JERUSALEM (JTA) — About 200 demonstrators protested next to the offices of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate as a hearing took place about the legitimacy of a conversion conducted by the prominent American Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Rabbinical Court heard the appeal of a case in which a rabbinical court in Petach Tikvah rejected the conversion of a woman converted by Lookstein when she applied in April for marriage registration with her Israeli fiancé. The decision was not announced following the hearing.
Lookstein, 84, is the former rabbi of Kehilath Jeshurun, a tony modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that counts Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, as members. Trump, a daughter of the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, converted under Lookstein’s auspices in 2009.
The demonstration was organized by Itim, an organization that helps Israelis navigate Israeli religious bureaucracy, as well as by alumni of the Ramaz School, an elite Manhattan modern Orthodox preparatory school that Lookstein formerly headed, and Natan Sharansky, chairman of The Jewish Agency for Israel.
“Rabbi Lookstein is an industrious and revered figure. His reputation goes before him and he does not need my defense,” Sharansky told the protesters. “Therefore I am not here to protect him, but protect the State of Israel’s good name.
“In these times particularly, during which we are fighting Israel’s delegitimization, when our enemies are trying to disconnect the connections between the young Jewish people of the world and the State of Israel, this harsh blow to the image of Israel amongst the Jewish Diaspora is delivered.”
Several Israeli lawmakers also attended the demonstration. Likud lawmaker Rabbi Yehuda Glick called on the Chief Rabbinate to serve “the whole of Israel.”
“I call upon the Chief Rabbinate: Do not be sectarian. Be a Chief Rabbinate which brings people together, whose ways are ways of pleasantness and whose paths are of peace,” Glick said. “I intend to put this issue on the agenda of the Knesset today.”
Rabbi Seth Farber, the head of Itim, said there is no religious reason to reject Lookstein.
“This is a particular and painful case that exemplifies the abnormal behavior of the entire system, and we are seeing this in all the areas in which the Chief Rabbinate is dealing with,” Farber said. “This extremism will eventually bring about the alienation of the rabbinate from am Yisrael. We all lose in this case.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday in New York, Rabbi David Stav, head of the Tzohar rabbinical organization, met with Lookstein and offered him his support in the wake of the Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to recognize his conversion.
“This decision further deepens the already troubling divide between Israel and the Diaspora,” Stav said following the meeting. “It leads to a situation where assimilation, both here in Israel and in the Diaspora, is allowed to go unchecked. Because when we have a situation where well-intentioned converts are being disregarded simply because their conversion was officiated by a nationalist and modern Orthodox rabbi, what message does this send to those interested in converting according to halachah [Jewish law]?”