An Israeli rabbinical court did not accept a conversion by an Orthodox rabbi who also helped Ivanka Trump become Jewish.
In the latest case exemplifying the tension between Israel’s rabbinate and Orthodox groups in the Diaspora, a religious court prevented the marriage of an Israeli man and an American woman, who converted under a well-respected New York rabbi, Haskel Lookstein.
And in an unusual twist, which has brought the case into the limelight, Lookstein is also the rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump and officiated at her wedding to Jewish real-estate scion Jared Kushner, an advisor for presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.
The woman in the case had converted under Lookstein in the United States but was prevented from marrying her Israeli fiance as she was deemed not Jewish.
The Orthodox Israeli rabbinate controls religious matters in the country, including marriages and funerals, and has traditionally not accepted conversions done in liberal streams of Judaism. In recent years the religious authority has also targeted conversions by Orthodox rabbis not on its list of approved authorities, which has not completely been made public.
“The irony is that this woman is very meticulous about her religious observance. She is as Jewish as I am, and as Jewish as the rabbis signed on the certificate, except in the eyes of the Petah Tikva rabbinate,” Lookstein told the New York Times, referring to the Israeli city where the rabbinical court had ruled her conversion invalid.
Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party, slammed the court’s ruling.
“The rabbinical court’s decision is arbitrary and odd, and must be reversed. Rabbi Lookstein is one of the leading, and most appreciated, Orthodox rabbis in the US,” he said in statement obtained by the Forward. “This mistake must be repaired immediately.”
In a related battle, the rabbinate reluctantly agreed Wednesday to allow women using public ritual baths, or mikvehs, in Israel to choose whether to immerse in the presence of an Orthodox attendant, following a Supreme Court ruling. Previously, it had required attendants to be present at all times, despite complaints of mistreatment by women.
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Josefin Dolsten is a news fellow at the Forward. She writes about politics and culture, and edits the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.