Monday, February 02, 2009

Entering a Sanctuary for Hatzalat Yisrael: An Exchange

(Follow-up to this post: link)

The material below is a partial excerpt from an exchange that was shared on the RCA email list, which is limited to RCA members. Both of the writers of these emails consented to have this material posted. Please remember that this is an email exchange and lacks much of the polish associated with published articles. Certainly precise linguistic parsing of word choices, spellings or exact formulations is not intended by the authors.

It is important to note that the issues discussed in this exchange focus on only one halakhic aspect of the Inaugural Prayer Service -– entering a sanctuary of a church under the rationale of hatazlas Yisrael. Numerous serious other issues, both of fact and halakhah, are not discussed in this exchange.

Gil Student

[For the benefit of the reader, the email exchange between Rabbi Broyde and Rabbi Auman was written in response to the letter written by Rabbi Lookstein to all RCA members and sent out on the RCA email list to all members. Rabbi Lookstein also shared his letter with the public. It can be found in its entirety here (link) and needs to be read to understand parts of this exchange.]

Fellow RCA members

Since Rabbi Lookstein made mention of me in his post, I feel a need to elaborate.

Let me note that I am in basic agreement with the approach Rabbi Lookstein articulated, albeit with a different focus. Interfaith prayer activities are generally assur and entry into a church is generally prohibited.

However, most of us in our Torah lives confront only one or two matters where we are actually asked to involve ourselves in something of grand national importance to the Jewish community. Some of us do so with some frequency (not me!) and some of us never do so, even when the need is thrust upon us. Cases of grand national importance are different, and halacha recognizes this with the category called "karov lemalchut."

When the Bet Yosef is called upon to explain the halacha as found in the Rambam allowing one who is close to the government to wear Gentile garments in order to fit in and allow his voice to be heard, he states (Tur, BY YD 178 sv me shekarov):
Let me ask: Since according to Torah law this conduct is prohibited, and even lashes are given for its violation, where did the Rabbis find the authority to permit a Torah prohibition to those who are close to government? I answer: For the sake of saving the Jewish people, one can permit the violation since when there are Jews in government standing in the breach evil decrees can be annulled....
It is extremely important to understand what he says as a matter of halacha. Of course, a person may violate most areas of halacha to save people RIGHT NOW. That is easy. But halacha recognizes that long term involvement in certain types of politics in certain ways allows a person to be close, in a time of need -- and if you are not close all the time, you can not get close in the time of need. 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.)

Most of us do not head down the path of karov lemalchut as our chosen job and I understand that fully and completely. I do not wish it to be my chosen path either and I do not run towards that type of public service. That is fine.

But, I think, given the opportunity to grow close to the President of the United States -- and to affirm to him the need to help Israel in its war with Hamas – could be a classical case of karov lemalchut. This kind of chance to be karov lemalchut is not something that is permitted to most of us in any given normal situation, but it is something that is given to just a few of us, on only rare occasion, and we should not criticize those of us within the RCA who undertake to be involved in the long term saving of Jewish lives by being karov lemalchut.

Let me add one other thing that is worth noting. Rav Herzog notes (Techuka LeYisrael Al-Pe HaTorah volume 1, page 14-15) that bemakom tzorech gadol lerabim, one can rely on the view of the Meiri that even Catholic Churches are not avodah zarah; he states this with regard to letting churches be built in Israel, and his fear that if Israel does not permit churches in Israel to be built, Israel will not survive. Even if that is not correct (some poskim I have spoken to think it is completely wrong, and others do not), there is certainly a significant halachic difference between the basic nature of Catholic belief and non-Catholic Christian belief as having the status of avodah zarah. Many, many non-Catholic Christian denominations are clearly monotheistic (think about, for example, Unitarians). While the practice is not to draw these distinctions for our community (I certainly do not), as who can really keep track of the diverse denominations, it is well known that many poskim do in fact draw this distinction in time of urgent need, which being karov lemalchut might well be. Based on something the Tzitz Eliezer said to me, I think that was part of his calculus, although he did not give me a firm reason for his psak. Veday lecha beremiza.

