle and Cut the Crap.

  • “Today the pope and the imam, tomorrow Middle and Cut the Crap.”

    Hey, I am not CTC’s equivalent!

    I resent the comparison.

  • Tom, indeed, the ban in Abodah Zarah is on engaging in (Ancient Roman) idolatry. It was written in times when there were no churches and Christian themselves were being persecuted. The predominant religions then were religions with anthropomorphic theologies. Even later interpretations of that tractate in gemara do not explicitly forbid Jews from entering churches, but in detail list that Jews may not engage in idol worship, join an idolater’s wedding [which, I suppose, was to prevent Jews from seeing possible appeal in the joyous festivities], bans on using items used in idolatrous rites etc. The claim that Jews may not enter churches (which the National Cathedral wasn’t, as explained above, and you’re right re: services as there wasn’t a service from a Christian point of view either without a Eucharist / Last Supper respectively) is a later and very lax interpretation that doesn’t do the intentions of the original tractate justice. Then again, I’ve often seen among my Chasidishe friends that later or individual interpretations were sold to them like universal dogma at yeshiva. One should bear in mind that those institutions are multiplicators of principles, not academic faculties.
    Still, many Jews today seem terrified by ecumenical approaches; they may not attend Eucharist obviously, and I’ll grant that a rather strict interpretation of the abovementioned tractate would ban them from being present at Eucharists (so that their presence might not be confused with willingly participating), but there is no actual ban on interacting with non-Jews in matters of religion and trying to find the common denominators. Alas, that fear has led to lots of (particularly anti-Catholic) polemic sentiments that shows as much disrespect (and ignorance) for other faiths as for one’s own principles of faith.

    Middle meets the Pope? That can be arranged…

  • In the same way that it is generally felt that a Jew should not enter, say, a bookstore on Shabbat since someone might see him there and assume he’s shopping, the general view is that Jews should not go into churches. I am not a talmid chacham, so I don’t know what the actual halacha is, but there is a general idea that one should not engage in acts that can easily be misinterpreted.

    Tom, I’m sure the fear of syncretism is part of the reason for the Orthodox reluctance to engage in “interfaith dialogue”, at least in the way that some people want to engage in it. I am absolutley certain that some Christians see such dialogue as the thin edge of the wedge in potential proselytization efforts. Finding common denominators is all well and good, but for some people finding common denominators is the first step in trying to convert the other to one’s own point of view.

  • Ephraim, I think part of the fear of proselytization is the awareness that one’s knowledge respectively faith in one’s religion isn’t as firm as one can only convincingly pass off when not challenged or contrasted. My experience is that the more educated and religious are not as afraid of “goyishe” contacts as their less religious and religiously educated peers that still hold themselves as religious. I can pretend to be a maven of quantum physics as long as there is no quantum physicist or a physicist with a different field of specialisation around.

  • Secular Jews try so very hard to be accepted by the Nations of the world.

    Let me remind everyone here on a little history


    Its called expulsion.

    Sit comfy the Jews of America and think that you are unique think that you are safe here and America will always love you and love Israel.

    I wonder what the Jews of Spain thought before 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    So please join in prayer with the religion that killed more Jews than Hitler and show the President that we love him.


  • LoBiCh, actually Judaism wants you to pray for “justice for all”. Also, as this apparently has escaped your attention, the Spanish Inquisition was run by the Spanish Sovereigns. There have been dead Jews at the hand of Christians claiming to pursue those Jews’ death was justified by their faith, but ironically enough, it were secular or non-affiliated forces that killed most Jews. And even that wouldn’t bring me to the conclusion that Jews should stay away from secular, non-affiliated or atheist people in general. The Medieval expulsions didn’t kill more Jews than Hitler did, which doesn’t in any way diminish their disastrousness. The official church even worked against many of the expulsions displayed in the image you linked to.

  • Froylein. I dont want to get to personal here but what type of education do you have in European History, or history of the Jews outside of a google window? (I know I scapegoat Google alot) Im not trying to be offensive but your last statement is complete narishkite. Something you also can not back up with a single source and I have dozens of sources to prove otherwise but I dont really want to get into this arguement.

    From the year 500 until the Holocaust millions of Jews perished at the hands of the Church. If they didnt instigate the pogroms themselves they didnt say anything against them in short sentencing Jews to death. If they were not that low they would simply take the Jews children to “keep them safe” and then convert them and send them off to live with Christian families.

