Prominent rabbi pulls out of delivering RNC invocation

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Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. (Photo: Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun via Facebook)
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. (Photo: Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun via Facebook)

A prominent Manhattan rabbi has pulled out of the Republican National Convention in the wake of blistering community backlash.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism in 2009, sent a statement on Friday saying that he would no longer be participating.

“In the interest of bringing our community together, I have asked to be relieved of my commitment to deliver the invocation,” Lookstein wrote. “My request has been honored with the same love and respect in which it was first offered and intended.”

Lookstein said he had been personally asked to speak by Ivanka, the daughter of presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, but lamented that when his name appeared on the speakers’ list, it was not clear that he would be delivering the invocation, not a political address.

“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 was the long-serving head rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and principal of the Ramaz School, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

His name appeared on the initial list of convention speakers released Thursday. A Ramaz graduate, Jacob Savage, immediately started a petition urging him to reconsider. It received over 800 signatures and was spread widely within the Ramaz alumni network. “When Donald Trump was asked about David Duke, Trump said he didn’t know anything about the guy,” wrote Savage. “When a Jewish reporter wrote an article about Trump’s wife, white nationalists sent her death threats and Photoshopped pictures of her at Auschwitz. Wolf Blitzer asked Trump point blank to condemn the threats; Donald Trump just shrugged. Rabbi Lookstein, do you also shrug in the face of virulent, violent anti-Semitism?”

This is not the first controversy Lookstein has been fielding of late. He is currently embroiled in a fight with Israel’s top rabbinical court, which refuses to acknowledge another conversion he recently conducted. Lookstein also came under fire in 2009 when he participated in President Obama’s inaugural national interfaith prayer service. He was rebuked for it at the time by the Rabbinical Council of America because the service took place in the National Cathedral.

It is not known if Rabbi Lookstein still intends to attend the convention in any capacity.

Another Ramaz alum, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, is also on the RNC’s list of speakers.
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