We should be blessed to live in times where these struggles do not take place. But if we must live in such a world, halacha has a category for dealing with it, and I think that this case is within that category.

Michael J. Broyde


I must respectfully take issue with Rabbi Broyde's halachic analysis here for the following reasons:

1. Bet Yosef provides two answers to his question of how Chazal could permit a karov lemalchut to violate bechukotehem. The first one is the one mentioned by Rabbi Broyde. However the second answer that he gives would have no application whatsoever to our case at hand and is limited to the issur of bechukotehem (he explains that since the issur of bechukotehem is vague, mesaro hakatuv lachachamim to decide when and where it applies). It is this second answer that appears to be accepted lehalacha by Taz. Bach provides yet a third response to the question, again one that would only make sense with regard to the issur of bechukotehem and not with regard to entering a church.

2. Even according to the first answer of Bet Yosef, the one put forth by Rabbi Broyde, the heter given is not pikuach nefesh, but rather hatzalat yisrael. This might very well be a heter for things that pikuach nefesh is not matir - see for example R. Zevin in Le’or Hahalacha page 16-17 who quotes R. Kook on this matter. So the analysis that Rabbi Broyde presents of future immediate pikuach nefesh may be correct with regard to hatzalat yisrael but not necessarily for every case of pikuach nefesh.

3. The heter given was for a karov lemalchut. This would be an individual who must frequent the king on a regular basis and therefore must dress accordingly. These are the people who are able to: (A) Be aware of any impending gzerot against Klal Yisrael, and (B): have access to the king to attempt to overturn the gzerot. They were the "shtadlans" of old. If indeed there were a modern day version of karov lemalchut, it would be the Malcolm Hoenlein’s and the Nathan Diament’s of the world, not the rabbis who do not fit the job description at all. To assume that anyone who wishes to establish cordial relations with the malchut would fall under this heter is in my view quite a stretch.

4. Tur at the end of YD siman 157 quotes the opinion of Rosh that it is permitted to run into a mekom avoda zarah to seek asylum. Thus the heter of entering such a place is explicitly given only for actual pikuach nefesh. This is the opinion that is accepted lehalacha, but it should be noted that this is the lenient view. Bet Yosef there quotes Tur in YD 149 that even to save one's life it is assur. So to stretch the heter more than what is stated clearly, to cases where there is no current pikuach nefesh but merely the possible potential of some unknown future pikuach nefesh, would appear unwarranted.

Bekavod rav,

Kenny Auman


Rabbi Auman (and fellow RCA members),

Thank you, Rabbi Auman for writing back. Exchange on matters of halacha is central to what we all do, and I appreciate the fact that you read and responded.

Rabbi Auman's analysis is very interesting, and he is correct that my comments to the email list were incomplete. There is just a limit to how much one can state on an erev Shabbat writing from one's memory. I write some more now, with notes in hand. I am sorry that my initial post was not complete. I wrote my comments quickly with just a Tur in hand, and erev Shabbatstress on my mind.

This post will fill in more gaps.

1. There are three basic views on the halacha of what a person who is karov lemalchut may do, and all three are noted by the three primary commentators on the Tur. Bet Yosef insists that this halacha is grounded in saving lives, and all is permitted (more on this below); hatzalat yisrael is the reason. Bach insists that this halacha is grounded in the fact that bechukotehem is an offense in which you have to have a certain state of mind to imitate gentiles, and this person does not. Drisha rules that this heter is limited to cases where the issur Torah is not explicit, but is given to Chazal to establish guidelines for.

2. Taz in YD 178(5) adopts the view of the Drisha. (I think I noted that in my initial post, also.) This is somewhat contradicted by Taz himself in YD 181:1, by a somewhat more speculative Taz. More significantly, Shulchan Aruch YD 178:2 codifies the halacha in accordance with his rule in the Bet Yosef (not surprising) and changes the language of the Rambam and Tur to reflect the fact that this is a general heter and not a limited one (thus he writes "mutar bakol"). This view is itself challenged by Shut Panim Me’erot 2:79 and others. Some adopt the compromised view and permit all issurai derabanan (like the Darchei Teshuva does on 178:2). There is an extensive literature on this in the shealot uteshuvot. Certainly, however, many poskim adopt the view of the Shulchan Aruch.

