Haskel Lookstein

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Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (born March 21, 1932) is an American Modern Orthodox Rabbi who serves as the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and principal of the Ramaz School.

Early years[edit]

Lookstein started first grade at the Ramaz School in 1937, which was established by his father and named in honor of Rabbi Joseph Lookstein's grandfather-in-law and predecessor in the pulpit, Rabbi Moses Zevulun Margolies.[1]

As a child in the 1940s and 1950s, Lookstein would maintain a "shul scorecard", tracking the weather, the subject of his father's sermon, the details of any special occasions and the number of congregants in attendance, which hovered in the 200s, depending on the subject of the sermon.[1]


Lookstein received his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and took a master's degree program at Yeshiva University.[2] After receiving his rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in 1958, he was offered pulpits in Detroit and at the Sephardic Temple in Cedarhurst, New York. He had also been offered a position as assistant rabbi serving under his father, a choice that he was warned against taking.[1] He was installed as assistant rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, serving under his father, Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, on June 14, 1958.[2]


He married the former Audrey Katz on June 21, 1959, in a ceremony held at Congregation Kehillath Jeshurun and conducted by his father, assisted by Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Joseph M. Baumol. The couple planned to visit Israel on their wedding trip.[3]


The New York Times quoted extensive portions of a May 14, 1966, sermon on the weekly Torah portion of Behar / Bechukotai, in which Rabbi Lookstein cited the Talmud as a model for a modern civil rights manual. Rabbi Lookstein quoted the 25th chapter of the Book of Leviticus, which is read at the beginning of Parashat Behar, as being "one of the most profound sources" for the social consciousness of religion during the Civil Rights era and that it is the Talmud that prescribes that no man is free if he does not have economic opportunity or the right to live where he chooses.[4][5]

Rabbi Lookstein's political activism began with numerous visits to the former Soviet Union, numerous rallies on behalf of Natan Sharansky and Soviet Jewry and continues today with activism on behalf of the Jews of Israel and worldwide.

Rabbi Lookstein assumed the position of Senior Rabbi, following the death of his father in July 1979.[6] Filled with concern at the responsibility of filling the role served by his father as the congregation's leader, he was reassured after his father's funeral by his mother, who said "Haskel, you'll sit there; that was dad's seat", followed shortly thereafter by "Well, you'll finally have a nice office", successfully assuaging his worries in assuming his father's position.[1]

He was selected by Newsweek magazine as the most influential Orthodox pulpit rabbi in the United States in 2008, ranked second nationwide behind Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles. Newsweek's rankings were based on success in congregational growth and inspiration, leadership in the community and within his denominational movement and the ability to serve the spiritual needs of his congregation.[7]

Lookstein has a vision for a more open and centrist Orthodox Judaism.[8]

Controversy over President Obama's National Prayer Service[edit]

Rabbi Lookstein was one of the rabbinical participants in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral representing, loosely speaking, the orthodox Jewish contingent. The Rabbinical Council of America, the primary American modern-orthodox rabbinic association, initially took exception to his presence, stating that "participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited", and adding "Any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity."[9]

Once their early position was publicized, they backtracked and simply stated that Rabbi Lookstein didn't represent the RCA.

“Rabbi Lookstein did not represent the Rabbinical Council of America in attending that service and therefore we have no comment on the matter,” said Rabbi Basil Herring, executive director of the RCA.[10]