Last Thursday, The New York Times reported that the Israeli Rabbinate (in this case, of Petach Tikvah) rejected a conversion performed by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a venerated member of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), and the very same rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump.
The following day, the RCA issued a press release stating, “We regret the angst caused to this righteous convert, as well as the vulnerability felt by many righteous converts who feel that their legitimate status as Jews remains always subject to scrutiny. We call upon the Chief Rabbinate and the Israeli Religious Courts to ensure that in the future such applicants are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Unfortunately, this press release is possibly the most disingenuous statement made in recent memory by the once-respected RCA, exposing the depths to which the organization has sunk.
Approximately nine years ago, the RCA created, under pressure from Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, a standardized and centralized conversion system called Geirus Policies and Standards (GPS). About two years later, the RCA issued a clarification stating, “While the RCA encourages its members to use GPS, it recognizes that some may choose not to, in their role as the local rabbinic authority. Such rabbis recognize that other rabbis are similarly free to not recognize conversions from outside GPS in their jurisdiction.” This “clarification” is a clear violation of Halakhic practice which, for centuries, recognized the conversions of every Orthodox rabbi. When Halakha is replaced by politics, contradictions are bound to follow. The Halakha strives for coherence and fairness, hardly the aim of politics.
It is important to note that the specific conversion about which the New York Times reported was performed outside of GPS. As such, according to RCA policy, its members have the right to reject this specific conversion despite its being performed by a revered RCA member.
So given this “policy” decision, it is not surprising that the RCA is now drowning in contradiction. How can the RCA legitimately express “regret” over the decision of Petach Tikvah’s rabbinate to not recognize the conversion of Rabbi Lookstein, a specific conversion that was done outside of GPS? The RCA itself decided to grant its members the right to reject this specific conversion. Do the rabbis of Petach Tikvah not have that same right? How can the RCA honestly call on Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and the Israeli Religious Courts to “ensure that in the future such applicants are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve”? It is, after all, RCA policy which granted explicit legitimacy to treat converts with the indignity and disrespect about which they cry crocodile tears!
As an activist and advocate for converts around the world, I call on the RCA to:
Return to what was standard Halakhic practice for centuries: the convert of an Orthodox rabbi in good standing is Jewish. Period.
Recognize that capitulating to a power-hungry Chief Rabbinate of Israel was a grave error, perverting the Halakha, transgressing the Torah’s mitzvah to “fear no man” (Deuteronomy 1:17), and creating the very angst which its leadership claims to regret.
It is time to repent.