Rabbi Leib Tropper and EJF
Rabbi Leib Tropper is known to many readers of this blog as one of the team of people involved in engineering the ban on my books. He told the story about two students in his yeshivah, "malachai hashareis, "who read my books, and promptly dropped out of yeshivah and went off the derech. When I investigated it, I found out the one of them, who had said, "if the rabbis can make mistakes then why am I learning Bava Kamma" (a direct quote from R. Tropper), dropped out of the yeshivah and left observance before my book on Chazal was published. The other one, who read my books, dropped out of the yeshivah and went to YU - which I would not exactly describe as "going off the derech." When I discovered the identity of the other student and wrote to ask him if it was true that my books caused him to drop out, he wrote this reply.
I honestly don't really care much about all that. But there is something else about Rabbi Tropper's activities which I find very, very disturbing. First, some background. For the last few years, Rabbi Tropper has been running an organization known as EJF - Eternal Jewish Family, whose mantra is that they are seeking a "universally accepted standard for conversion," which sounds wonderful. Exceptionally well funded by Tom Kaplan, EJF flies out rabbonim to conferences in hotels.
There are, however, some very serious accusations against EJF. I will briefly review these, after which I will get to the problem that I personally find particularly worrying.
One problem, which unites such disparate forces as the Badatz of Jerusalem and the Roshei Yeshivah of YU against EJF, is the charge that EJF encourages proselytization. This has been discussed at great length by R. Daniel Eidensohn on his blog Daas Torah.
Another problem, also discussed at the aforementioned blog and elsewhere, is that the rabbis who endorse EJF have also received exceptionally large donations to their yeshivos - in one case, millions of dollars. כי השחד יעור עיני חכמים ויסלף דברי צדיקם.
The third area of controversy was recently made very public. Guma Aguiar, the nephew of Tom Kaplan, has filed a Din Torah against Rabbi Tropper for allegedly misappropriating millions of dollars that he gave him for charity. This story, which you can read in great detail here, includes this report:
For example, when Aguiar's daughter was born at the end of 2007, he wanted to express his and his wife's thanks to G-d by donating $36,000 to each of 36 rabbis. He says he turned to his uncle's close confidante Rabbi Leib Tropper to formulate a list of 36 beneficiaries.
The list, which you can find on the website, is basically a who's who of the rabbis that consented to sign on to the ban on my books. It pays to play along with Rabbi Tropper's zealotry! But apparently Aguiar wanted the list to include rabbis from a broader spectrum of Judaism than that represented by Rabbi Tropper's narrow perspective. After the list was expanded and agreed upon, the money was sent, but according to Aguiar, the money didn't reach all the rabbis. While the article does not specify which rabbis are alleged not to have received the money, my impression is that it is those who were not part of Rabbi Tropper's suggested list.
But the problem with EJF that is of greatest concern to me is the serious effort by Rabbi Tropper and his partner in Israel, Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein, to delegitimize those who do not share their narrow hashkafic viewpoint - both rabbis and converts.
There is a deeply troubling report as follows:
Rabbi Nachum Eisenstein said words to the following effect, from the podium, during the Tuesday, November 6, 2007 afternoon session of the EJF conference:
"Rav Elyashiv holds that any person who believes the world to be older than 5768 years is kofer b’ikur, and as such, is pasul l’dayanus. Therefore, a ger who underwent conversion through a beis din on which such a person served as a dayan remains non-Jewish. The conversion is invalid even b’dieved."
Let me repeat that these words were made before a large audience of rabbis and gedolei Torah. Stunned, I privately asked Rabbi Eisenstein if he realized that this psak would, in effect, exclude the modern orthodox rabbinate from the conversion process. He answered affirmatively, adding that Rav Elyashiv held this psak to be “pashut.”
Similarly, the previous day (Monday), Rabbi Leib Tropper mentioned, also from the podium, that Rav Chaim Kanievsky was asked if it is mutar to convert a person who is mikabel ol malchus shamayim but is unwilling to believe that the world is only 5768 years old. Rav Kanievsky answered that it is in fact assur to convert such a person. Rabbi Tropper also made seemingly hateful remarks, saying: how ridiculous would it be for a person wearing non-Yeshivish clothes and/or wearing cologne to serve as a dayan!?
More troubling yet, during the same speech, Rabbi Tropper made remarks to the following effect: "EJF’s goal is to connect a would-be ger to a universally accepted beis din. A universally accepted beis din could not, by definition, include dayanim who believe the world to be older than 5768 years."
I would be remiss not to mention that these remarks were said boldly, publicly and to an audience of over one hundred chashuvim. There was no visible protest amongst the assembled.
We thus have Rabbi Tropper's well-funded organization working to delegitimize the entire non-charedi rabbinate. We also have a nightmare scenario for sincere converts. I noticed the following report in the comments to this post:
I know about a case where a Jewish boy was dating a non Jewish girl and the local Chabbad was mekrev them for Orthodox conversion with kabalas mitzvos. Someone told the EJF about them and they got involved, they scared the girl with their tactics and the couple left orthodox Judaism and got married in Reform temple. As it turned out the girl was a scientist and the EJF freaked her out with their insistence that she will believe in 6000 years old universe.
Nor should one think that this witch-hunt will be limited to those who accept that there was an age of dinosaurs. In opening pages of the appalling work Chaim B'Emunasam, which claims that every Jew is obligated to believe that every single word in the Gemara is from Sinai or else he is a heretic and should be killed, there is enthusiastic praise for Rabbi Tropper and EJF for his assistance to the author. On his own blog, Rabbi Tropper recently made the following announcement regarding the forthcoming EJF conference:
Some of the new issues to be discussed will be the importance of true Torah Hashkafa and Midos as an ability to measure a candidates seriousness to convert properly... Someone who does not believe in “Emunas Chachachim” though he knows Halacha, should a Beit din proceed with the conversion?
We know from another post on his blog that Rabbi Tropper believes that every Jew is obligated to listen to the "Gadol HaDor." (As I noted in a previous post, he claims to base this on a Teshuvos Yaavetz, but Yaavetz says no such thing, and even if he would, there are clearly others who argue.) We thus have a real risk of a situation whereby converts who do not accept whatever pashkevil has Rav Elyashiv's signature to it are going to have their conversions declared invalid by EJF. Read this post to gain an insight into the terror being experienced by many sincere converts.
The latest EJF conference begins today, in the Sheraton Meadowlands, NJ. Something has to be done.