Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tropper, EJF and the Gedolim

At last, the Gedolim have broken their silence about Tropper/EJF, and their official spokesman has written a statement. But first, some background. Way before the tapes emerged, revealing Rabbi Tropper to be bribing/ blackmailing a prospective convert into sexual improprieties, there were all kinds of reports of inappropriate behavior on the part of Tropper and EJF. It cannot be adequately stressed that what was needed was not just a condemnation of what he did to this convert (and a condemnation of the obviously forbidden is indeed necessary in a community where perverts and their enablers know that they can get away without condemnation). Most importantly, what was being demanded was a condemnation and transparent, public investigation into all the other wrongdoings, especially the question of how a person who was always suspected of lacking integrity, and who was accused of having his organization commit various wrongdoings, was able to attain so much power and honor by virtue of giving massive sums of money to yeshivos. Here is a list that has been circulating, which I have edited somewhat:

1. From R’ Harry Maryles:
I knew what this con man was about 20 years ago when I first met him. He was responsible then for ruining the life of one young man I am very close with - making life miserable for his parents. His mother went to the grave suffering an estrangement from her son for which Leib Tropper was responsible. His father suffers to this day from it. He took advantage of this young man’s misfortune and conned him into doing something no decent man would ever do. And he made it seem like he was doing him a favor. This young man is now 20 years older and still suffering the consequences of it. Consequences that after 20 years have little chance of being reversed! I cannot get into details because confidences would be broken. But suffice it to say his only concern at that time was not to help this young man but to help himself by gaining the support of a wealthy friend in doing this con.

2. From a comment on ViN:
I have been involved with Kiruv for over three decades. Close to thirty years ago a university student underwent a Giyur Kehalacha when he discovered that his mother was converted by Conservative rabbis. A week later he went to Yeshivas Ohr Sameach. A few weeks ago EJF told him that his Giyur may not be good because they have questions of the Rabbonim who did it. Who is a erliche Orthodox Rav and does not do kulahs in Giyur. This shocking action is beyond belief. The EJF did not call the Rabbomin in question. They just put the Safek in the mind of this person 3 decades later. We need a proper structure in Giyur, and proper standards kept. However the idea that Rabbonim in Monsey, or Meah Shearim will suddenly begin to question Geirus done properly is outrageous. There is no historical precedent for this. There are a small group of Rabbonim aligned with EJF that have attempted to impose their view on Gierus. They are overreaching and creating havoc in the Jewish community.

3. From a comment on ViN:
I went to Rav Reuven Feinstein when the now infamous former head of the EJF tried to stop my marriage to my wife who is a giyores. He claimed that the Rov who was migayer her did not know what he was doing. Rbe Reuven told me that her geirus was fine. We are married now. The head of EJF got what he deserved for the pain he caused me and many others.

4. From a comment on ViN:
I converted years ago and have been frum from the time I emerged from the mikvah and the EJF told me my conversion was invalid because of the rabbonim on the beis din, all of whom were frum Orthodox rabbonim by the way. I was not the only person this happened to. Of course the EJF offered to 'fix' it for a substantial sum of money. How nice of them.

5. From a comment on Daas Torah blog:
I know this man very well, and know the underling rabbeyem he surrounds himself with, they told me that right now he is licking his wounds like a dog, and trying to "re-invent himself." Whenever tropper had an issue with a baal tsuvah/ bochur who tropper asked to "jump", and the baal tshuva didn't immediately ask "how high," Tropper in his paranoid ways would immediately reach for the phone, and call that person's boss (Tropper would find jobs for some bochurim, so that he held over their heads that he controlled their jobs) or fiance, (Tropper would arrange shidduchim for bochurim, and not allow or be very unhappy if a bochur found someone through a non tropper source, again this was all about the control factor, if he made the shidduch, he could control you) and besmirch that person. He would then secretly and slowly start a secret campaign to tell other bochurim and ballah botim (the few that their were in the yeshiva) that said baal tshuva is (insert some made up issue Tropper would make up here) and tell them that the bochur was in cheirem. He would wait until the bochur found out on his own by his surroundings that he was in cheirem. In some cases he would have the secretary of the yeshiva (he also controlled her and made her work basically for free, what did he have over her? you guessed it, she was a ger, he magayered her, and she was from france, so he promised her sponsorship, which never panned out) type out a letter to that bochur, telling him that they are no longer welcome to learn or daven there. Make no mistake about it, in all his years in kiruv, for every one person who he makereved to yiddishkeit, he probably turned off 10 off of yiddishkeit forever.

