A prominent Orthodox rabbi who was listed as a speaker for the Republican National Convention emailed his community on Friday to say that he will not actually appear at the nominating convention.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein was set to appear in Cleveland, where Donald Trump, whose daughter Ivanka is a member of his congregation, expects to receive the Republican nomination. But hundreds of members of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community signed petitions asking him not to appear at Trump’s convention, and Lookstein quickly complied.
“The whole matter turned from rabbinic to political, something which was never intended … I have never been involved in politics,” Lookstein wrote in an email to members of his community. “Politics divides people. My life has been devoted to uniting a community.”
Lookstein, the principal emeritus of Ramaz School and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, said in the email that Ivanka Trump asked him to say the convention’s opening prayer. He initially said yes to delivering an invocation “out of respect for her and our relationship.” After community members objected to the political nature of the rabbi appearing at the Trump event, he backed out.
Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism when she married her Jewish husband, Jared Kushner. Recently, the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel ruled invalid a different conversion Lookstein performed. The decision drew attention in the U.S. due to Lookstein’s link to Ivanka Trump and sparked a protest in Israel by Modern Orthodox Jews who say Lookstein is a well-respected rabbi whose conversions should be honored.
On Friday, Lookstein also emailed the text of the prayer that he would have delivered to alumni of the Ramaz School, which he led from 1966 to 2015.
He had planned to speak about bigotry toward people of other races and religions — precisely the accusation that the alumni who petitioned him not to appear at the convention have leveled against Trump.
His prayer said: “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.” It also included a sentence about the threats to America from outsiders and “from within, by those who sow the seeds of bigotry, hatred and violence.”