The decision by a Petach Tikva religious court to nullify the conversions performed by a prominent Orthodox rabbi in New York has sent shockwaves through the American Jewish community, raising fears that members of Orthodox congregations in the US may not be recognized as Jewish in Israel.
At the center of the controversy is Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a prominent Manhattan rabbi and former principal of the Ramaz School. In a recent ruling by the Petah Tikva District Rabbinical Court, a conversion performed by Rabbi Lookstein was ruled invalid, effectively declaring all conversions carried out under his authority similarly invalid – including the conversion of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, who converted to Judaism in 2009.
The District Rabbincal Court ruling casts a shadow of doubt over the conversions of thousands of Jews who converted under the auspices of modern Orthodox religious courts, which some fear may now be rejected in Israel.
The Israeli Rabbinate has backed Rabbi Lookstein and considers his conversions valid. Chief Rabbi David Lau noted, however, that while the Rabbinate recognizes such conversions, it has no authority over local rabbinical courts’ decisions.
But the Rabbinate’s reassurances still left a great deal of uncertainty regarding the status of modern Orthodox converts in Israel.
Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York, the largest Jewish philanthropic organization in the world, praised the Rabbinate’s affirmation of the validity of Rabbi Lookstein’s conversions, while expressing concern over the ruling of the District Rabbinical Court in Petach Tikva.
“We are gratified that the Chief Rabbinate has affirmed the conversions of Rabbi Lookstein,” said Goldstein, “but remain deeply troubled by a system which allows such a decision to be made in the first place.”
“We will continue to work closely with UJA grantees such as ITIM to ensure that Israel fulfills its promise to be a homeland for all Jews.”