Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.
(photo credit: screenshot)
After the Petah Tikva Rabbinate rejected one of his conversions involving an American woman, New York Rabbi Haskel Lookstein told The Jerusalem Post the decision was cruel.
The woman, who Lookstein says is quite observant, moved to Israel and got engaged to an Israeli man. She had been unable to get married, however, since the local rabbinate where she sought to register for marriage would not recognize the validity of her conversion.
“I was very sad because first of all a woman is being hurt at one of the most vulnerable moments in her life and at a time when she should be at her absolute happiest planning a wedding, and instead she is running up against the cruelty of a rabbinic court,” he told the Post last week. “The Talmud says that there are 36 and some say 46 warnings against afflicting a convert. They are violating every single one of them for no legitimate reason.”
Lookstein, who also converted US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and officiated at her wedding to Jared Kushner, said that while he is not taking the rejection personally, he fails to understand why the rabbinate in Israel doesn’t “accept the conversion process of respected Orthodox rabbis in America.
“It’s very sad that they don’t respect the work that people do over decades to try and help Judaism flourish in this country and frankly in Israel, too,” he told the Post.
This is not the first case of an Israeli rabbinate rejecting a US convert.
“It’s risky for anybody’s converts,” Lookstein said. “I’ve been serving as a modern-Orthodox rabbi, and this woman happens to be a very observant woman and there is no question she is as Jewish as I am or as my colleagues here who helped me convert her.
“There are too many institutions in the rabbinic world that are concerned with gatekeeping in conversion rather than in welcoming converts,” he said.
The woman in question converted about a year ago, and after moving to Israel met her now fiancé and got engaged.
The couple went to register for marriage with the Petah Tikva Rabbinate but the woman was referred to the Petah Tikva Rabbinical Court to confirm that her conversion was recognized.
The court sent a request for clarification to the Chief Rabbinate’s department for matrimony and conversions, but in an unusual step also asked the head of the State Conversion Authority Rabbi Rafi Peretz for his opinion.
The Office if the Chief Rabbinate’s said Lookstein’s conversions were indeed acceptable, but Peretz said he had not come across converts through Lookstein and therefore said the rabbinical court should not recognize the conversion of the woman in question, which is what was ultimately decided.
The ITIM religious services advisory group is now appealing the decision to the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
The phenomenon of converts from North America having trouble gaining recognition in Israel has become common, and ITIM deals with dozens of such cases. In one similar incident last year reported by the Post, a conversion that was certified by a rabbinical court presided over by the head of the Beth Din of America, Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, was rejected by the Chief Rabbinate’s department for matrimony and conversions.
“The entire system is characterized by chaos, and dealing with converts from North America has become one big witch-hunt where everyone is trying to show they can delegitimize someone’s converts,” said ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber.
“This couple wanted to get married two months ago but are now being made to suffer because of this appalling situation.”
Please see Minister Education Minister Naftali Bennett said in response to the dismissal of Lookstein’s conversions: “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. I met him 15 years ago, and I was a member of his congregation for some time. Not only does no one question his commitment to tradition and Halacha, but Israel’s Chief Rabbinate approved – in writing – the conversion certificates he issued. However, rabbinical court judges decided, without explanation or justification, not to recognize the conversions of this great rabbi. This mistake must be repaired immediately.”