    Every expulsion which was done either by the Church or by a king with the blessing of the Church has resulted in thousands of Jews being slaughtered or converted and you might disagree but conversion kills a person just like a spear does.

    The ArchBishop in Spain backed the King and Queen and this is just one of 1,000 years of expulsion and murder.

    Complete Narishkite.

  • Here’s a list of sources that were part of the literature I used in preparing a (very well-received) university lecture on the expulsions mentioned in that little image:

    Bätz, Kurt. Judentum. Wege und Stationen seiner Geschichte. Stuttgart 1984

    Baitel, Esaias. Purim. Das jüdische Fest der Freude bei den Chassidim in Jerusalem. Vienna 1996

    Beinart, Haim. Geschichte der Juden. Atlas der Verfolgung und Vertreibung im Mittelalter. Augsburg 1998

    von Braun, Christina. Viertes Bild: »Blut und Blutschande«. Zur Bedeutung des Blutes in der antisemitischen Denkwelt, in: Schoeps, Julius H. & Schlör, Joachim (Eds). Bilder der Judenfeindschaft. Antisemitismus Vorurteile und Mythen. Augsburg 1999

    Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. A Selection. London 1969

    Deutsch, David & Neumann, Joshua. The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies. New York 2005

    Eckert, Wilehad Paul. Das Verhältnis von Christen und Juden im Mittelalter und Humanismus. Ein Beitrag zur Geistes- und Kulturgeschichte, in: Schilling, Konrad (Ed.). Monumenta Judaica. 2000 Jahre Geschichte und Kultur der Juden am Rhein. Cologne 1963

    Erb, Rainer. Drittes Bild: Der »Ritualmord«, in: Schoeps, Julius H. & Schlör, Joachim (Eds). Bilder der Judenfeindschaft. Antisemitismus Vorurteile und Mythen. Augsburg 1999

    Graetz, Heinrich. Geschichte der Juden. Von den ältesten Zeiten bis zur Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Berlin N.N.

    Graetz, Heinrich. Volkstümliche Geschichte der Juden in zwei Bänden. Von der jüdisch-spanischen Zeitepoche bis zur Epoche der Wiedergeburt. Volume II. Cologne 2000

    Grossmann, A. Die Juden in Byzanz und im mittelalterlichen Europa, in: Kedourie, Elie (Ed.) . Die Jüdische Welt. Offenbarung, Prophetie und Geschichte. Munich 2002

    Haverkamp, Alfred. „Concivilitas“ von Christen und Juden in Ashkenas im Mittelalter, in: Jütte, Robert & Kustermann, Abraham, P. (Ed.) Jüdische Gemeinden und Organisationsformen von der Antike bis zur Gegenwart. Wiesbaden 1998

    Heine, Heinrich. Der Rabbi von Bacharach, in: Prinzessin Sabbat. Ãœber Juden und Judentum. Bodenheim 1997

    Hsia, R. Po-Chia. Trient 1475. Geschichte eines Ritualmordprozesses. Frankfurt 1997

    de Lange, Nicholas. Atlas of the Jewish World. Oxford 1992

    Limor, Ora. Das verworfene Volk, in: Nicholas de Lange (Ed.). Illustrierte Geschichte des Judentums. Frankfurt 2000

    Lotter, Friedrich. Bildfrevellegende, in: Schoeps, Julius H. (Ed.). Neues Lexikon des Judentums. Gütersloh 2000

    Lotter, Friedrich. Brunnenvergiftungslegende, in: Schoeps, Julius H. (Ed.). Neues Lexikon des Judentums. Gütersloh 2000

    Lotter, Friedrich. Hostienfrevellegende, in: Schoeps, Julius H. (Ed.). Neues Lexikon des Judentums. Gütersloh 2000

    Lotter, Friedrich: Hostienfrevelvorwurf und Blutwunderfälschung bei den Judenverfolgungen von 1298 („Rintfleisch“) und 1336-1338 („Armleder“), in: Monumenta Germania Historica (Ed.). Fälschungen im Mittelalter. Teil V. Fingierte Briefe Frömmigkeit und Fälschung Realienfälschungen. Hannover 1988

    Lotter, Friedrich. Ritualmordvorwurf, in: Schoeps, Julius H. (Ed.). Neues Lexikon des Judentums. Gütersloh 2000

    Wurmbrand, Max & Roth, Cecil. Das Volk der Juden. Eine Universalgeschichte. Frechen N.N.

