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Israeli rabbinical court questions authority of US rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump

Two hundred people demonstrated outside Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court on July 6, 2016, to protest the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize the authority of one of the most prominent Orthodox American rabbis. Photo courtesy of Ezra Landau for ITIM

(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.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, left, at a 2015 Jewish Week gala in his honor. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Week

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, left, at a 2015 Jewish Week gala in his honor. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Week

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.

Two hundred people demonstrated outside Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court on July 6, 2016 to protest the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize the authority of one of the most prominent Orthodox American rabbis. Photo courtesy of Ezra Landau for ITIM

Two hundred people demonstrated outside Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court on July 6, 2016, to protest the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize the authority of one of the most prominent Orthodox American rabbis. Photo courtesy of Ezra Landau for ITIM

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)

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Michele Chabin

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  • I would question not just the authority of whoever “performed” the conversion of Ivanka Trump but her own sincerity. She has been as silent as the grave as her father has attacked and openly mocked Jews; posted Nazi imagery; accepted the sponsorship of the KKK and other hate groups. She is complicit in this by her silence. She is in my estimation a false Jew; a fifth columnist.

  • Questioning another person’s religion.

    Disgusting.

    EVEN IF we lived in a world where posting an image that used a six pointed star was proof of antisemitism and we lived in a world where Trump DIDN’T denounce the KKK that endorsed him (he most certainly DID denounce them, both before and after his presidential run), I don’t see what right YOU have to judge Ivanka’s silence.

    Even if there was clear proof of Trump being antisemetic, Ivanka is bound by the COMMANDMENT to honor her father. With that in mind, silence would seem to be the thing REQUIRED of her by Jewish Law. It’s been a while since I read the ten commandments, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t read “Honor thy mother and thy father, unless they post some antismetic stuff on Twitter, then denounce them”.

    On the other end, posting an image with a six pointed star is not proof of antisemitism, and Trump HAS denounced the KKK endorsement. Trump is a horrible person and a horrible candidate. This is why I don’t understand why you feel the need to LIE about Trump in order to make your point!! There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Trump that it’s pathetic that you have to resort to INVENTING new reasons.

  • You’re right about Donald but very wrong about Rabbi Lookstein and Ivanka. Lookstein is one of the most prominent rabbis in the US. His authority in these matters is halachically unquestionable. Ivanka converted to Judaism (you’re correct, Lookstein did not “perform” the conversion so much as supervise the process) in 2009, long before her father foisted herself onto this country. Even if it were halachically permissible or ethically expected for her to denounce her father, her failure to do so cannot affect her status as a Jew. To do would be just as bad as the Israeli rabbinate, who go on inquisitions after (always female) converts years later, demanding to know if they’re keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath.

  • Mildly amusing to see Trump attacked from the right. Ver-ree mildly.

    The first lesson of every page of Talmud is that there are several ways of looking at things. This bit of Rabbinate-at-work shows it, and reminds me of something that happened back in the 1940’s, while Eretz Israel was going through its labour pains.

    The Hazon Ish, a man of vast learning but in my humble (and by comparison with him ignorant) opinion utter irrelevance, met with Ben Gurion. The leader was at work on the forthcoming laws and constitution of the State to be. In talking about the institutional role of religion in a modern secular state, the Hazon Ish brought out the olde tale about the two donkeys meeting on a bridge. “The one that is more heavy laden must pass. The other must give way.”

    Point, game and set to Ben Gurion, I would have thought. No. The short-sighted Talmudist was making the claim for his own 17th century version of Polish Judaism, to make it Israel’s for the modern world. Some people agreed with him, though at that time most put their backs into the nation building.

    I thought he was being insolent to the great Zionist leader. As the article shows, today an even larger people would disagree with me. Ah, wealth!

    -dlj.

  • Who said “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God?”
    I guess, because there was NO human arbitrator or court involved in Ruth’s conversion that it didn’t count.
    Somehow I think God know those who are converted in the heart and those who are not.

  • You know, Abraham left behind a family system and a father where idol worship was central. He went out to find the city whose maker and builder is God.
    Nobody I know in Judaism doubts his conversion.
    You can’t judge Ivanka by her father. Have you ever thought that this young woman, from 3 broken marriages, found what she craved in a Jewish family of in laws and in their faith? (Sometimes happens. Though not Jewish, Prince William found a stable family in Kate Middleton’s family.)
    Also, while Obama is financially enabling Iran to arm against Israel, Ivanka’s father could be the one who comes through even with his “issues.” I’m not sure Valerie Jared and Obama would.

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