Israel's Top Rabbinic Court to Hear High-profile U.S. Orthodox Conversion Case

Rabbinate and U.S. Orthodox clash over conversion of American woman by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein vowing to rebuild on the night a fire at Kehilath Jeshurun caused major damages at his New York synagogue, July 11, 2011.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein vowing to rebuild on the night a fire at Kehilath Jeshurun caused major damages at his New York synagogue, July 11, 2011.Credit: Getty Images / JTA Photo Archive
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

The Rabbinic Supreme Court heard Wednesday a young American woman's appeal against the ruling of a lower rabbinic court not to recognize her conversion to Judaism in the United States by the same rabbi who converted Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka. A ruling is expected in the coming days.

Like 100 to 150 cases that reach the rabbinic courts in Israel each year, this one is not only about a young woman who entered the Jewish fold in order to marry in Israel; it is also about the rabbi who conducted the conversion.

This time the rabbi is a senior and highly regarded figure in New York, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, whose authority to conduct any conversions was rejected by the lower Petah Tikva Rabbinic Court, to the shock of many Jews in the United States and Israel.

A demonstration by Orthodox rabbis, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and others, is expected to take place outside the Rabbinic Supreme Court.

For decades, Lookstein, 84, a senior figure in U.S. modern Orthodoxy, has served as the rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhatta and principal of the Ramaz School in Manhattan. He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, the largest rabbinic association in the country, and a mainstream Orthodox institution. He has been involved in conversions as well; in 2009 he signed the conversion certificate of Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter.

The young convert, who is represented by the advocacy group Itim, approached the rabbinic court in Petah Tikva shortly after her conversion in the United States so she and her fiancé could register to be married in Israel.

The story was covered in both the Jewish and the general press as well as by the New York Times.

That the validity of a conversion by a senior figure like Lookstein can be disregarded by a rabbinic court illustrates how the Israeli religious establishment can reject any rabbi from outside Israel, no matter how senior, as they see fit.



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