Israel’s chief rabbis will meet next week with the members of Israel’s supreme rabbinical court and the board of the Chief Rabbinate, to decide on a list of Orthodox rabbis in the US and elsewhere in diaspora whose conversions are acceptable in Israel, following more than a decade of confusion and infighting that caused much anxiety and suffering to many converts. The most famous such convert recently has been Ivanka Trump, President-Elect Donald Trump’s Jewish daughter and mother of his Jewish grandchildren.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau issued a statement saying they intend to reform the system of communication between their organization and parallel organizations abroad, in order to end the complaints about annulling conversions done by ‘unapproved’ rabbis from Orthodox Jewish communities abroad.
According to the chief rabbis, the plan is to create a system whereby the conversions done by rabbis who meet the chief rabbinate criteria would be approved.
In 2015, converts in Israel and the US were horrified by a chief rabbinate ruling that disqualified the conversion of an American woman living in Israel who, before making aliyah, was converted by Modern Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein from New York, who converted Ivanka Trump. When she appealed the rabbinical court’s decision she was browbeaten into undergoing a second conversion right there and then, which she did and was only then allowed to marry in a sanctioned Orthodox ceremony.
Now, the chief rabbis stated, conversions by rabbis like Lookstein would be recognized in Israel, no questions asked. “Under this proposed new plan, in which only the identity of the converting rabbi is to be checked, [Ivanka Trump’s] conversion would be validated with no further examinations required.”
The new reform could take some time to institute, as the chief rabbinate’s current list of recognized foreign Orthodox rabbis is far from complete, as turned out last April in Jerusalem District Court, during a hearing on a suit filed by ITIM, an NGO helping olim in their struggles with the chief rabbinate. Perhaps now, motivated by the call from the top for reforming the system, we’ll end up with a current list of rabbis who are approved by the Israeli rabbinate directly, rather than via local rabbinical groups abroad.