Following a meeting in New York with Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi David Stav, founder and president of the Tzohar rabbinical organization on Tuesday expressed his full support for the rabbi after the Petach Tikva Rabbinical Court had nullified conversions which had been performed by Rabbi Lookstein.
Also on Tuesday, Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, overruled a decision by the lower rabbinic court, officially accepting the conversion performed by Rabbi Lookstein.
Rabbi Lookstein, the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and for many years principal of the Ramaz School, also converted Ivanka Marie Trump, daughter of Republican party preumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump.
However, because in 2009 Rabbi Lookstein participated in the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the primary American modern-orthodox rabbinic association, took exception to his presence, stating that “participation in a prayer service held in the sanctuary of a church is prohibited,” ruling that “any member of the RCA who attends such a service does so in contravention of this policy and should not be perceived as representing the organization in any capacity.”
Last month, a woman who was converted to Judaism by Rabbi Lookstein was refused recognition as a Jew by an Israeli Rabbinical Court in Petach Tikvah, which stirred up the ongoing international controversy over who outside the Israeli Rabbinate is allowed to perform conversions to the Jewish faith. The Israeli court simply couldn’t find Lookstein’s name on the RCA list of accredited conversion rabbis.
“This decision causes three several major problems which cannot be ignored,” Rabbi Stav said in a statement. “First, there is an explicit halakhic ruling that we should not oppress a convert. The conversion that has been nullified by the court was of a clearly well-intentioned, ‘righteous convert,’ and it is inconceivable that simply because of outright bureaucratic considerations a conversion would be nullified.”
“Second, this decision further deepens the already troubling divide between Israel and the Diaspora,” according to Rabbi Stav. “And, most troubling of all, it leads to a situation where assimilation, both here in Israel and in the Diaspora, is allowed to go unchecked. Because when we have a situation where well-intentioned converts are being disregarded simply because their conversion was officiated by a nationalist and modern Orthodox rabbi, what message does this send to those interested in converting according to halakha?”
The rejection of conversions performed by Lookstein was condemned by the Jewish Agency for Israel, which is the world body “responsible for the immigration … and absorption of Jews and their families from the Diaspora into Israel.”
Rabbi Lau said in letters to key Israeli politicians that the Chief Rabbinate Council, due to convene on Wednesday, will hear an appeal of the Petach Tikvah rabbinic court decision, adding he was confident the Chief Rabbinate’s position would clear away all the concerns regarding conversions by non-Israeli Orthodox rabbis.