US/World News

Ivanka Trump’s rabbi withdraws from Republican convention

By Ben Sales

CLEVELAND (JTA) — Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi

who oversaw Ivanka Trump’s conversion to Judaism, has withdrawn from speaking at

the Republican National Convention next week.

In a letter to members of his community Friday, Lookstein wrote that he had accepted

Ivanka Trump’s invitation to deliver an invocation at the convention “out of respect for

her and our relationship.” But he said he would withdraw because the matter had

become political. Trump’s father, Donald Trump, is the presumptive Republican

presidential nominee.

“Unfortunately, when my name appeared on a list of speakers at the convention, without

the context of the invocation I had been invited to present, the whole matter turned from

rabbinic to political, something which was never intended,” he wrote. “Like my father

before me, I have never been involved in politics. Politics divides people.”

Lookstein is the former head of school at the Ramaz School, an elite Jewish prep

school, and the former rabbi of Kehilath Jeshurun, a tony Modern Orthodox synagogue

on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that his own father Joseph once led. He appeared

Thursday on the list of slated speakers for the convention, which will take place Sunday

through Thursday in Cleveland.

In the draft text of his invocation, which he appended to his Friday letter, Lookstein

appeared to push back against Trump’s more inflammatory statements.

“We thank you for our constitutional government that has created and fostered the

American ideals of democracy, freedom, justice and equality for all, regardless of race,

religion or national origin,” read the invocation, which also asks for God’s protection

from threats “from within, by those who sow the seeds of bigotry, hatred and violence,

putting our lives and our way of life at risk.”

But his decision to appear at the convention was widely seen as an endorsement of

Donald Trump’s Republican candidacy, and sparked backlash.

A petition started by Ramaz alum Jacob Savage Thursday, calling on Lookstein to back

out of the convention, had garnered nearly 750 signatures by Friday morning. The

petition castigates Trump for his rhetoric and admonishes Lookstein for “embracing” it.

“Donald Trump openly spouts racist, misogynistic rhetoric; he advocates torture, the

expulsion of millions of families, some long settled in America, and insinuates that some

citizens of this great country are somehow less than others,” the petition reads. “To

embrace Trump and Trumpism goes against all we’ve been taught. As graduates of

Ramaz, and as current or former members of the Modern Orthodox community, this is a

shanda [embarrassment] beyond the pale.”

This is the second time this week that Lookstein has been at the center of controversy.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court rejected the conversion of a woman

converted by Lookstein, reportedly on the reasoning that it can’t verify conversions

performed in America. The court’s decision drew rebuke from a range of American and

Israeli leaders, including Israel’s chief rabbis.

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