Chief Rabbinate clarifies: We recognize conversions by top NY rabbi
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Chief Rabbinate clarifies: We recognize conversions by top NY rabbi

Supreme Rabbinical Court decision to force woman converted by Haskel Lookstein to take additional steps relates only to her case, says rabbinate

Rabbi David Stav (right), founder and president of Israel's Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, expressed his full support for New York's Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, whose US Orthodox conversions had been challenged by the rabbinate, following a July 5, 2016, meeting. (Yakov Gaon)
Rabbi David Stav (right), founder and president of Israel's Tzohar Rabbinical Organization, expressed his full support for New York's Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, whose US Orthodox conversions had been challenged by the rabbinate, following a July 5, 2016, meeting. (Yakov Gaon)

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel on Thursday clarified that it recognizes conversions to Judaism performed by prominent New York Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a day after a top rabbinical court appeared to invalidate one of his conversions.

“The position of the rabbinate remains as delineated by the chief rabbis, that conversions by Rabbi Yechiel [Haskel] Lookstein are recognized by it,” the rabbinate said in a statement reported by the Hebrew-language Israel National News website.

“It seems that the decision by the court on the matter of conversion related only to a specific incident that was presented before it and the court was not asked to discuss and did not discuss at all the general approval of conversion certificates by Rabbi Lookstein,” the rabbinate said.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Rabbinical Court cast doubt over a conversion performed by Lookstein, forcing an American-Israeli woman, identified only as Nicole, who sought to get married to undergo an expedited conversion under their auspices.

Nicole underwent an Orthodox conversion by Rabbi Lookstein in New York in May 2015.

It wasn’t clear why the Supreme Rabbinical Court was dissatisfied with Nicole’s conversion. She had appealed to it after her conversion was first questioned by the local rabbinical court of Petah Tikvah, her fiance’s hometown, where they sought to register for marriage.

American immigrant Nicole and her Israeli fiancé Zohar. Engaged in April 2016, their marriage was put on hold until the Israeli rabbinate accepted Nicole's US Orthodox conversion. (courtesy)
American immigrant Nicole and her Israeli fiancé Zohar. Engaged in April 2016, their marriage was put on hold until the Israeli rabbinate accepted Nicole’s US Orthodox conversion. (courtesy)

On Thursday, Diaspora Affairs and Education Minister Naftali Bennett pilloried the Supreme Rabbinical Court for refusing to accept the woman’s conversion, calling it an “own-goal” for Israel-Diaspora ties and urging the rabbinate to publish a list of criteria for rabbis’ to avoid future misunderstandings.

“The Rabbinical Court’s refusal to recognize the conversion of Rabbi Lookstein is a disgrace of God’s name and a threat to the future of the Jewish people,” said Bennett, who also heads the Jewish Home party.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said prior to the appeal that he recognizes conversions performed by Lookstein. That includes Ivanka Trump, converted under Lookstein’s auspices in 2009, and who attends Lookstein’s Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan with her husband, Jared Kushner.

In its decision, the Supreme Rabbinical Court said Nicole would have to undergo a giyur l’chumra — an expedited conversion — in order to get married. The couple, with the prodding of the rabbinical judges, and having set the wedding for some six months from now, agreed, though they and religious freedom activists expressed dismay over the decision.

“For dozens of years Rabbi Lookstein has stood on the frontlines, lovingly connecting people to Jewish tradition. Instead of listening to the chief rabbis, who acknowledged and accepted Rabbi Lookstein and his work, the rabbinical court disgraced them,” Bennett said.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (center) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (right) attend a meeting of the Rabbinate Council in Jerusalem in November 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau (center) and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (right) attend a meeting of the Rabbinate Council in Jerusalem in November 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are working to strengthen the ties with Jews in the Diaspora. This arbitrary move against a well-known Orthodox rabbi is an own goal, hurting the Rabbinate and risking Israel’s standing as a homeland for all Jews,” he added.

In a statement Wednesday by ITIM, the religious freedom group that represented Nicole in the rabbinical court, the woman indicated that some doubt had been cast on Lookstein’s validity during the court session.

“I feel humiliated. What they are saying is that they don’t recognize my Judaism. I love Rabbi Lookstein, he is my rabbi, he led me into the Jewish world and I don’t want his conversion to not be recognized,” she said after the court proceedings,.

She also implored the judges to reconsider.

“I ask that even if I do pass this process today, you would still recognize Rabbi Lookstein’s conversion. For if you don’t, you should know that myself, and many others like me, would lose their trust in the Rabbinate,” she said.

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