  • Admittedly, Joshua Neuman’s book was to add a liitle quirkiness, but the other books either are sources, compilations of sources or sound academic works.

  • A well recieved university lecture doesnt impress me much. Achmadinijad gave one of those too at Columbia.

    Your sources are extensive but wont do me good since they seem to all be books written in German which makes sense since you are German.

    Rabbi Berel Wein.

    I recommend reading

    Herald of Destiny: The story of the Jews in the Medieval Era, 750-1650

    Triumph of Survival: The story of the Jews in the Modern Era, 1650-1995

    It looks like you are a reader but if not, he has a great audio. 5,000 years of Jewish history in 5 hours.

    I dont have a source that accounts for 6 million Jews murdered at the hands of the church but its definitely in the million mark.

    This is another debate for another day though.

    You think its ok for Orthodox Jews to pray with Christians and I dont.

    End of Story.

  • It doesn’t conflict with Jewish law for Jews to pray with Christians; the only thing that might conflict are the prayers and who / what they are directed at. Several of the above sources were also published in English.

  • Froylein:
    Tom, indeed, the ban in Abodah Zarah is on engaging in (Ancient Roman) idolatry. It was written in times when there were no churches and Christian themselves were being persecuted. The predominant religions then were religions with anthropomorphic theologies.
    – – – – – – – –

    … and most Jewish halachicists eventually concluded that Christianity (which is nothing if not an “anthropomorphic theology”) was in fact Avodah Zara. The Talmud already refers to them as “Minim” – usually translated as “heretics” – and this usage often reflects the heavy censorship of the post-Constantinian Roman Empire. The original texts were probably more blunt in rejecting the gentile Church’s increasingly pagan content.

    On the issue of churches and Christian icons – it’s quite telling that Halacha splits almost exactly between those Jews living in medieval Christendom and those living under the (then much more intellectually open) Arab sphere of influence.

    Sages living free of Christian censorship and persecution unabashedly placed Christianity and its artifacts in the class of Avodah Zara.

    European sages forced to accommodate Christian sensitivities tried to find not-too-convincing loopholes.

    Walk into a Catholic church – with its “anthropomorphic” imagery (often including an embodiment not just of Joske, but of his Zeus-like “Father” and the “Holy Spirit”) and its minor shrines to a pantheon of sub-deity saints (who are worshipped directly) – and you can see that they had their work cut out. This is idolatry by any Jewish standard.

    The ban on entering churches does not just rest on the Avodah Zara aspect: consider the bitter history between Judaism and its daughter religions – both of whom promote explicit doctrines of supercession, and therefore delegitimize Judaism and deny it an independent, contemporary validity.

    It’s well known that conversion of Jews is more highly valued than proselytizing to other groups. Anything that looks like Jewish validation of Christianity is especially sought out by a certain type of Christian – and (mis)used to score points in the old grudge match between the gentile church and the Jews. This has not gone away, despite wishful thinking by “progressive” – and usually ignorant/insecure – Jews.

    For this reason Jewish representatives must be especially careful not to be seen as capitulating to, or validating these religions, who largely still do not return this “favor” (Nostra Aetate notwithstanding).

    Regarding the prayer service – I am more disturbed by the fact that the “prayers” were all pretty “horizontal” – as in the modern secular “we sending you our prayers for a speedy recovery”. Sending prayers addressed whom, exactly?

    To nobody. This is modern “spiritual” touchy-feely, not religion. There did not seem to be much mention of G-d by any of the clergy present. They could have all just lit scented candles and had a drum circle. Yet another reason for an Orthodox Rabbi not to participate.

    I am reminded of Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s comment that the presence of G-d used to bring peace between Jews, but now peace seems to require G-d’s absence.

  • B-D, Christianity was a minority at that time, and comparative studies tell us that Abodah Zarah was more likely directed at the Ancient Roman religion than anything else. Other interpretations were made retrospectively; Islam only came into existence about 400 years after Abodah Zarah. The Jewish sages of old (and many current / recent ones) understood the Jewish roots of the “message” of trinity. Claiming it anthropomorphic is polemics best case.

