Sharansky to Join Protest Against Chief Rabbinate's Rejection of U.S. Conversions

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Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.Credit: Mark Israel Salem

Tens of thousands of Jews around the world once demonstrated on his behalf, but on Wednesday, the most famous Prisoner of Zion will himself be out in the street.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky plans to join what is expected to be a large crowd of protesters in Jerusalem, against one of the most powerful state institutions in Israel: the Chief Rabbinate.

Through his office, Sharansky confirmed to Haaretz that he will be joining the protest but refused to provide further comment.

The demonstration was called to protest the Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize conversions performed by certain Orthodox rabbis overseas. It was prompted by the recent decision of a rabbinical court in Petach Tikva to reject a conversion performed by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a prominent modern Orthodox rabbi in the United States.

Jared Kushner with Ivanka Trump, executive vice president of development and acquisitions at Trump Organization LLC, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Saturday, April 25, 2015.Credit: Bloomberg

The spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan and the former principal of the Ramaz School, Lookstein has converted, among others, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate for Novembe's presidential election.

The demonstration will be held at 8:45 A.M. near the offices of the Chief Rabbinate. It is scheduled to coincide with a hearing in the Supreme Rabbinical Court about the rejected conversion.

The convert, an American woman who moved to Israel a few months ago with plans to marry her Israeli fiancé, is represented by ITIM, an organization that helps immigrants navigate Israel’s religious bureaucracy.

The court is expected to deliver a ruling in her case at the conclusion of hearing. Presiding over the court will be Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.

The demonstration has been organized by ITIM, along with a group of Ramaz graduates and Kehilath Jeshurun congregants – all supporters of Lookstein.

“Our purpose is to let the Chief Rabbinate know that as long as it is in power, it has a responsibility to the Jewish people, but that right now, through its actions, it is further deepening the gulf between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, founder and executive director of ITIM.

In recent years, the Rabbinate has refused to recognize conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis it considers too progressive. It has refrained, however, from providing a full list of the rabbis it does recognize.

“Any Jews converted abroad who walk into the Rabbinate these days need to know they are playing a game of Russian Roulette,” said Farber. “They have no way of knowing if they will be recognized as Jewish here.”

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