3. In my view, it is reasonable to adopt the view of the Bet Yosef for certain in cases where the issur is not explicit in the Torah, providing an overlap of both the reasoning of the Drisha and Bet Yosef. (This is even more so true, as the view of the Bach is not generally accepted on the nature of bechukotehem.) Thus, it would be a bigger act of hachra’ah by a posek to permit a person who is karov lemalchut to eat chametz on Pesach if needed to (hard to imagine such a case) than to wear gentile clothes. I think the prohibition to enter a church is in the category of not explicit in the Torah and thus this overlap applies. (I do not understand Rabbi Auman's assertion that entering a church is not governed by the heter. The exact formulation of the Taz is "shelo pershah hatorah shum davar" which certainly seems to be the case for entering a church. Indeed, as is well known, some rishonim and acharonim view the whole prohibition as rabbinic based on chashad. See Shach YD 149:1-2. Certainly, this is not explicit in the Torah.)

(Based on this reasoning, many poskim permit one to enter a church when there is absolutely no possibility of chashad or marit ayin, such as to vote, or as a fire fighter when the church is on fire, or in other cases of truly urgent need where the reality is completely obvious.)

4. I think that the rationale of hatzalat yisrael is greater than pikuach nefesh, and not less and the fact that the normative halacha is that one can enter a church in cases of pikuach nefesh makes it even more clear that one may do so for the sake of hatzalat yisrael generally. It is based on this rationale, I suspect, that court Jews have entered into churches for many years. (Rabbi Auman's analysis leads one to the conclusion that the conduct of these many chief rabbis is without any foundation in the halacha, which is hard to accept. My explanation is that such conduct is only permitted to people who are really in the position of hatzalat yisrael, and not every Tom, Dick and Harry – or every Yisrael, Yosef and Matityahu.)

5. Rabbi Auman makes a point that I am neutral on, and which he could be correct, or he could be wrong. He maintains that this is not the job of rabbis but the "Malcolm Hoeinline’s and the Nathan Diament’s of the world." I confess that I do not know if this argument is factually true or not. (I am not sure if Rabbi Auman actually knows either or is merely speculating.) I do not think that he is correct that as a matter of halacha being karov lemalchut REQUIRES as a matter of halacha that one "a. Be aware of any impending gzerot against Klal Yisrael, and b: have access to the king to attempt to overturn the gzerot". I think, for example, the Jewish friend of Harry Truman who pressed Truman to recognize Israel fits that bill. To me, this is a question of effectiveness and relationship building that is governed by the reality of the situation and not objective halachic rules. I have little actual knowledge of the situation -- but I could add (as a mere sevarah be'alma from a person who knows little in this area) that once the President decided that he wanted an Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbi to speak, it generates evah towards Orthodoxy if no one accepts, and that itself is a rationale to be considered.

6. Let me add one other factor. One who actually watches the service (link) or who reads the literature about the event (which states "The newly-inaugurated President and Vice President of the United States joined with dignitaries and Americans of diverse faiths to celebrate the previous day’s events through prayer, readings, and musical performances. The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins was the first woman to deliver the sermon at this traditional Inaugural event." - link) might even add as a limud zechut that from the fact that the church itself states directly that not all prayer at this event is Christian, it does not have the direct status of a sanctuary at the time of worship. ALL WHO ATTENDED OR WATCHED CERTAINLY SAW THAT WORSHIP WAS NOT EXCLUSIVELY CHRISTIAN. That factor itself could be of halachic significance, particularly when combined with my final observation in my post on this topic about the status of many Christian sects as avodah zara nowadays.


