I publicly broke with organized Orthodoxy in October 2014 here and the recent storm that landed on my social media in the aftermath of the Rabbi Lookstein – RNC fiasco only confirms to me I was right. Full disclosure, I have known Rabbi Lookstein my whole life, admire him and sent my children to his Ramaz.
I signed the now infamous petition asking Rabbi Lookstein not to speak at the convention. I also emailed him and respectfully expressed my hope that somehow the announcement of his appearance at the RNC was a mistake. In retrospect, I concede that the language employed by the writer of the petition could have been moderated and been more respectful. Insofar as my signature contributed to any personal hurt felt by the good rabbi, I publicly apologize.
I will admit that at no time did I think Rabbi Lookstein was asked to do anything other than make an invocation. When I signed the petition I signed assuming that he was asked to deliver a prayer not an endorsement. I am pretty sure that most people that signed assumed the same. I for one also assumed that there was a connection between the rabbi’s scheduled appearance and his congregant Ivanka Trump. I signed anyway.
Here’s how I see it. Option one: Rabbi Lookstein fully aware of the divisiveness of Donald Trump, fully aware of his misogynist, xenophobic and anti Muslim statements, decided to accept the invitation anyway. Rabbi Lookstein has enough gravitas and a long enough record to deflect any heat for taking a principled stand. His email after his withdrawal certainly could have been a template for diverting any firestorm and explaining his decision.
Option two: Rabbi Lookstein did not think that the Trump candidacy is controversial or that some of the candidates’ statements were not outrageous enough for him to pass on the honor or that his appearance would create no controversy. Only God and Rabbi Lookstein know the truth and I take Rabbi Lookstein at his word when he said his appearance would not be political.
Whatever Rabbi Lookstein’s intentions, 800 plus signatories alerted him that appearing at this RNC, which is nominating this candidate, would be contentious. What Rabbi Lookstein could not have anticipated was the legions of new fans, defenders and supporters he attracted that until now cared little for him. I’m not speaking of his loyal followers, congregants and students who were respectfully split on this issue. And I’m not referring to the few who took obvious joy at trying to bring the revered rabbi down a notch. Haters gonna hate, right? I’m speaking of Rabbi Lookstein’s new defenders who were eerily silent while the Israeli rabbinate disallowed his conversions, the same people who did not jump to Rabbi Lookstein’s defense when he prayed at the National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of President Obama and caused right wing Orthodoxy to kick up a manure storm. These people have become convenient Lookstein acolytes because it is now politically expedient, not because they care whit one about Rabbi Lookstein or his body of work.
I have written extensively about how Judaism, Orthodoxy in particular, has become an elitist occupation for one percenters. Social justice, minority rights, economic equality have all taken second place to defending an Israel that is no longer an underdog but a world power. The perception that Donald Trump will be better for the Jews and Israel has caused decent people to ignore a call for a blanket ban on immigration of one religion (imagine if that one religion was Judaism). They ignore offensive comments about women, Mexicans and our independent judiciary. These same people claimed President Obama was a secret Muslim out to destroy America and to throw Israel under the bus. It is these people that are most vocal now in defending Rabbi Lookstein, who himself realized that the RNC – to paraphrase Elie Weisel, “is not his place.”
Donald Trump is a bully, is a bully, is a bully. If you don’t take a stand against him then you are responsible for the consequences caused by his actions. I trust that Rabbi Lookstein’s intentions were pure and I am proud he saw fit to stand down.