Israel’s supreme rabbinical court rejected Wednesday a conversion by a prominent American rabbi who sponsored Ivanka Trump’s conversion to Judaism, reaffirming a widely criticized ruling by a lower court.
The American woman whose conversion was rejected had to testify about her commitment to Jewish law in the court, as part of an expedited procedure prescribed by the court to redo the invalidated conversion. The woman reportedly already completed the new conversion, allowing her to marry her Israeli fiancé.
Initially, a local religious court in Petah Tikvah, a suburb east of Tel Aviv, rejected the conversion by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a well-respected modern Orthodox spiritual leader — drawing broad condemnation, including from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky and Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau.
Israel’s top religious court heard the woman’s appeal Wednesday but was not convinced, recognizing her commitment to Judaism but not the validity of Lookstein’s conversion, the Times of Israel reported.
“I feel degraded. Essentially, they are saying they don’t recognize my Judaism,” the woman, identified only by her first name, Nicole, said according to the Times of Israel. “I love Rabbi Lookstein, he’s my rabbi, he brought me into the world as a Jew, and I don’t want his conversions not to be recognized.”
ITIM, a religious freedom group that represented Nicole in court, slammed the decision.
“The rabbinical court has humiliated Nicole, cast a shadow over tens of thousands of conversions around the world, and has created a crisis of confidence between diaspora Jewry and Israel’s government,” said the group’s director, Rabbi Seth Farber, in a statement provided to the Forward.
The ruling has far-reaching implications.
It represents an emerging gap between Israel’s Orthodox religious authority, which controls religious matters in the country, including marriages and funerals, and Jews in the Diaspora of all denominations.
The rabbinate has traditionally not accepted conversions carried out by liberal streams of Judaism, and 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.
Contact Josefin Dolsten at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @JosefinDolsten
Josefin Dolsten is a former news fellow at the Forward, writing about politics and culture, and editing 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. Follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.