6. From a comment on ViN:
I worked for EJF and know some of the Dayanim personally this is easily verifiable as needed. I can tell you that people knew that Leib had a problematic history and they covered for him for over twenty years. This was told to me by one of the Dayanim that worked with Tropper intensively. Leib also had a shaychus with Shlomo Carlebach and this did not serve as a positive example. While Shlomo would have killed himself before pimping a woman to his chaverim he was not an embodiment of perishut. Leib, while he never sat on a Bet Din did pull the strings of who sat on the Batie Din because he controlled the funds and the jobs. We will never know if there were women whom he abused that made it through. Firstly, because they will be terrified of coming forward for fear of having their conversion invalidated and secondly because the Batie Din will not want to look like idiots. While none of the women I worked with were abused bu him sexually- they were abused by him emotionally in the sense that he showed utter disregard and insensitivity for them as people in various ways. While I have never seen a greater chilul hashem in my lifetime I hope that it serves as a wake up call.

7. Anonymous report:
A Rosh Yeshivah in Har Nof who runs outreach programs said that someone who attacked him and one of his programs later admitted that he was paid $25,000 by Tropper to do so.

8. From a blog:
Rav Schachter spoke at an EJF convention. In the course of his shiur, he mentioned the opinions who are lenient about shaking a woman's hand, and situations where it may be appropriate to follow the leniency. He cited examples of gedolim who shook women's hands. None other than Rabbi Tropper screamed at Rabbi Schachter, calling him a shakran. Rabbi Schachter responded with case after case of roshei yeshiva and gedolim who have shanken women's hands before. Rabbi Tropper had an hysterical fit that the honor of these great gedolim was besmirched with an accusation of shaking a woman's hand.

9. From Rabbi Natan Slifkin:
Also involved in the campaign against my books was Yaakov Kalmanowitz's brother, Rabbi Osher Kalmanowitz of the Mir Yeshivah in New York. He did not want to openly involve himself, and so he recruited his friend Rabbi Leib Tropper of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov in Monsey. Rabbi Tropper created a story that was told to the Rabbis were were approached to condemn the books. The story involved two students in his yeshivah, described as "angelic," who allegedly dropped out of yeshivah and left Orthodoxy after reading my books and concluding that "if the Sages could have been wrong about science, then they could have been wrong about everything." Rabbi Elya Wachtfogel, the primary rabbinic authority behind this ban, presented this story as grounds for his campaign. I myself was shaken when I heard about this story, but my mentors were skeptical and advised my to investigate it. The investigation showed that one of them was barely observant to begin with, and dropped out of yeshivah before my book on the Sages' knowledge of science was published. The other left Kol Yaakov and went to YU; he wrote to me that it was nothing to do with my books, which strengthened his Judaism, but he noted that the rabbis in Kol Yaakov did not like them.

10. From a blog:
The Leib Tropper I knew 20 years ago in Monsey was a disgusting scumbag who used to hang out in Tuvia's bookstore "looking for potential Baalei Teshuva" to "makarev". I was newly married at the time and used to wait inside Tuvia's for my husband to pick me up after work. On more than one occasion I had to tell Tropper to "stand back from behind me, he was too close" and I also had to ask for help to tell him not to get too close to me so that he could "accidentally brush up against me" while I was browsing in the store. That is the Leib Tropper I know. He is the same jerk who screwed around on his wife, the daughter of Rav Margolin, a student of Rav Aaron Kotler, for 25 years before leaving her to marry one of the beautiful young women whom he was "makareving" to Yiddishkeit. The fact that she happened to also come from money was just the icing on the cake... Tropper's personal history should have disqualified him from acting as a decisor and shaper of the future of the Jewish people...