Michael J. Broyde


Our differing perspectives on these issues can be divided into two categories: Differences with regard to the metziut - realities of the situation, and differences with regard to understanding the basic halachot with which we are operating. I would like to address both categories.

But I cannot resist (as is often the case with pulpit rabbis) bringing in last week's Parsha by way of introduction. Moshe Rabennu according to Rashi quoting the Mechilta, would not even pray in a city with idols, let alone in an actual mekom avodah zarah. My interpretation is that the city was so filled with idols, that even if Moshe could have found a quiet corner somewhere, he felt that his prayers would have been tainted, and thus he had to quit the city entirely.

In any case, leaving the homiletics aside, many of the posts raise very interesting points. Regarding who is a karov lemalchut today, Rabbi Broyde is quite correct that my position is speculative. No one can adduce proof to either position. However my definition of a karov lemalchut as people who are able to: a. Be aware of any impending gzerot against Klal Yisrael, and b: have access to the king to attempt to overturn the gzerot, is merely a paraphrase of the words of Bet Yosef, "dikesheyesh yisre'elim kerovim lemalchut omdim bapretz levatel hagzerot." We are not dealing with Rome or with Tzarist Russia today. I am not even certain that we have to worry about the kind of gzerot to which Bet Yosef is alluding. But if preventing anti-Israel policy does qualify, then today, those who influence best are the lobbyists, such as the Hoenline’s, the Diament’s, and the PACs.

Rabbi Broyde is right. Neither of us can prove this one way or the other. But my other contention deals with understanding the basic halachot at play here - that the category of karov lemalchut is not a heter for entering a church. And it is that position that I would like to defend here by responding to Rabbi Broyde's succinct points.

Firstly, just a clarification of facts. There is no dispute between Bet Yosef and Prisha. Both quote the same two answers.

I believe that Rabbi Broyde is misunderstanding the second answer of Bet Yosef (what he refers to as Prisha's position). There are many halachot in the Torah that are vague. However when they are darshend by Chazal, they then have specific interpretations. So for example the formulation of "lo taase melacha" with regard to Shabbat is vague. However once Chazal darshend is as relating to the 39 melachot, it is no longer vague. However there are other halachot where the interpretation of Chazal does not appear to be based on a particular drasha or clear sevarah, but rather is left to their discretion, e.g. the categories of forbidden melacha on Chol Hamoed (according to those Rishonim who hold that melacha on Chol Hamoed is mideoraita). In those cases, Chazal have wide latitude to determine the parameters of the prohibition. So the heter of karov lemalchut according to the second answer of Bet Yosef is not a heter for any "vague" prohibition in the Torah. It is merely part of the formulation of the issur of bechukotehem and can have absolutely no application anywhere else.

And the first answer of Bet Yosef is also a heter for bechukotehem only. Since hatzalat yisrael requires people who can dress like the gentiles, so it is permitted. And as Rabbi Broyde very cogently noted, this is not normal pikuach nefesh - this is preparing the groundwork for the eventuality for saving lives. Thus it is a heter given specifically with regard to these halachot. Going into a church on a regular basis is not necessary for governmental contact, nor are other issurim necessary. I do not understand Rabbi Broyde's contention that the Shulchan Aruch is changing the language of the Tur. They both say the exact same thing - that for a karov lemalchut, hakol mutar. Clearly hakol mutar means not every averah in the world, but merely the ones discussed in this siman. That is clear from both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch.

I do not see any contradiction between Taz in YD 178:5 and 181:1. To the contrary, they are complementary. In 178:5, he mentions the second answer of Bet Yosef, that the heter of karov lemalchut is based on mesaro lachachamim, and in 181:1 he discusses if in fact the prohibition of giluach hape’ot is a subset of chukot akum or an independent issur. If it is a subset of chukot akum, he says, then the heter of karov lemalchut applies. If it is independent, then the heter of karov lemalchut does not apply. Thus in fact, Taz is explicitly stating what I have been contending here, that karov lemalchut is a heter only for the issurim included under chukot akum and nothing else.