  • And your takes on Catholic theology and what can be found inside a Catholic church are pretty off to say the least. FYI, the Roman Catholic Church has officially exempted Judaism from missionary attempts.

  • Froylein. You are not a halachic expert to say the least. Have you read Masekta Avodah Zarah? Why did the Church censor the Gemara in the middle ages and why was the specific section censored Avodah Zarah?

    You are correct that idolatry refered to Romans, but why would the Christians censor something they say is written towards them when it was written at least 200 years before Christianity became existed and was oral for 800 years before Christianity existed? Thats because Christianity is Avodah Zarah and that is why there was a Protestant Reformation. To do away with the Idolatry poisioned religion.

    Im not interested in a debate about this to much so I hope my words dont fuel a novel from anyone.

    Christians were either Jews or Idol Worshipers. How did they get the Idol Worshipers to come to Christianity?

    Virgin Birth? Unique? Try Zeus a couple hundred times in Greek/Roman Mythology

    All their holidays fall at the same time as Idol Worshiping Holidays and have the same symbolism. Christmas Saturnalia cough.

    Its all just a coincidence I know.

    However it is against Halacha for a Jew to pray with Christians in their Element.

    I still have Ahavas Yisroel for every Jew even if they care more about connecting with Christians then their own Jewish brothers and sisters.

  • LoBiCh, what you deem yourself to be an expert on, I yet have to figure out.

    Abodah Zarah was censored during the Middle Ages as then already Jews, ignorant of history, willingly accepted the accusation (!) that it was referring to Christianity. It was written around 200 CE; so Christianity had already been around for roughly 150 years, but Christians were still a minority and being persecuted at that time themselves.

    It’s actually not “virgin birth” (Jewish terminology back then to refer to the birth of the firstborn) but “immaculate conception”, and that concept is highly debated among Catholic theologians to this day.

    And do read up on the Reformation, its (various) representatives and aims, and Protestant theology.
    While I find the Catholic concept of saints anything but appealing to me, I understand their role is the very one Chasidism assigns to its rebbes. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Nobody in their right mind could claim that Judaism and Christianity are free from non-Jewish resp. non-Christian influences. You apparently know as little about Christian holidays as you know about Jewish history, so it would actually be helpful if you read up on both. The major Christian holidays (Easter and Pentecost) are clearly linked to a Jewish background. So is Candlemas. Christmas, which many Christians do not celebrate, indeed has been fit to coincide with winter solstice celebrations. Corpus Christi, Ascension Day etc. are genuinely Christian. But there is also a considerable influence Christianity has had on Judaism. Learning about that is not blurring away religious identities, it’s about a better understanding not only of others but also of oneself.

    I explained above that there was no “church”, no “Element”. It’s against Halacha for a Jew to partake in non-Jewish religious rituals. But then, strictly speaking, you’d have to cut a lot of elements out of Jewish traditions as they have manifested themselves to this day.

  • This debate will be come a long dragged out one that I dont feel like engaging in today.

    You seem to be the expert on Judaism and Christianity and thats why you are sitting here debating on Jewlicious Blog instead of working on your dissertation.

    As for myself, I will respectfully disagree with you.

  • If the best case for interfaith dialogue involves dispelling ignorance of the religious views of our neighbors, than Ben-David et al. make a formidable case for it.

    I’m surrounded in my town with synagogues of several denominations, so I’m tempted to favor Ben-David with my interpretation of their iconography, just as he describes for us churches (which? Catholic ones?) with their “shrines to sub-deity saints” who are “worshipped directly.” I’ve been Catholic all my life (and teach the faith to local kids) and I’ve never seen such shrines, nor have I ever been encouraged to “worship” saints.

    Ben-David et al. resort to a stock-in-trade of atheists and lefties, too, in defining Christianity through what they imagine to be its most extreme adherents. Rather like, say, gay advocates who view heterosexuals as homophobic and obsessed with oppressing and converting gays. Or Rev. Lowery, whose inauguration remarks treated white people as whip-wielding crackers.

    If interfaith dialogue can dispel such caricatures, we need more of it.

    One gets the sense from some Jews that it’s not dialogue, but a one-way street, that’s preferred: ‘own up to your own history of anti-Semitism, Christians, but don’t expect us to interact with you or learn about you. We have nothing to learn from your saint-worshipping, “anthropomorphic” faith, so leave us alone.’

