The publicity that the Lookstein case has received should be leveraged to bring about a reform in the way state and religion are intertwined in Israel. The time has come for the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious services to be dismantled.
The source of the problem in the Lookstein case and numerous other “Who is a Jew?” controversies is not so much the divisiveness of Jewish sectarianism. Jews have bickered among themselves for time immemorial and they will continue to disagree. Indeed, dissent is inherent to Jews’ DNA. The problems start when one group of Jews – in this case those who belong to a particularly conservative- minded stream of Orthodoxy – appropriate state powers to force their version of Judaism on another, in this case a woman who took the difficult step of embracing Judaism.
This is not to say that the rabbi who rejected the woman’s conversion should be judged negatively. The opinion of the rabbis in Petah Tikva is no less legitimate than Rabbi Lookstein’s. Rabbis should have the freedom to interpret Judaism the way they wish. A multiplicity of opinions and views stands at the core of Judaism. It is what makes Judaism so beautiful and interesting.
But we should not allow the State of Israel to be dragged into the religious wars waged among rabbis. No single group within Judaism should be permitted to use the powers of the state to enforce its unique interpretation of Jewish tradition.