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Can a Shliach try to have Hashpa’ah on a Reform community in such a situation?

 

Full Question:

On page two of this interview with Rabbi Riskin, he quotes a Psak that Horav Soloveitchik A”H gave him about a frum rabbi sitting in Reform temple, etc., with 3 conditions.

Can a Shliach or chaplain act accordingly while trying to be Mechazek a Reform community?

The specific situation I’m asking about is a little different for it is a general “Parve” Chapel and there is a Reform minyan (paid for by military). This military Chaplin wants to walk over there on Shabbos and sit in back w/o Tallis and just get friendly with people and give a Dvar Torah. The current rabbi is leaving in a year and says that this Frum Chaplain can take over and make a Frum Minyan when he leaves.

 

Answer:

To summarize the relevant part of the article, Rabbi Soloveitchik allowed Rabbi Riskin to be present in the synagogue and even share words of Torah and inspiration. However, given that the synagogue did not yet have a Mechitza, Rabbi Soloveichik formulated three conditions which would apply as long as the synagogue did not have a Mechitza: 1) Rabbi Riskin would not actually daven in the synagogue, 2) Rabbi Riskin would not live in the vicinity of the synagogue, so that it would not be seen as if he had assumed official responsibility for the synagogue, and 3) Rabbi Riskin would not take any payment from the synagogue.

Reading the article, there is nothing which indicates that the discussion concerned a reform temple, but rather, a synagogue without a Mechitza. Although the article does not explicitly define the particular persuasion of the synagogue, the very fact that they were specifically interested in an orthodox rabbi would seem to indicate that the community regarded themselves as more aligned with orthodox than reform, even if they did not have a Mechitzah. Further research (see this webpage) identifies the origins of this particular community as the Lincoln Square Conservative Synagogue, which very quickly became orthodox due to the new rabbi’s influence. It is clear from the article that the Rav’s conditional approval was specifically because of the trajectory he envisioned the community taking –that it would soon become an orthodox Shule under the rabbi’s influence, which is exactly what ended up happening.

Either way, halachically it’s difficult, and at times wrong, to rely on rumors or stories, to determine a halacha. Poskim caution us not to rely even on Piskei Din found in authoritative sources, if they’re just kitzurim, not backed up by formal sources. How much more so, in the case of hearsay that a particular Rav Pakened a certain way. See here and here in the מראי מקומות.

There are a number of sources in which the Rebbe discusses these kinds of issues (see Shlichas K’hilchasa page 156 onwards), and two key criteria emerge:

  1. Not to enter a dedicated place of reform worship,
  2. Not to collaborate in a manner which could be misinterpreted as granting legitimacy or a “stamp of approval” for the reform movement.

With regards to point 2, the Rebbe cautioned that the optics will to some degree depend on the character and composition of the local Jewish community.

In the particular situation you describe, the first point does not seem to be of concern, given that the chapel is not a dedicated place of reform worship. The second point must be given due consideration. If it is objectively felt that the military chaplain’s participation will not grant any legitimacy to the reform congregation, then participation in the manner you describe might be the correct thing to do, if it will provide a reasonably clear pathway towards the Minyan becoming orthodox. In this case, it would be appropriate to follow the three conditions described in the attached article.

Of course, this response applies to this specific situation inly and shouldn’t be used as a blanket ruling for similar situations.

 

 

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