    Well, as a practical matter, there are a hell of a lot more of us than of you. It’s in the interests of Jews to interact, in two-way fashion, with Christians, including Christian clergy. As froylein observes, times they are a-changing, and the Catholic Church no longer seeks to convert Jews and rejects supercessionism. Jews should welcome and help cement such developments. Relations of good will with the major Christian denominations are very much to Jewish advantage.

    LBC may want to look into the medieval history he cites and examine the gruesome, hateful misconceptions that passed as folk wisdom in Europe at the time. If you want your neighbors to understand you, you must emerge out from under your mattress to deal with them. And you might begin by meaningfully distinguishing, say, Spain circa 1450 from the US c. 2009.

    On the other hand– an extreme and judgmental view of others is no doubt quite useful in enforcing a regime of strict segregation. We’ve seen that movie before, too.

    As coincidence would have it, today’s church bulletin carried the following item:

    “In these challenging times of a worsening economy and unemployment, the Brookline clergy are hoping to provide an interfaith arena for all to share ideas. As an initial step a number of clergy and laity will be attending a meeting at Temple Emanuel in Newton on Wednesday evening Feb. 11. Any of our parishioners interested in attending with Fr. Butler are asked to contact him…”

    Be afraid, my Jewish friends, be very afraid.

  • Tom, no need to fret about Jewish seclusion. Just keep sending us your most beautiful women and watch us all join you for mass by the time you and I are ready for grandchildren.

  • Froylein:
    Abodah Zarah was censored during the Middle Ages as then already Jews, ignorant of history, willingly accepted the accusation (!) that it was referring to Christianity.
    – – – – – – – –
    … yeah, that’s right – without *experts* like you, we couldn’t *possibly* figure out our own books.

    This is as ludicrous as it is offensive. It’s like the assimilated Jews who bray about the Jewish moral and intellectual heritage – but suddenly start painting the Rabbis as ignoramuses to weasel out of actual mitzvah observance.

    You seem intelligent… you can go ahead and keep citing axe-grinding academics as if they know Judaism more than actual, practicing Jews.

    And I’ll keep pointing out the ignorance and superficiality of your claims.

    The assertion that Jewish sages embedded in Christendom were “ignorant” of Christian beliefs and practices reveals your own intellectual blind spots – not theirs.

    Morrisey (and Froylein):

    I don’t see much actual discussion of Christian doctrine under your bluster. Many Christians are insulted to learn just how much their religion diverges from the Judaism they thought they were continuing/fulfilling.

    Sorry – you’re free to come up with your own moral code, instead of squatting on ours.

    The number of Christians vs. Jew has nothing to do with the truth of the matter (of course, there would be a lot more of us without centuries of Christian “love” – but I have no need for victimology politics to defend what’s mine.)

    As Christianity moved away from its Jewish roots – and became more pagan to appeal to gentiles – the Jewish sages observed it all, and concluded that Christianity was basically pagan and idolatrous in character.

    Several core elements of Christianity make it irreconcilable with Jewish notions of monotheism. Most of them spring from the gentile church’s decision to portray Jesus not just as the (flesh and blood, human) Jewish messiah, but as a god-who-walked-on-earth. The rest can be traced directly to Roman Empire paganism.

    – Incarnation, Virgin Birth and other “superhero” aspects of the Jesus myth: the whole notion of Jesus as some sort of supra-mortal being is problematic to Jews. We believe that G-d does not take on material forms, and transcends this world.

    Neither Moses nor any other prophet ever became supra-human in this way. (Neither does Mohammed, BTW – and Moslems don’t worship him). Which leads to:

    – Ascension to godhead status. For the Jew, this is no different than the story of Buddha – equally pagan.

    – Trinity: never yet met a Christian who can convincingly reconcile this with monotheism. This doctrine has its roots in Roman Gnosticism.

    – Pantheon of patron saints: the larger Catholic cathedrals have these, and Catholics around the world still pray directly to these lesser deities for intervention.

    Jews pray only to the One G-d. When we pray at the grave of a holy person – all prayers are directed to G-d in the merit of the righteous.

    Except for poetic license in some aggadah and medieval poetry, there is never a suggestion that the holy person’s soul can act independently. The meaning of these poems is clear – we are asking that G-d consider the merit of the righteous in His (sole) direction of the community and reality.

    It’s not just the statues.

