As Ivanka Trump prepares to address the Republican National Convention (RNC) Thursday night, the fact she is Jewish is drawing renewed attention. As it should – for the nominee of a major party of a world power to have a Jewish daughter is unprecedented in American history, and very unusual in Jewish history.
Unfortunately, much discussion of Ivanka Trump’s Judaism, including within the Jewish world, has focused on how she became Jewish, which is through conversion. Unnecessarily highlighting someone’s status as a Jew-by-choice implies she is somehow less than fully Jewish, and in fact it’s directly prohibited by Jewish law (Bava Metzia 58b).
There actually is no such thing as being “genetically Jewish.” Under Jewish law, anyone with a Jewish mother or who receives a kosher conversion is 100 percent Jewish – as Jewish as I am, as Jewish as Jackie Mason is.
Am I suggesting that the secular press feel bound by Jewish law? Of course not. But for decades journalists have refrained from reporting on the race of criminal suspects except when it’s directly relevant (such as when the suspect is at large or when the crime revolves around race). I recommend a similar approach here: discuss how Ivanka Trump became Jewish only when directly relevant.
Some of the writers to make this mistake should know better. In Time Magazine, Rabbi David Wolpe admirably defended Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who was forced to withdraw from his plans to give an invocation at the RNC. But Wolpe called Lookstein “the rabbi who converted Ivanka Trump,” when “Ivanka Trump’s rabbi” would have been perfectly adequate and more in line with Jewish values of welcoming converts as 100 percent Jews.
Lookstein has been in the news recently because a court in Israel rejected one of his conversions. Jewish and non-Jewish publications grabbed on the clickbait potential of the story with headlines like “Court Rejects Rabbi Who Converted Ivanka Trump” – even though Trump’s actual conversion has never been called into question, and the way the system works a 7-year-old conversion like that is highly unlikely to ever be revisited.
Highlighting that someone is a Jew by choice is like saying someone is your neighbor’s “adopted daughter.” Unless it’s relevant (like in discussing if she can donate your neighbor a kidney) emphasizing the point is just unpleasant and ugly.
So stop saying Ivanka Trump is a convert to Judaism, unless it’s somehow relevant. She’s a Jew, and that’s all that matters.
David Benkof can be found on Twitter (@DavidBenkof). E-mail him at [email protected].