Jewish Agency Slams Israeli Rabbinate’s Rejection of Conversion by U.S. Rabbi

Natan Sharansky's condemnation comes after an Israeli court declared invalid in April a conversion by Haskel Lookstein, a prominent rabbi who also converted Ivanka Trump.

Natan Sharansky.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s governing body and chairman Natan Sharansky slammed on Tuesday the recent rejection by an Israeli rabbinical council of conversions performed by Haskel Lookstein, a prominent Orthodox rabbi in the United States.

The condemnation came in a statement issued by Sharansky that was endorsed by the board of governors convening in Paris.

It came a week after the international media, including The New York Times, reported that a rabbinical court in Petach Tikvah, near Tel Aviv, in April declared invalid the conversion of a woman who Lookstein converted last year. The rabbi also converted Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Republican presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Lookstein incident occurred amid a power struggle between the haredi Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the modern Orthodox movement, as well as Reform and Conservative streams.

“Again and again, people who know nothing about world Jewry and Orthodox Jewry decided they cannot accept the conversion of an esteemed rabbi, usually one who works hard to connect Jews to Israel,” said Sharansky, who brought the declaration to a vote.

The issue “drew international attention because of the connection to the Trump family, but for us that is not the issue,” he said. “For us is whether we can accept the constant undermining of the legitimacy of the Diaspora faith communities.”

The more than 200-member board of governors, which convened in Paris for the first time to show solidarity with the embattled Jewish community, passed the statement unanimously. It said the rejection of Lookstein’s conversion was “not based on halachic reasons,” in a reference to halachah, the Orthodox Jewish law. Sharansky said non-recognition of such conversions “harms Israel’s standing in the Jewish world.”

The board also unanimously passed a resolution urging the government of Israel to implement a plan to resolve interdenominational disputes over the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Approved in January, the plan envisaged the opening of an egalitarian section at the wall, where presumably women would be able to pray together with men. But the plan has not been implemented amid objections by Orthodox opponents.

According to the resolution, the delay is “increasing the tension and impatience of world Jewry around the Kotel,” the board said, using the Hebrew for the Western Wall.

A third resolution called on France to void its diplomats’ vote in April in favor of a United Nations resolution that critics say ignored Jewish ties to Jerusalem. The UNESCO resolution refers to the Temple Mount solely as Al-Aqsa mosque/Al-Haram Al Sharif, except for two references to the Western Wall Plaza that were put in parentheses.

Amid an uproar by French Jews and Israeli officials, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said France should not have voted in favor of the UNESCO resolution. In its resolution, The Jewish Agency noted his rejection of a vote “that should have been avoided.”

“These types of statements, the denial of Jewish history by our best allies,” Sharansky said in reference to France’s UNESCO vote, “is an extremely dangerous phenomenon that we cannot leave unanswered.”