11. From a comment on UOJ:
TROPPER SHOWED UP MOTZAEI SHABBOS TO SPEAK AT THE SOUTH FALLSBURG YESHIVA MELAVEH MALKA AND WAS EMBRACED & KISSED BY R' ELYA BER WACHTFOGEL!!!!

12. From UOJ:
...And guess who "replaced" Elya Ber Wachtfogel at EJF -- his nephew Chaim Blum, EB's handpicked successor.

13. From R. Aba Dunner, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis:
...We unmasked this organization and the chap who ran it, I would not call him Rabbi - before this scandal... We found him to be a control freak and a megalo-maniac, we found him to be so disrespectful of Rabbanim that there was a unanimous vote of the standing committee to make sure that he and his organization do not enter Europe...
The EJF refers cases which it claims are ready for giur to a small beis din that will accept their recommendation when a larger more established beis din would not consider the case in any way suitable. (additionally the EJF besmirches the name of botei din with track records measured in decades and whose credentials are impeccable but who have the temerity to question their judgment and qualifications) Rabbonim from small towns across the USA were continually surprised over the last few years that intermarried couples who they reckoned were unready for giur - even though they might qualify with a year or two of work - were leaving town and returning a month or two later having been converted through an EJF recommendation and officially having been mentored successfully by the EJF . In many of these instances the levels of observance were insufficient to start with and diminished subsequently with many ending up only nominally practicing Jews.
To burnish their credentials as the only chareidi purveyors of geirus, the game plan was to present themselves as the most chareidi organization out there by buying their way into the chotzer of the Gedolim by giving kickbacks to the various individuals who attempt to surround the Gedolim. By steady drip feeding of a few thou here and there to help with a chasuna or pay off some choivos or support a pet project, Tropper managed to buy his way in and then parade his ability to get photo ops as if that made him a ne'emon of the Gedolim. The story that he was telling was that all botei din and mekarvim in the USA were not to be trusted with the future of klal yisroel and only someone with his dikduk bemitzvos particularly in the areas of kiruv was in the position to handle it properly. This from a man whose personal habits until this time had been a matter of concern to all who knew the facts...

15. From a participant at EJF conferences:
At the EJF conferences, Rabbi Tropper and Rabbi Eisenstein spoke about how a person who believes that Bereishis can be reconciled with the world being millions of years old, or who accepts the view of the Rishonim that Chazal sometimes erred in science, may not be converted to Judaism. Furthermore, a Rav who believes such things may not act as a Dayyan for conversions. Conversion performed with such people are suspect. (In light of reports about how, in many cases, EJF sought out and accepted insincere converts, for the sake of money or currying favor with Tom Kaplan, these statements may have been a way of wresting power away from the RCA.)

16. From Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer:
In light of the recent revelations of the misdeeds of the founder of the organization called Eternal Jewish Family, it is an opportune time for you to make your rabbonim and chaverim aware of the reprehensible nature of an organization that throws geirim who are tzaddikim and tehorim into confusion over their status, declares that individuals who believe as the Tiferes Yisroel and others that the world is more than 5770 years old k'peshuto are pasul as dayanim, etc. There are some who maintain a "head in the sand" attitude and would cover up Rabbi Tropper's misdeeds, but I believe this is the Hashgocho manifest in retribution upon those who afflict geirei tzedek, u'mitzvah l'farsem.

17. From a blog:
By all accounts, Tropper is still running EJF behind the scenes. He's still making the financial decisions. Of course, because there is no transparency, accountability, or integrity, it's impossible to know for sure. But in any case, those that are replacing him are likewise unqualified for such important communal work.

