There is quite an online controversy over Ivanka Trump's and Jared Kushner's decision to attend John McCain's funeral at the National Cathedral in Washington yesterday after the President himself was asked not to come. Apparently, a lot of people were offended by their presence while others defended their "sense of decency" in paying respects to the grieving family, etc, etc.
What should really concern us in this matter, is the very public flaunting of halachah by two people who claim to be "Orthodox" observant Jews. I had decided to keep mum on this subject. I never get any pleasure from finger-pointing, but even less so this week of all weeks. However, after I read a write-up about it on Yeshivah World News with no mention whatever of the halachic ramifications, I felt I couldn't let it pass without comment. Too many of us are ignorant with regard to these very serious matters.
Not only did they attend a funeral inside a church, but they did it on Shabbat when we don't even hold funerals for Jews on Shabbat - a day on which expressions of mourning are forbidden to Jews. I found this very disturbing. And I don't even want to know if they walked there or not.
Why Can't Jews Attend Church Funerals?Halachah is not a minhag - a custom - it is the LAW. And if you pick and choose the laws you are willing to keep, or adjust your observance of them in keeping with political calculations, you are not "Orthodox."
According to Jewish law, there is generally no issue with attending a non-Jewish funeral or visiting a non-Jewish cemetery (unless one is a kohen).1 There is, however, a problem with entering a church.2
Judaism sees faith and worship as something very powerful and palpable. Thus, for example, a synagogue—a place where Jews come together to pray, worship and express their faith—is considered a holy place, and there are many laws regarding what may be done inside of it.
As people of faith, we view other people of faith as being sincere in their beliefs. As such, a non-Jewish house of worship is more than just a building. It is a place where that religion comes to life. Thus, a church is a place where Christianity and its teachings become palpable, pervading the very building itself.
To a person of faith, this has serious ramifications. You cannot simply enter a church without some aspect of the church’s religious experience entering you. And no matter how subliminal this experience is, it is inconsistent with Jewish faith and practice. To argue that a church is nothing more than a building is to trivialize the potent atmosphere of a house of worship. And that in itself is a form of disrespect for people of faith.
A person of faith—no matter what faith—can understand this and is sensitive to it. He believes that his religion's symbology has meaning, and he sees real potency in the rituals he practices. He understands that when another person takes part in a religious ceremony in his place of worship, it is not possible for him to be there as a passive observer alone, but as a participant who cannot help but walk away changed by the ceremony.
1.See, for example, Talmud, Bava Metzia 114a.
2.See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 150:1; Shach, Yoreh Deiah 149:1; Darkei Teshuvah 150:2; Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deiah 3:129:6.