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.
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.)