18. From someone who worked for EJF:
After being a mentor for some time with The Eternal Jewish Family and witnessing first hand its many serious flaws, the question is what do we need such an organization that dilutes the very framework of halachah that has guided the Jewish people for the last two thousand years? My first assignment was to work with an intermarried couple, where the non-Jewish husband was enthusiastic about committing to Judaism and learning what it means to become a Jew. His Jewish spouse was less than enthusiastic and cold about the whole idea. As I was approached by Rabbi Jacobs to speak to this family, I asked him point blank, how can you even think about working with this man if his wife is not supportive and wants nothing really to do with Judaism? ...After all the conferences all over the world and world-class Rabbanim and Rosh Yeshivos who took part, who paskened such a question that this was permissible? Another glaring question that I asked as I started my work for them was: is there a Shulchan Aruch or a standard that you use when deciding which families to take, who not to take? What about the curriculum? Was there even a syllabus? Who are the tutors that are used, how are tutors qualified? ...Who are these mentors? I asked Rabbi Jacobs many times who they used as mentors and how he qualified them as good mentors. I never got an answer on that... I heard other stories from students about mentors that turned off their students and had “their own way” of doing things. When one of the students confronted me about this, I asked them, find out who their rav is and see who they go to ask their questions too about how they are supposed to do this. The student came back to me a few days later and told me that the mentors were all flustered thinking that their authority was being usurped and who were they to question what they were doing! ...With all the hoopla of the many conventions that EJF has had all over the world, what about all the choshever Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshiva that have addressed these conferences. Do they really have any inkling as to what is happening within the organization? ...Some of these stories are just the tip of the iceberg of the disaster and krumkeit that this organization purports, all in the name of helping these families and helping with establishing a universally accepted conversion.... As of right now, it is a disaster and in total disarray. It’s not about the scandal and how it happened. It is about who is running the organization and why it is hefker.

19. From a blog comment:
The issue with Troppergate is not the recently publicized audio recordings per se; they merely made clear and undeniable what many people had been saying for years about Rabbi Tropper. The problem is that a rabbi who for DECADES was known to have been a manipulator who engaged in abuses of power on multiple levels, was nevertheless showered with honor and given ever greater power to wield, as a result of his channeling massive financial contributions that kept yeshivos afloat. And it is this that explains the deafening silence from the charedi rabbinic establishment about the recent revelations.

* * *

So now, we finally have the official statement from the Charedi rabbinic establishment about all this. And what is it?

It is that we should see the terrible earthquake in Haiti as punishment for our sins; specifically, for evil speech - and a specific example given of such evil speech is the criticism of the Gedolim for not saying anything about Tropper and EJF!

?!?!?!

The article warns that the "misuse of the holy power of speech is not a small evil." That is true. But there are times when silence is also a misuse of the holy power of speech.

22 comments:

  1. This story was intriguing to me. I looked into this story and found some interesting things which people haven't really talked about:
    1. The Kol Yaakov yeshiva is planning a summer program:
    http://www.kolyaakovtorahcenter.org/slf/index.htm

    2. The yeshiva has a staff and the mashgiach ruchani of Kol Yaakov is R' Dovid Wolpin, R' Nisson Wolpin's brother.

    3. The haskama for the yeshiva comes from R' Reuven Feinstein: http://www.kolyaakovtorahcenter.org/about.htm

    4. Perhaps a bit more tenuous, but still intriguing: If you call Horizons International's number, you reach the office of Eternal Jewish Family. IIUC money's donated to EJF vis-a-vis Horizons. In fact, Kol Yaakov's seemingly still affiliated with Horizons as the email address to contact Kol Yaakov at is a Horizons email address and the planned summer program is called "Summer Horizons."

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  2. Have you seen this? Read the bit about where he compares you to Tropper!

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  3. dear rav slifkin

    are you sure about rav osher kalmonovittz and his relationship with tropper

    did you try to talk with reb osher

    i know him to be quite fair

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  4. Let's see, you indirectly "corrupted" a bochur so that he went off the derech all the way to YU and that got you a cheirem. But your opponent potentially did all these things you've listed and got... what?
    Don't be too hard on Rav Shafran and don't expect too much for him. He just doesn't know any better than to be a bag man for bad people. If he was the PR man on the Titanic, he'd deny the boat was sinking until it actually did. Which is what he's doing for the Agudah these days, it seems.