  • Ben-David, you won’t get an argument from me that about Jesus’s distinctive character and the ways Christians distinguish from Moses, for example. I’d caution you, though, in trying to characterize the Christian view of Jesus; that’s a matter of significant disagreement. Even on this basic matter, the Catholic Church differs with, for example, Coptic and Ethiopian Christianity.

    Likewise, attributing Christianity to Roman pagan influences rather breaks down when one considers that two of the earliest nations to convert to the faith were Ethiopia and Armenia. (Thanks, anyway, for paying so much attention to what you imagine the pope is saying.)

    What I sense lurks beneath your ineffably personal view of Christianity 101 is the suspicion that Christians want to erase distinctions between the two faiths. Is this a variation on Ephraim’s theme that we’re all out to convert you? Or do you assume that Christians believe that Jesus’s status as messiah is something any idiot should be able to see?

    Jesus himself neither thought it obvious, nor did He wish it to make it so to others:

    “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’

    ‘Well,’ they replied, ‘some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.’ Then he asked them, ‘Who do you say I am?’
    Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

    Jesus replied, ‘You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.

    ‘Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven.’

    Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”

  • Sorry for garbling that first para. above…. Anyway, no Jesus quotes for Middle about beautiful women; instead, James Brown’s vision of utopia, from Sex Machine: “The way I like it/Is the way it is/I got mine/He got his.”

  • “What I sense lurks beneath your ineffably personal view of Christianity 101 is the suspicion that Christians want to erase distinctions between the two faiths.”

    Without jumping into the middle of the theological argument here (or my own thoughts on the theology), I’d say that with regards to the differences between Judaism and Christianity, most Jews who this as B-D does, feel the exact opposite. This view is that Christianity has completely changed Judaism, to a degree that the two have almost nothing in common anymore (from a theological point of view), and so phrases such as Judeo-Christianity, and theories that Christianity is anything other than an utter corruption of Judaism.

    Also, I’m not sure what is referred to in avoda zara in the Talmud, but if I remember correctly the extra blessing in the amida (v’lamalshinim at tehi tikva) refers to early Christians. How accurate is that, anyone?

  • Tom:
    attributing Christianity to Roman pagan influences rather breaks down when one considers that two of the earliest nations to convert to the faith were Ethiopia and Armenia.
    – – – – – – – –
    … which is why the Pope sits in Adis Ababa.


    Get real – the gentile church grew up in Rome, and under Roman influence. It was first promoted by Constantine, Justinian, and other Roman emperors. The map of early Christendom closely matched the sphere of Roman Empire influence.

    The gentile church’s doctrines were codified largely by Romans (with the occasional North African scholar educated in Roman ways) during the first 4 centuries of the Common Era. They borrowed heavily from Gnosticism and other aspects of pagan Roman thought. Modern Christian bible scholarship clearly traces the transition from Hebrew/Aramaic sources in the earlier gospels to later gospels heavily influenced by pagan sources – 2nd and 3rd century Roman writers who never set foot in Jerusalem.

    It’s bad enough I have to clarify Jewish teachings you claim as your spiritual inheritance – now I have to teach you church history?

    More style over substance:
    What I sense lurks beneath your ineffably personal view of Christianity 101 is the suspicion that Christians want to erase distinctions between the two faiths.
    – – – – – – – –
    Christianity began by asserting it was a continuation and fulfillment of Judaism – and still does. So I guess it’s not just “my suspicion”.

    More ignorance:
    Is this a variation on Ephraim’s theme that we’re all out to convert you?
    – – – – – – – – –
    Jewish rejection of their claim to bear the mantle of Judaism was more of problem/insult for the gentile church than rejection by pagans – and the church responded from earliest times with a combination of virulent attack on Jews and redoubled efforts to get them to accept “their” Messiah.

    Because of the ideological grudge match, Jews in Christendom were kept in poverty and slavery, to show their fallen state.

    (see – the pattern of Christians thinking they know Judaism better than Jews goes way back – at least in your condescension you are being historically accurate, Tom….)

    So, again, neither Ephraim nor I are making things up. We – like many Jews – have had a good taste of double-edged Christian “love”.

    You haven’t addressed the substantive theological points I made – instead trying (incredibly!) to paint yourself as a victim of Jewish paranoia.

    Christianity began as a Jewish sect. When Jesus didn’t come back, the narrative was re-written to appeal to gentiles of the Roman Empire.

