Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.
(photo credit: screenshot)
In a hugely controversial step, the Supreme Rabbinical Court asked a female convert of prominent US Jewish leader Rabbi Haskel Lookstein to declare her acceptance of the religious commandments in court so as to avoid doubt as to her Jewishness.
The ITIM religious services advisory group which was representing the convert, Nicole, in court denounced this step, saying it amounted to a rejection of Lookstein’s conversions and constituted blackmail, while Nicole herself said she felt she had been humiliated.
US Jewry and critics of the religious establishment in Israel have denounced the ongoing failure of the rabbinical courts system to recognize Lookstein’s conversions as “extremist,” saying that such a stance drives a wedge between Diaspora Jewry and the Jewish state.
The judges of the Supreme Rabbinical Court said they did not want to get involved in whether or not her conversion through Lookstein was valid, and so requested that she undergo what is known as “a conversion for stringency.”
This type of conversion is performed in a case when the Jewishness of an individual is in doubt, and involves a declaration of Gods oneness and an acceptance of the commandments of the Torah.
Due to a wish to get married on the wedding date she and her fiancee have set, Nicole reluctantly decided to do the conversion for stringency out of a fear that a failure to do so would require her to postpone the wedding.
The court then affirmed her declaration and said she could now marry her fiancee.
In a statement made to ITIM, Nicole expressed disquiet at the way she had been treated by the court.
“I feel humiliated, what they are saying is that they don't recognize my Judaism,” she said. “I love Rabbi Lookstein, he is my rabbi, he led me into the Jewish world and I don't want his conversion to not be recognized.”
ITIM director Rabbi Seth Farber was strongly critical of the court’s actions, saying that the judges had “blackmailed” Nicole into performing the conversion for stringency by implying that actually clarifying whether or not Lookstein’s conversions are valid could lead to the postponement of her wedding.
“Today, the Supreme Rabbinical Court has imposed a heavy cloud upon the conversions of thousands of converts, who were converted by orthodox rabbis in the United States,” said Farber.
“This is a sad day for the converts and this is a sad day for the relations between the state of Israel and the United States Jewry. In their ruling, the Rabbinical judges have humiliated not just the convert, but also hundreds of rabbis in the diaspora and their congregations.”
Although both chief rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef have said publicly that they do recognize the validity of Lookstein’s conversions, a statement was released in the name of the Chief Rabbinate praising the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s solution.
Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said in response to the incident that "today’s decision by the Supreme Rabbinical Court, which effectively delegitimized a prominent rabbi in the American Jewish community, demonstrates why Israel is in danger of being delegitimized as a center of religious authority in the eyes of world Jewry. I call on the Government of Israel, which recognizes the vital importance of the Israel-Diaspora relationship, to take immediate steps to change the attitude of Israel’s religious authorities toward the spiritual leaders of the Diaspora."