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  5. Sorry, I must have forgotten to post the link. Read the bit where Rabbi Ribiat is asked why the Gedolim were so swift in their condemnation of Rabbi Slifkin but not of Tropper:
    http://www.5tjt.com/news/read.asp?Id=5754

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  6. I posted a comment on Cross Currents which seemingly did not pass the censor (as yet, at least) regarding R' Shafran's call for intropection and repentance.

    "Indeed, introspection and repentance is the classical and appropriate Jewish response to tragedy, and has been for centuries.

    The Midrash says that Yonah told his shipmates that he was the reason for the storm that they were facing, even though he could have pointed to the fact that the other passengers were all Ovdei Avodo Zoro.

    However, the author of this piece is merely telling other people to practise introspection and repentance, and this is the opposite of the classical position, and much easier to do."

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  7. "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." – Elie Weisel
    "All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

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  8. >bribing/ blackmailing

    let's call spade s spade - Rb Tropper was a pimp, a rapist, and a thief.

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  9. R' Slifkin - remember how people spread all sorts of false rumors about you after your books got banned. Some people are still spreading lies. So - keep please in mind that some people might be spreading lies about R' Tropper as well. You quoted bunch of things from other blogs about him - many of these statements cannot be verified.
    Be well

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  10. R' Natan, you have a very good point, and if there's anyone in the world who is owed an apology by LT it is you.

    However, I don't think you serve yourself well by laying out a laundry list of accusations left by annonymous posters on various blogs.

    Do you know what I mean?

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  11. Is there any basis in rabbinic literature for the idea that those who are perceived as the gedolim, the greatest of the generation, at a particular time may not really be the great ones, and that in the future people will realize who the truly great ones of the past were? It would be comforting at a time like this. Classical chassidic sources certainly say similar things.

    Interestingly this whole thing involves mainly Yeshivish gedolim, not Sephardic or Chassidic or other groups.

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  12. To Dovid and Howie -
    This website has never been about mudslinging, and that wasn't the point of this post either.
    The point is as follows. When you have somebody that for decades has been the subject of serious allegations, you don't put that person in a position of tremendous importance and shower him with kavod unless you investigate him carefully. And if you do go ahead without doing this, and an even more serious crime is exposed, an investigation of what went wrong is called for, as well as efforts to right whatever wrongs have been committed. And if that isn't done, it deserves great criticism. And when this criticism takes place, don't blame it for the earthquake in Haiti!

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  13. Apparently my comment on CC wasn't accepted either. Here it is:

    Rabbi Shafran started off ok, after all there's nothing wrong with, and ample support for, the idea that we should view any significant event such as the quake in Haiti as a catalyst to introspect.

    R. Shafran's piece begins to devolve when he states, "It is, to be sure, a very particularist idea, placing Jews at the center of humankind." Whether are not Jews are at the "center of humankind" it is the height of hubris and socially inept to imply, no matter how slightly, that G-d would kill 100,000 men, women, and children in order to send a wake up call to the Jews. There is an enormous difference between taking a message from something that happened and saying that a catastrophe happened to send a message.

    As if that weren't enough, this piece sinks further by attempting to assign a "reason" in the behavior of Jews for this catastrophe. So, not only do we "know" that an entire country was ravaged for our benefit, but we even know why! All those poor Haitians were killed, maimed and made homeless because of some nasty cartoons in a Jewish paper.

    But why stop there? After all, R. Shafran doesn't corner the market on assigning "reasons" for the earthquake. Maybe it's the opposite of what R. Shafran implies. Maybe the expose's came too late. Maybe the earthquake was "sent" because the Rabbinic establishment has now on just too many occasions assisted in the cover up of scandalous, anti-social, and criminal activity in the religious community. Or, maybe Haiti was ravaged because too many of our most pious looking co-religionists are dragging G-d's name through the mud in the name of honoring the Sabbath. Or Maybe he was unhappy that a bunch of Yeshiva students burned down the house of worship of another religion.

    Of course my examples are outrageous, just as are those in R. Shafran's essay. It is the height of insensitivity to use this tragedy as a soapbox to pontificate about the slights that any individual perceives are being perpetrated against his little slice of our community.

    Yes, privately we should introspect, but publicly we should follow the lead of our Jewish nation and show that we too are part of the greater world community and do what we can, in our own way, to alleviate the suffering of our fellow humans in Haiti.

