Sunday, February 1, 2015

Death of a Hero CORRECTED

The courts last week officially declared erratic millionaire Guma Aguiar, who went missing from his boat over two years ago, to be dead. Although Aguiar's deep pockets basically funded the campaign against my books ten years ago, he had no idea that this was happening, and I was greatly saddened when he disappeared. Aguiar, a deeply troubled person who suffered from severe mental health problems, performed a tremendous service to the Jewish People. He helped take down one of the most powerful, manipulative and evil people ever to go by the title "rabbi": Leib Tropper.

For those who don't know the infamous story, Aguair, along with his billionaire uncle Tom Kaplan, somehow fell under Tropper's spell many years ago. Tropper, a rabbi from Monsey with a long history of sordid allegations against him, came up with a scheme to take control of all conversions to Judaism, worldwide, under the name Eternal Jewish Family (EJF).

Before Kaplan and Aguair realized that there was something very wrong with Tropper, he directed millions of dollars of their money to rabbonim and Gedolim. Tropper gave large donations to their yeshivos, and he flew them to super-luxurious hotels for conversion conferences. In return, these Gedolim and rabbonim granted Tropper great honor and power. Rav Elyashiv's court, Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman and many others were all beneficiaries of Tropper, even honoring him by flying out to attend a wedding that he made.  

EJF claimed to be ensuring strict universal standards for conversions. But what was actually going on? The facts were murky and unpleasant. There were cases of EJF causing tremendous grief to converts and trying to retroactively annul some conversions on dubious grounds. EJF declared that rabbinic judges who believed that there was an age of dinosaurs were disqualified. Meanwhile, there were many reports that EJF was accepting certain other candidates who lacked even minimal knowledge and commitment to Judaism. There was allegations of some really terrible things taking place. And what was going on with the millions of dollars that Tropper was passing around? But Tropper was untouchable.

A few people realized that there was something badly wrong going on. The late and great Rav Aba Dunner, Executive Director of the Conference of European Rabbis, tried to blow the whistle. He later wrote as follows:
We found him to be a control freak and a megalomaniac, 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...
But outside of Europe, nobody listened to Rav Dunner.

I also tried to sound the alarm. From my investigations of Tropper's role in getting my books banned, I had discovered that he was a dishonest manipulator. And the way that he was wielding power in conversions was deeply disturbing. In November 2009, I wrote a blog post, Rabbi Leib Tropper and EJF, in which I called for something to be done. But who was going to listen to someone like me, when Tropper was directing millions of dollars to yeshivos?

Enter Guma Aguiar.

Aguiar had discovered that the millions of dollars that he had given to Tropper to distribute had not reached their intended goals. Aguiar's wish was for the money to be evenly distributed among a range of charitable institutions, and to rabbis representing a broad spectrum of ideologies. But Tropper had only given money to certain extremist charedi rabbonim (which just so happened to be the rabbonim that signed the ban on my books). Aguiar was furious. He confronted Tropper at the Jerusalem Citadel Hotel, demanding to know where his millions had gone. It seems that some sort of physical altercation ensued, which resulted in Tropper filing a police complaint against Aguiar. Aguiar responded by filing suit in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court against Tropper.

But Tropper's downfall took place in a different way. In November 2009, recordings circulated on the internet that contained conversations between Tropper and a woman whose conversion he had been supervising, which revealed that Topper was attempting to force women into engaging in forbidden activities with himself and others. (According to my sources, Tropper was attempting to convince women that concubinage was permissible.) There was also video footage, taken with a hidden camera, which was leaked to YouTube. The press had a field day.

Tropper had finally fallen, and EJF quickly folded. As far as I know, it was never disclosed who had arranged for the secret recordings. Aguiar was an obvious candidate, having both the motive and means, and I received a report that Aguiar had indeed claimed responsibility for it. Subsequently, however, I discovered that a different party was responsible for arranging the recordings. But Aguiar did have a role in leaking the recordings, which created the public pressure that brought Tropper down. In doing this, Aguiar performed a tremendous service to our nation.