Let me return to a point in my original post: There is a se'if in Shulchan Aruch that deals with entering a church, YD 157:3. The heter there is only for actual pikuach nefesh, not for the proactive kind we are discussing here. And as I pointed out, that is the lenient view. So by what right do we extend this heter?

Let me conclude this megillah by apologizing for its length, and apologizing if I have inadvertently offended anyone with my views and analysis. Rabbi Broyde knows me well enough to know that I certainly hold him (and all the other posters here) in great esteem, and this is purely milchamta shel Torah, with no animosity intended.

Kenny Auman


Dear Rabbi Auman (and fellow RCA members):

Thank you for your comments and criticisms. I learn from them, and reformulate in light of the comments.

I confess that I am a believer in "ain meshivim al hadrush" and I did enjoy Rabbi Auman's parsha insights very much. I am spending much of my time this year learning Yerushalmi in beki’ut (as I have never really learned Yerushalmi, so I have to start somewhere) and the stories of the difficult situations Rav Yochanan ben Zakai found himself in after his decision to surrender Jerusalem stand in contrast to Moshe Rabbenu's decision to completely avoid avodah zarah. Rav Yochanan ben Zakai was also well thought of by Chazal, and the decisions to compromise or stand firm are very hard. They require someone much wiser than me -- I just think about halacha and its four walls, to be honest.

But I readily concede that I am agnostic on the factual issues raised by many. I do not know if someone specific has the status of karov lemalchut nowadays or whether such a person can have any influence. I write halachic theory.

I do not think that Rabbi Auman is correct in his view that the second answer of Bet Yosef is limited to bechokotehem. I will give three proofs to that. The first is textual. The Shulchan Aruch generally takes the language of the Rambam when he can. Here the Rambam explicitly states (AZ 11:3) that a person who is karov lemalchut can "mutar lelbosh kmalbushan" (as Rabbi Auman insists is the halacha) but when the Shulchan Aruch cites this halacha, he changes the Rambam’s formulation to "me shehu karov lemalchut vetzarich lelbosh bemalbusheyhim uledamot lahem mutar bakol," a much broader formulation -- all is permitted, referring to the fact that other prohibitions are also permitted. The decision to change the formulation of the Rambam is for a reason.

The second proof -- that the formulation of the Prisha and Taz is not limited to bechokotehem issues -- is from the Darchei Teshuva on YD 181:2 where he states explicitly that "aval legalayach hazakan eino bechlal heter zeh de'isur geluach hazakan hu mefurash batorah dechtiv... " From his formulation one sees clearly that he contemplates that other prohibitions -- not explicit in the torah -- would be permitted. If it were limited to bechukotehem, he should have said that. That also seems logical.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Mishnat Chachamim in hilchot avodah zarah 44 and 53 explicitly addresses the tension between the first and second answer of the Bet Yosef, and certainly does assume that one of the differences is whether other issurim can be violated. That is why I think a normal hachra’ah is to limit the heter to cases where both the Bet Yosef and the Drisha agree.

Rabbi Auman's final comment that Shulchan Aruch YD 157 explicitly only permits entering a church to save one's life, seems to me to be misplaced and that it trumps karov lemalchut cases seems to me to be mistaken on two levels. As Shach notes there, entering a church is generally not an issur Torah and thus one can do so to save one's life; certainly, I would argue, the general category of hatzalat yisrael of the whole people permits even more than that -- and indeed Darchei Teshuva 178:2 seems to conclude that all rabbinic prohibitions are permitted to someone who is karuv lemalchut. I do not think that praying Jewish prayers at a Christian service is an issur Torah, either. (Although in normal situations, it is completely assur.)

Let me add another thought. To the extent that one wants to limit the right of someone who is karov lemalchut, it would seem logical to include in it (at the least) the right to violate all the non-textually explicit prohibitions that prevent a Jew from appearing to be a goy. What do I mean by that? The purpose of this heter is to allow the Jew to interact with the Christian community around him on their terms, appearing as a Goy, wearing a Christian frock. Entering a church even in times of Christian prayer is not an explicit Torah prohibition and might also be something that a person karov lemalchut needs to do. (I admit that I have seen no source that states this.)

