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Is Ivanka Trump Jewish? In Israel, she has a trump card

Daniel Estrin
Associated Press

Petah Tikva, Israel –

Is Ivanka Trump really Jewish?

Last summer, Israel’s religious authorities issued a ruling that raised doubts about her conversion to Judaism. But after her father was elected president, they have changed their tune, raising eyebrows among activists who have long lobbied the rabbinical establishment to be more tolerant toward converts.

President Donald Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism under a prominent Orthodox rabbi in Manhattan before her 2009 marriage to Jared Kushner, an observant Jew.

In its ruling last July, an Israeli government religious court rejected the legitimacy of another conversion by the same rabbi. Although it didn’t directly affect Ivanka Trump, it raised questions as to whether Israel’s powerful religious establishment would recognize her as being Jewish.

But in early December, just weeks after Trump’s election victory, Israel’s chief rabbis said they would work to change the rules for recognizing conversions performed abroad — and they singled out Ivanka Trump.

“According to the new proposed plan … her conversion will be certified without the need for additional checks,” the announcement said.

Israeli activists say the sudden policy change appears to be an attempt to curry favor with the new U.S. president. Ivanka Trump’s husband has been appointed a senior adviser to Trump and is expected to focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

An Israeli rabbinic committee has already met several times to discuss conversion policy, a speedier pace than usual, activists say.

“The timing is certainly suspicious,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, an organization that represents converts seeking recognition from the rabbinate. “My biggest fear is that the rabbinate will find some way to find Ms. Trump kosher, to recognize her conversion, but leave thousands of other converts behind, simply saying they’re not Jewish enough for us.”

The Jewish Week, a New York newspaper, quoted an anonymous source with ties to Trump’s presidential transition team as saying high-ranking aides had expressed concern to Israel regarding the legitimacy of Ivanka Trump’s conversion, and that Israeli efforts to recognize her conversion would foster a closer relationship between the Trump family and Israel.

A spokeswoman for Trump did not return a request for confirmation, and Rabbi Levi Shemtov, a rabbi in Washington who is close to Ivanka Trump, declined comment.

A spokesman for one of Israel’s chief rabbis said the proposed changes were a long time coming and not a direct result of Trump’s election.

“Even before Ivanka Trump, it was talked about,” said spokesman Pinchas Tennenbaum, adding that the media attention “added problems, and we take it to heart.”

Since Ivanka Trump does not live in Israel, for her the issue is largely hypothetical.

But for converts in Israel, the rabbinate’s ruling affects their daily lives. If they are not recognized as Jewish, they are not permitted to marry in Israel, and they are technically ineligible for a religious burial when they die.

Israel’s Orthodox establishment does not recognize conversions performed by the more liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, to which most American Jews belong. But immigration officials have more relaxed guidelines and do allow Reform and Conservative converts to gain citizenship in Israel as Jews.

These days, many Israelis simply wave off the rabbinate as irrelevant. Secular Israelis often wed in civil ceremonies abroad to avoid the rabbinate, while many ultra-Orthodox Jews dismiss the rabbinate’s certification of kosher food as too lax.

Some Israelis perceive the rabbinate as corrupt: A former Israeli chief rabbi was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison this week following charges of corruption and bribery.