Tropper, by the way, is down but not out. He framed his apology in a way that would allow him to later deny that he had admitted to any wrongdoing. He still has followers who believe that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and that Aguiar faked the tapes. He is flooding the internet with material praising him, to try to drown out the stories about his misdeeds. He published a new sefer, Taharas Yisrael, and was honored by the grandson of Rav Elyashiv. He is trying to rebuild his power base.

Troppergate remains as one of the greatest demonstrations of the folly of the contemporary incarnation of "Daas Torah." This was a man who for decades was described as a manipulator and worse. It wasn't difficult to see that there was something fishy about him. And yet he was given incredible power and prestige in the charedi world, because he bought almost everyone off and pretended to be super-frum. And the Gedolim never condemned him even after the tapes, and even though he still exerts influence. Hey, it's not as though he is doing something really terrible, like writing an accurate biography of the Gedolim, or telling people that there was an age of dinosaurs, or having a hip chassidishe concert in Madison Square Gardens!

If only Guma Aguiar were still around. But he was suffering terribly, from severe bipolar disorder. May he rest in peace.

Further Reading:
Tablet Magazine: Con Game
Rationalist Judaism: Tropper, EJF and the Gedolim
A long list of posts at Failed Messiah documenting Tropper's various misdeeds (Note: I am not a big fan of Failed Messiah, who has, amongst other things that I dislike, written posts trashing me. But you can't deny the value of the service that he performs, which isn't being done by anyone else.)

24 comments:

  1. 1. The Eidah Chareidus was the first to denounce Tropper. They did so in harsh and in no uncertain terms. And they denounced him years before he was exposed.

    2. Aguair's beef with Tropper was effectively a financial dispute. Aguair didn't oppose Tropper based on religious issues or how Tropper handled the conversion issues. In fact Aguair supported Tropper's conversion's efforts, mainly on account of his own wife's questionable conversion.

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  2. "by giving kickbacks to the various individuals who attempt to surround the Gedolim"

    Yes, because the "gedolim" are angel-like and would never take a bribe themselves. Proof: The Torah never warns our religious leaders not to take bribes, because it knows that would never happen. Oh, wait...

    "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"

    Yes, because those being bribed only needed the money for worthy causes. It's not like they blew those millions on frivolities.

    "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"

    Yes, because the "gedolim" would never *actually* be close to someone like that. No, it's all a trick.

    Look, I appreciate what R' Dunner wrote, but until we face some facts, things won't really change.

    "which resulted in Tropper filing a police complaint against Aguiar. Aguiar responded by filing suit in the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court against Tropper."

    Kind of ironic that the "frummie" went to the trayf Zionist police while Aguiar filed a din torah.

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  3. Tom Kaplan has also funded some food causes. Here is an organization he helped to start:

    http://www.panthera.org/about

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  4. Thank you for this post.

    I think part of the problem is that people who are really good at intellectual things tend to be on the Asperger's spectrum and not be good judges of personality and character. So they write brilliant chiddushim and get made into gedolim, but they're completely unsuited to lead communities.

    Of course there are other people who are brilliant and also understand people, and they would make great leaders. But charedi society does not select for this type of leader.

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    Replies
    1. "Brilliance" has absolutely zero to do with anything.

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  5. Ha'omer davar b'shem omro: don't forget Rav Eidensohn's tireless efforts as well over at the Daat Torah blog.

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  6. The case of a person who disappears into a sea, lake, or river is the major topic of today's daf yomi. Sadly timely. :(

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  7. "You can't deny the value of the service that [failed messiah] performs, which isn't being done by anyone else" - Actually, it is, on many similar skinhead/white power/neo-nazi sites.

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    1. Well, then, it's good it's being done by a Jew.