I too apologize if I have inadvertently offended anyone with my views and analysis. I think so well of Rabbi Auman that I know that he understands that we are discussing halacha and no personal animus is ever intended.


Dear Rabbi Broyde,

It is a pleasure to continue the discussion with you. I too often wonder about the tension between idealism and pragmatism/compromise. On the one hand, the Chashmonaim are our heroes - fiercely idealistic and uncompromising. But on the other hand as you note, R. Yochanan ben Zakai is also a hero - for having compromised. And then of course there is R. Akiva who was uncompromising both in terms of his religiosity and his politics. In the former he is an inspiration for all time and in the latter he is viewed as having been mistaken. So how should we know what to do?

In any case getting back to our discussion, I still maintain that the heter is only for bechukotehem. It is true that the Shulchan Aruch is not quoting the Rambam, but he is directly quoting the Tur. And from the sum total of all his comments in Bet Yosef it seems to me clear that that is all to which he is referring. But I guess that we'll just have to disagree on this point.

With regard to Darchei Teshuvah, I think that what he is saying is that since there are some (e.g. the Taz that you mentioned yesterday) who discuss whether or not giluach is part of chukot akum or not and might therefore be included in this heter, he is maintaining that it is a separate issur, because it is mentioned specifically in the Torah, and therefore the heter does not apply to it.

In any case, I think that this will be my last post on this subject, because if I continue I will just end up repeating myself as I probably have done already. I'm quitting not while I'm ahead, but at least when I'm not so far behind.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of this discussion, and I look forward to future discussions.

Bekavod rav,

Kenny Auman


(This email was written in response to a number of posts that initially cited incorrect facts about the case, and not exclusively to Rabbi Auman.)

Fellow RCA members,

Let me state these facts clearly again, since I know that even accidental untruths need to be rebutted many times on the internet.

1. I was not consulted by Rabbi Lookstein about whether he should or should not participate in the Inaugural Prayer Service. Rabbi Lookstein (rightfully so!) does not ask me shaylas. (He is many years my senior, and much wiser and smarter than me.)

2. I have written my defense of participation in these kinds of events for a person who is karov lemalchut because I think such a view is correct as a matter of halacha, and not because I was asked a formal (or even informal) shayla about the Inaugural Prayer Service. [Answering a shayla about these kinds of matters requires much knowledge about the details of the specific case. These are fact specific shaylas and no one should think that all of these shaylas are identical. Each case and each person is different. They have an element of hora’at sha’ah in them also.]

3. More importantly, I wrote my view that halacha permits one to go to such events in some circumstances even as I suspected great rabbis might disagree with me, as I am very mindful of the words of Maharatz Chayut on Gittin 56a (which Rav Moshe cites so approvingly in Iggrot Moshe YD 1:101) that on urgent matters that relate to hatzalat yisrael even mediocre talmedai chachamim (like me) ought to voice their views. Hatzalat Yisrael is something that should be on everyone's agenda and not just on the agenda of gedolim, so writes the Maharatz Chayut [for the exact text of the Maharatz Chayut, see the FN* below].

Finally, the story of my shayla to the Tzitiz Eliezer is one that I shared with Rabbi Lookstein after his participation in the Inauguration Day Prayer.

FN* Maharatz Chayut, Gittin 56a states:

We see from this that the Rabbis thought that the manner of Rabbi Zecharya was not proper, as he felt that such sacrifices could be brought [and he should have so stated]... However, because of his great modesty, he did not have the strength to act according to his views halacha lema'aseh [and save the Jewish people]; rather, he was afraid that other rabbis would accuse him of permitting activity prohibited by halacha, and he did not think of himself as a great enough sage to permit people to act according to his understanding of the halacha. He thought that these types of decisions were left only to the wisest of the generation (gedolei ha-dor) [when in fact, he should have acted].
(For a discussion of Rav Moshe’s use of this Maharatz Chayut, see here)

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