    But because the church had based its authority on a presumed continuation of Judaism, it could not jettison entirely its connection to Judaism.

    From a Jewish perspective, the result is an odd hodgepodge of contradictory claims and beliefs (the competing assertions of monotheism and the Trinity are typical). It’s also led to confused, conflicted, and…. uneven attitudes towards Jews.

    Kindly refrain from explaining my faith to me – or trying to explain away my quite rational, historically-based suspicion of church motives towards Jews.

    You’d do well to spend the time researching more closely the origin of your own faith.

  • While it’s not pleasant to be accused of condescension, I’ll admit it comes from a master of the genre. And I’m certainly no victim of Jewish paranoia, a word you incorrectly ascribe to me. (When my Jewish friends stop inviting me to their weddings, that’s when I’ll get paranoid.)

    It’s certainly was not my intention to “explain [your] faith to [you]”, being wholly unqualified to do so. Of course, that won’t keep you from trying to explain mine to me.

    Having said that, given the church’s decision at the Council of Nicea to incorporate the whole of the Torah as part of its sacred texts, the church indeed cannot “entirely jettison its connection to Judaism” and does not aspire to do so. Jesus himself repeatedly affirmed He did not intend to somehow erase the law of Moses, quite the opposite. The church in fact recognizes the Jewish people’s senior, independent claim to a covenant relationship with God.

    The Church’s Cathechism describes the “Jewish People [inter alia as] ‘the first to hear the Word of God.’ The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant.”

    (This is Catholic teaching. As with matters like Jesus’s nature and the doctrine of the Trinity, Christians, a fractious bunch, differ, and I caution you not to assume other denominations echo our approach.)

    Jews accordingly have their own duties to God under their own, independent convenant with him. We wish you the best in that effort.

    The interfaith history you cite, alas, speaks for itself. However, you’re on sound ground in addressing how people behave. We’ll not persuade each other on a doctrinal level– that’s not the point of interfaith dialogue and events, and as the quoted passage shows, the Vatican has given up any effort at persuasion altogether. Rather, we should establish in dialogue baselines of mutual respect, for we can agree that we are all fashioned in the image and likeness of God.

    It’s precisely the tragedies of the past that argue for, not against, such dialogue.

    As an Israeli, such a Jewish-Christian effort may well strike you as superfluous, but in a pluralistic culture such as America’s, with its increasing tide of militant secularism, this is more important than ever. Who knows, it may even help pro-Israel advocates when they come calling at the evangelical megachurches.

    And I suspect you’ll have your hands full in the coming decades with a very different set of interfaith relations, those with Muslims, and in that effort I wish you and your compatriots the very best of luck.

  • B-D, surprise, surprise, many if not most academic scholars on Judaism are practicing Jews. They just choose not to be ignorant about their faith.

  • And I said that today’s wannabe-scholars tend to be ignorant of Christianity; outstanding scholars like deLange, Schoeps, Ben-Chorin, Lapide etc. aren’t / weren’t.

  • BTW, the most important scholars of the church during its first four centuries were members of Eastern / Northern African Christianity.

  • Been away from this discussion for a while, but while I admit that suspicion is my default setting regarding Christian attempts at “dialogue” and “outreach”, since in my personal experienece these have all been covers for attempts to convert me, I do not share B-D’s vitriol. I am firm enough in my own beliefs that I do not fear discussions with Christians. The last two people who tried to convert me stopped after a single encounter. I just shook my tzitzit in their faces and they turned tail. It was a lot of fun, actually. They were both Protestants, BTW. Never had a Catholic try it. But AFAIK, the Souther Baptists still see it as their mission to convert us. Their efforts must be resisted with all of the means at our disposal.

    To the extent that Jewish-Christian dialogue is for the purposes of esatblishing mutual respect and understanding, I am all for it. And I am glad that the Church has decided that it’s not cool to continue to hock our chayniks about JC. It is said that everyone has their own mishegoss, so I have no particular desire to try to disabuse Christians of their faith, so long as they extend the same courtesy to me. Of course, from a doctrinal point of view, I think Christianity is based on an incorrect understanding of the Torah, but as a Jew it is not possible for me to believe otherwise.

    Anyway, Tom seems like a decent fellow. And I have been known to share a single malt or two with schismatics.

