Ivanka Trump’s rabbi ducks out of Republican convention speech
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Ivanka Trump’s rabbi ducks out of Republican convention speech

Haskel Lookstein says his decision was made once speakers were announced and ‘whole matter turned from rabbinic to political’

After Israel’s Chief Rabbinate rejected a conversion performed by prominent modern Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (right), Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky (left) protested on his behalf. (Ben Sales/JTA)
After Israel’s Chief Rabbinate rejected a conversion performed by prominent modern Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein (right), Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky (left) protested on his behalf. (Ben Sales/JTA)

The modern Orthodox rabbi who converted Donald Trump’s daughter to Judaism has ducked out of his commitment to speak at the Republican National Convention, citing his aversion to the political undertones his agreed convocation had assumed.

In an email obtained by The Times of Israel and sent to the families of students at the Modern Orthodox Ramaz School of which he is principal emeritus, Haskel Lookstein wrote: “When Ivanka Trump, a member of our congregation, invited me to deliver the opening prayer at the Republican National convention next Monday, I made a personal decision to honor her request out of respect for her and our relationship.”

But, Lookstein wrote, the political nature subsequently attributed to his involvement made him rethink his decision to speak.

“Unfortunately, when my name appeared on a list of speakers at the convention, without the context of the invocation I had been invited to present, the whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended. Like my father before me, I have never been involved in politics. Politics divides people,” he said.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by, from second from left, wife Melania, daughter Ivanka her husband Jared Kushner, speaks during a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, February 1, 2016. (AP/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied by, from second from left, wife Melania, daughter Ivanka her husband Jared Kushner, speaks during a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, February 1, 2016. (AP/Paul Sancya)

“In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation. My request has been honored with the same love and respect in which it was first offered and intended.”

Lookstein, who converted Trump before her marriage to Jared Kushner, is among the most prominent rabbis now involved in a political struggle with the Israeli rabbinate over its refusal to consider the conversions of a large number of American Orthodox rabbis.

The convention, which begins next Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, is expected to formally crown Trump as the Republican nominee. But his likely nomination has turned off many traditional Republican sponsors, and convention organizers this week turned to wealthy Jewish Republican Sheldon Adelson, asking him for $6 million to help fund the quadrennial event.

Topping the list of speakers released by the Republican National Convention on Thursday — presumably because he will lead the convocation at the launch of the convention — is Pastor Mark Burns, who at a March rally for Trump in North Carolina spoke of the Jewish former Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders as someone who should turn to Jesus.

Pastor Mark Burns speaks at a Donald Trump rally in Hickory, North Carolina, Monday, March 14, 2016. (Screen capture YouTube)
Pastor Mark Burns speaks at a Donald Trump rally in Hickory, North Carolina, Monday, March 14, 2016. (Screen capture YouTube)

“Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t believe in God, how in the world are we gonna let Bernie … really?” Burns said while warming up the crowd waiting for the candidate. “He gotta meet Jesus, he gotta have a coming to Jesus meeting.”

Burns, a televangelist, has become an important surrogate for Trump among evangelicals, who initially were wary of Trump because of the secular values he seemed to embrace as a reality TV star. Christian conservatives have warmed to Trump over the campaign, in part because of the intercession of Burns and others in the evangelical community.

Quicken Loans Arena decorated to welcome the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland, Ohio, July 11, 2016. (Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)
Quicken Loans Arena decorated to welcome the Republican National Convention, in Cleveland, Ohio, July 11, 2016. (Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

Another speaker to address the RNC is Michael Mukasey, the Jewish attorney general under President George W. Bush who has said most of the world’s Muslims are interested in imposing religious law on the world — a message that jibes with Trump’s broadsides against Islam.

Among those close to the Jewish community who will not be attending or speaking are former President George W. Bush, and the 2008 and 2012 nominees, respectively Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

JTA contributed to this report

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