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    2. Quite true--it's obvious that Failed Messiah's championing Rabbi Slifkin during the ban, was not so much to help Rabbi Slifkin, but rather to find a way of bashing other Orthodox Jews. I wish Shmarya Rosenberg (the blogger of Failed Messiah) would, somehow, for every article reporting on an Orthodox pedophile-sex offender/tax evader/bribe-taker, report also on extraordinary acts of chessed performed by other memebers of the Orthodox community, to provide some sense of balance.

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    3. Yehudah P - the 'sense of balance' is provided by the (strictly censored, political) Hamodia, Yated et al who spew out a monumental deluge of pro-Charedi news. FM *IS* balancing things out!

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    4. @Baal Ha Boss--the readers of Failed Messiah probably don't read HaModia or Yated. If an internet surfer gets all his "news" of the charedi community just from Failed Messiah, it would be a rather skewed portrayal, wouldn't it? [But even if Shmarya would put up positive things about the charedi community as well, undoubtedly people would just read the juicy, derogatory stuff anyway and dismiss the rest.]

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  8. I never heard about video footage, do you have a link?

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  9. I don't know that Guma was a hero, but he was instrumental - as you observed, in uncovering the apparent perversions of a self-proclaimed authority over conversions. This 'super-frum' act that this guy put on only brought his apparent depravity into better focus. It is ironic that this figure and his Israeli associate had such an apparent influence over the Israeli Rabbinate in conversion matters, and that their 'stricter standards' were welcomed and furthered in the US by another character who was involved in other, less severe perversions involving female convert candidates. So much for the claim that a centralized conversion authority made for more honest conversions.

    The recollection of some of the main actors in the 'Slifkin books' ban brought back memories of those days and the role played by Jblogs in bringing the issue to the public.

    Y. Aharon

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  10. Agreed with your post *. Tropper is a repulsive individual. From what I have read publicly, he is now being allowed to teach in the yeshivah of Rabbi Reuven Feinstein. If that is false, someone connected with that yeshivah had better quickly and publicly disavow the article. Because if its true, it forever tarnishes that yeshivah and its head. Some men do not deserve second chances.

    (* However, you still shouldn't quote the failed website mentioned above. It is literally nothing but anti-semitism, in its purest form. I most certainly do deny the "service" it performs, and it is not to your credit to be linking to it.)

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    1. DF, you say that you have read that Tropper is "now being allowed to teach in the yeshivah of Rabbi Reuven Feinstein.". Are you referring to the Yeshiva of Staten Island? If so, my sources do not confirm it.

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    2. From Tablet Magazine, February 21, 2013:

      But that was 2010. Now, Tropper is back, apparently lecturing and teaching at a Staten Island yeshiva headed by Reuven Feinstein, who declined to condemn Tropper at the height of the controversy and who, perhaps not coincidentally, was the beneficiary of a $3 million donation from Tropper’s sponsors Kaplan and Aguiar. (Tropper’s father, Yehuda Tropper, also taught at the school for three decades.)

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  11. I knew Tropper when he huNg out in ohr samach in 19 76 He was almost like a rock star . i have also seen his dark side years later when he ran the Yeshiva In Yonkers NY..

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  12. Aguiar took intrest in conversions due to a zionistic, prophetic agenda regarding the redemption. He talked about it often. He also wanted to help those who were in the same position as he was (seeking a conversion for a non-Jewish spouse). Tropper's anti-assimilation speal worked on Guma.

    Guma however was unaware of who Tropper really was, and what he was doing. Guma did not subscribe to the heredi brand of Judaism that Tropper was demanding in his conversions. Guma caught wind of it, as well as his misappropriation of charity money, and turned on Tropper immediately.

    I don't believe Guma was a hero in this particular situation, but he did have a heart for important Jewish causes and did his best to make a difference.

    I hope this legal declaration brings some peace in the ongoing family feud.