    We should all pray for a Refuah and Nechama to all those affected by this tragedy.

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  14. Interestingly this whole thing involves mainly Yeshivish gedolim, not Sephardic or Chassidic or other groups.

    What do you mean "this whole thing"? The Tropper scandal? If so, yes, but so what? The Yeshivish "gedolim" were the ones principally involved with Tropper. There are scandals just as big in the Chassidic and Sephardic communities. (Spinka & Deal, to name only two.)

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  15. Great post. Thank you.

    BTW, On my blog I posted the story of someone who called Kol Yaakov to complain about misconduct by Rabbi Tropper to a woman. He was told to put the complaint in writing and send it to Rabbi Tropper

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  16. i liked the last blog at 5tjt, just switch "slifkin" for "tropper" .

    "The TRUTH will soon all be exposed, and you will all be knocking on Rabbi Tropper's door BEGGING for mecheela and mercy!"

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  17. Whether are not Jews are at the "center of humankind" it is the height of hubris and socially inept to imply, no matter how slightly, that G-d would kill 100,000 men, women, and children in order to send a wake up call to the Jews.


    I'm totally opposed to Shafran's interpretation of things, but I do think that we would all do better to calm down about the religious philosophy here.

    As I understand it, without trying to bring sources right now, Judaism looks favorably on any positive lesson we can take from anything that happens. In particular, in a case like this, where the naturalistic explanation (the slipping of a fault which has presumably been there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years at least - with apologies to the Biblical literalists if they deserve such) is right at hand, we only gain by adding some religious content to the event. That is to say, a rational approach to an occurrence like this is something like, "this happened because G-d lets the world run through physical law almost all the time, but He wants us to use our emotional reactions to improve ourselves." What constitutes improvement is open for discussion, and I for one believe it is exactly the opposite of what Avi Shafran claims, but in any case there is no need to say anything as extreme as "that G-d would kill 100,000 men, women, and children in order to send a wake up call to the Jews."

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  18. What do you mean "this whole thing"? The Tropper scandal? If so, yes, but so what? The Yeshivish "gedolim" were the ones principally involved with Tropper. There are scandals just as big in the Chassidic and Sephardic communities.


    I would like to try to get this discussion back on what I saw as the central issue, and that was not "What's the biggest scandal in the Yiddishe velt today?" For me at least, it wasn't even what Rabbi Slifkin himself stated, i.e.:


    When you have somebody that for decades has been the subject of serious allegations, you don't put that person in a position of tremendous importance and shower him with kavod unless you investigate him carefully.


    Maybe all this is very interesting, but as far as I am concerned (and I suspect that many here will agree with me), the real reason to be concerned with Leib Tropper's escapades is that he was involved for the past 5 years in influencing very prominent Rabbonim about decisions concerning basics of Jewish belief, in particular about the appropriateness of certain books for Orthodox Jews. This was the reason this topic was brought up here, and the reason why it still remains important. The Spinka Rebbe and the Rabbis of Deal were not excommunicating anyone, so no matter how disturbing their behavior is, it remains a (serious) side issue in the Jewish world today. Leib Tropper and his helpers, on the other hand, tried and are still trying to define what Judaism is, and for that reason we cannot ignore them.

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  19. >>"When you have somebody that for decades has been the subject of serious allegations, you don't put that person in a position of tremendous importance and shower him with kavod unless you investigate him carefully."<<

    I think he put himself in a position of tremendously inflated importance and kavod and most rabbonim just played along.

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  20. > "All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

    Burke never actually said this:

    http://bdld.info/2010/01/31/bringing-redemption-to-the-world/

    citing the conclusion of Martin Porter's exhaustive, brilliant and utterly fascinating tour de force of scholarship: ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ (or words to that effect) - A study of a Web quotation.

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  21. Postscript: Rabbi Tropper is quite active again. See his blog:

    http://rabbileibtropper.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/visits-and-meetings/

    I particularly like this shot: http://rabbileibtropper.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/a-good-laugh.jpg

    Care to write in the caption about what the joke is?

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