    But, Tom, I agree with B-D on ione thing: can you explain the saint thing to me? To an outsider, it certainly seems like they function as sort of mini-deities to whom people pray directly. Are they intermediaries bewtenn the worshipper and G-d, sort of like JC himself, except on a lower level? In any case, I don’t get them. In the interests of full disclosure, I’m a mitnagid by temperament, and I am uncomfortable with the Chassidische rebbe thing too, so, froylein doesn’t need to lecture me on that angle.

  • Oh, yeah: I read R. Lookstein’s reasons for attending. Seems like a good reason to me. If I have a chance to get the President’s ear, I’ll go into a church too.

  • Ephraim, the party line on the sainthood stuff is cut-and-pasted below. This is the kind of thing Protestants (except for proto-Catholic ones, like the high Episcopalians and Lutherans) hate about Catholic doctrine. They reject any notion that Mary or anyone else can somehow mediate between us and Him. It’s one of their raison d’etres.

    Since Vatican II, the culture of the church has moved away from emphasizing saints. I think it’s a little hokey and don’t really concern myself with it, but hey, if ol’ doubting Thomas wants to put in a good word for me, fine.

    If you can translate the following, you’re doing me one better:

    “The intercession of the saints: ‘Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven . . . do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus’. . . . [R]ecourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly . . . purified of the punishments for sin.”

  • In fairness, the perspective of a heretic who will burn in hell for all eternity:

    “Protestants believe that every single person who is a born again Christian, is, PRESENTLY, a saint. Protestants do not believe one can be made a saint by the declaration of the church. In the New Testament, the word ‘saint’ meant every single Christian, not some who were better than others or had been declared to be saints by the church. Protestants do not believe in worshipping or venerating saints.”

  • Tom:
    The church in fact recognizes the Jewish people’s senior, independent claim to a covenant relationship with God.

    The Church’s Cathechism describes the “Jewish People [inter alia as] ‘the first to hear the Word of God.’ The
    Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant.”

    Jews accordingly have their own duties to God under their own, independent convenant with him.
    – – – – – – – – –
    This is, as you say, the Catholic position – after Nostra Aetate. For most of Christian history – and still in many interactions between Christians and Jews, the old doctrine of “no one comes to the Father except through the Son” has led to repeated missionary targeting of Jews.

    “Recognition” of Jewish people’s covenantal relationship with G-d usually amounted to Christians urging Jews to “fulfill themselves” – again, asserting that Christians know better than Jews what Judaism – and the Torah covenant – demand.

    In the condescension sweepstakes, that’s a whopper.

    My critique of Christianity is not condescending in that way. After all, it’s our Torah. If we see – and say – that Christian doctrines are not compatible with Jewish thought, that’s our prerogative. If you try to sell tofu burgers under golden arches, McDonald’s will defend their brand equity.

  • Tom, “Dabru Emet” is the non-Orthodox Jewish position on Christianity and Catholicism in particular since Nosta Aetate.

  • Ben-David, yes, the doctrines regarding Judaism are of recent vintage (the Second Vatican Council), and I apologize for any confusion in not stating that. The history, generally, is what it is and I have no desire to whitewash it.

    Of course, it’s your prerogative to agree with us or not. My faith and yours will go endure for a very long time to come, and new times bring new challenges.

    We have a new priest in our parish, from a city in central Nigeria not far from Jos, the scene of horrific sectarian riots last year; he’s not concerned with medieval Europe but with a hegemonic Islam that he excoriates in the strongest terms. Our Catholic Church has a history with glorious and not-so-glorious pages; we can hope to learn from that history to do differently, and better.

  • Tom, 10-4 on the saint thing. Thanks for clarifying.

    However, as I am sure you know, the idea of an intercessor between man and G-d, or even a series of them like the worshipper-saint-JC-Hashem heirarchy you describe, is antithetical to Judaism. While Judaism recognizes the existence of various heavenly powers such as guardian angels (for example, it is generally considered that the “man” with whom Jacob wrestled, and whom he defeated, was Esau’s guardian angel), it is not permitted to worship or petition them for favors or intercession.

    However, since gentiles are not required to abide by Jewish theology, it is neither here nor there.

    I think we can agree on one thing, anyway: hegemonic Islam is bad news. Everyone in the West (and by that I mean anyone who values freedom), Jew, Christrian, or other, needs to oppose it.