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  13. "Madison Square Garden", by the way, singular. There have actually been four, but only one at a time. :-)

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  14. chaval 'al d-avdinFebruary 3, 2015 at 4:43 PM

    I want to thank the marei d-hai bloga for having treated, so sensitively, the unstated but tremendously important role played by my friend, Guma Aguiar whom we all greatly miss, in an episode that perhaps too few realize was actually a crucial moment in Jewish history. To those who worked with him closely (and I was fortunate to have had that opportunity for a time), Guma’s repeated undertakings both on behalf of the Jewish people and in what he believed was right (which for Guma were the same thing), often at personal risk and with great dedication of resources, were nothing short of heroic.
    I am also impressed that you paid respect to the role of the late Rav Aba Dunner in that parshah.
    I was fortunate to have been privy to what would become that pivotal conversation between Guma and the late Rav Aba Dunner that took place in Moscow 2009, some weeks prior to the exposure, regarding Tropper (despite later suffering, this particular conversation happened during a period of remarkable focus and lucidity for Guma). The concern of the European Rabbis was clear - Tropper was attempting to move the Eternal Jewish Family into Europe, as part of his expanding dominion of haredi standardised conversion, and it had to be stopped. Rav Dunner (“the Rov’s Rov”), who sat on the London Beis Din (hardly known to be meiqel in matters of conversion) felt strongly that geirus should be at the discretion and in accordance with the marei d-atra of each and every ‘community’ or local beis din. This view was still reflected by most of the Rabbis of Europe; but Tropper had a small but growing group of supporters that had been dazzled by him in one way or another. He was even starting to get a foothold in England (v-daiy lameivin).
    Aba Dunner was not sure exactly who Guma was, at that stage, so you can imagine his amazement when Guma not only started quoting psuqim back at him (Guma was baqi in Tanakh), but also showed himself to be fully briefed regarding the issue of Tropper and even told Rav Dunner many things he did not know. The two were in constant communication throughout that period.
    As one of a small group of people involved in the "operation" regarding Tropper (my role was mostly in the release of the recordings, not in their acquisition), I can confirm that the motive for taking Tropper down was not because of a sense of indignity at his personal (and sensational) private behaviour. It was a peulah l-shem shamayim. Even though his behaviour was sexually perverse (znut v-zimah) according to the standards of his Rabbinic colleagues, if Tropper had been spending his energies preaching the halakhic and spiritual value of, as you say, ‘concubinage’ (pilagshut) to all and sundry as part of a radical new philosophy for am yisroel, he would not have been exposed (Guma might even have forgiven him). But he wasn’t doing that. He was fronting an organisation that was seeking to standardise haredi conversions at a time when some in the haredi world were even talking of retaining the power to ‘revoke’ conversions, for exactly the type of things that Tropper was known to be doing in private! He wasn’t just a phony, he was a dangerous phony. Some people, all of us maybe, do perverse things in private, and the world is full of hypocrites, but we are not forced into public service and leadership roles – we choose them. As Tropper later put it: leaders should strive for pirqo naeh (even that would not have saved him, really; not after his stance on sifrei Slifkin). No-one owns the Jewish People but God.
    It was not a small matter to bring down a person of the status of Tropper, the ensuing fallout and chilul hashem was considerable. People such as Guma and Rav Aba Dunner made courageous decisions for which they were willing to take responsibility. I hope that Rabbi Tropper now sees that episode through the clarity of whatever teshuvah he has undertaken. His case before ziqnei tziyon was handled, I think, in a way that was better for him than it otherwise might have been; and that is also owed to Guma.

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  15. Youtube is flooded with Tropper videos now which show him in a positive light. He must have done teshuva.

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    1. He is having a come back.He aint no quitter.

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    2. The ironic thing about teshuva is that in almost every profession, one can do teshuva after messing up, except being a rabbi. Once a rabbi has been publicly disgraced, it's almost impossible for him to return. Yet rabbis are the ones who always talk about teshuva.

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