(RNS) Two hundred people demonstrated outside Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court on Wednesday (July 6) to protest the court’s refusal to recognize the authority of one of the most prominent Orthodox American rabbis.
Last month the marriage registrar at a branch of the Chief Rabbinate told an American immigrant she could not marry in Israel because her conversion to Judaism — performed by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein — did not meet the rabbinate’s standards. The rabbinate, which has adopted increasingly stringent ultra-Orthodox standards, has sole authority over Jewish marriage and divorce in Israel.
Lookstein, rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is considered one of the most respected modern Orthodox rabbis in the world. He converted Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter, to Judaism.
Although Israel’s two chief rabbis have since issued statements supporting Lookstein’s conversions, their statements are not binding on the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which heard the woman’s appeal Wednesday but issued no ruling.
The Jerusalem rally, the first of its kind on behalf of a U.S. rabbi, reflects American Jews’ growing disaffection with the rabbinate, a government institution that some say is trying to delegitimize diaspora rabbis and make itself the sole authority on Jewish law.
Although the practice has been going on for a decade, it has taken this long for the public to fully recognize the problem, said Rabbi Seth Farber, whose organization, ITIM, is representing the woman in court.
Several parliamentarians and other dignitaries attended the high-profile rally.
“I came here to demand that all this process of interference by the State of Israel into the legitimacy of the Zionist religious leadership of American Jewry should be stopped immediately,” Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, told The Times of Israel.
Sharansky said it is hypocritical for the Jewish Agency to send emissaries to diaspora communities to encourage them to immigrate to Israel when “Israel then comes and says, ‘But your leaders are not our leaders. Your rabbis, even the most Zionist of them all, the most [Jewishly observant] in the world — they are not our rabbis. We don’t recognize them.’ All that is left for our enemies is to say, ‘We told you so.’”
(Michele Chabin is RNS’s Jerusalem correspondent)