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The Leib Tropper Affair and the Divine Justice

December 26, 2009

In the past few days, the US Orthodox community has been shaken by reports of outrageous behavior by Rabbi Leib Tropper, the former head of Eternal Jewish Family (least you think this is yet another piece of Haaretz venom against the charedim, Tropper’s own statement speaks volumes). In recent years, EJF has become a self-professed accreditor of conversion courts, playing an active part in undermining the validity of Rav Drukman’s conversions, which eventually led to his removal from the conversion court, as well as wreaking havoc in the lives of innumerable converts.

I am not going to give grades to rabbis or stick my head in the halachic argument about fine points of conversion. I don’t know enough to do that. But I do know that whoever disgraces a Torah scholar loses his portion in the world to come (Sanhedrin 90) and causes the destructions of Jerusalem (Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah, chapter 6). It is an unfortunate fact that in certain circles, a rabbi’s Torah stature is measured by his affiliation with this or that ideological camp and not with his knowledge, personal qualities, and impact on Judaism and society. I was shocked to see leading Zionist rabbis referred to as Reb So and So in mainstream charedi newspapers, at the time when any head of a “right wing” yeshiva (no matter how tiny) merits the titles of Harav Hagaon. More recently, in the wake of the controversy surrounding Rav Melamed and the Hesder yeshivot, a certain publication identified him as “the head of the institution [not  yeshiva] in Har Bracha.”

I do know that a jewel of a man such as Rav Drukman  does not deserve the treatment he received. I know this, because over the years I have heard my husband (a graduate of Rav Drukman’s yeshiva high school) recount small stories, which illuminate the Rav’s amazing personality. Thus, for example, each time the students would gather at Rav Drukman’s house for a Friday night class, he would not start talking until personally ascertaining that every single boy had received a cup of tea and some cookies. On one occasion, during a shabbat meal at the yeshiva, Rav Drukman became very upset when the teachers received soda instead of the regular water pitchers distributed to the students’ tables. “Either everybody is served soda or everybody gets water,” he said.

It is legitimate to argue against Rav Drukman’s approach to conversion (or any other ruling for that matter).  Jewish scholarship is unthinkable without ongoing disputes that serve to fine-tune each position and crystallize a complete understanding of each issue. But this legitimacy ends as soon as either one of the opponents loses respect for his counterpart. Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel are commended for continuing to marry each other, even while disagreeing about marriage laws. So where does this leave us in the current conversion controversy?

The beauty of our Torah is that it maintains a careful balance between seemingly conflicting situations, needs, and values. While it is praiseworthy to strive towards holiness, a chumra in one area always turns into a kula in something else. Excessive zeal not tampered by careful contemplation of all ramifications, ultimately leads one to lose the equilibrium, which is central to a Torah-true lifestyle. And once they fall, they fall hard…

“…the L-rd your G-d, He is G-d of gods, and L-rd of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome G-d, who regards not persons and takes no bribes. But upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow and befriends the ger, providing him with food and clothing.” (Devarim 10:17-18)

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. HBS permalink
    December 27, 2009 12:37 am

    Despite my leanings with regard to the halachic debate regarding the conversions, I salute this posting. It is well written and the point is both powerful and painful.
    As a card carrying member of the camp to whom you refer, I think introspection is called for, not only for Tropper, but for all of us.
    That does not mean that the halachic position is wrong; it means that the Torah Hakedosha must be applied by Yidden in a Yiddeshe manner: as bayshonim rachmonim and gomlei chasodim.
    Harav Drukman is a mentch! Rabbi Bulka in Ottawa is a mentch. Many of the people effected by the invalidation of their geyrusin are wonderful people. We can disagree with these Rabbi’s positions like mentchen and learn to emulate their mentchlechkeit! We can reach out to help the unknowing and sincere individuals hurt by the challenges to these conversions with love and compassion. (I thought that was what EJF was intended to do.)
    Thank you for your fantastic and enlightening post. Please do what you can to assure that it is read by as many as possible!

  2. Leah permalink*
    December 27, 2009 12:56 am

    @HBS – Thank you for your kind words. Let’s just hope that this unfortunate story will provide all of us with an opportunity for teshuva both in our relationship with other-minded people as well as in our communal treatment of gerim (which is “only” mentioned in the Torah several dozen times).

  3. Dave S. permalink
    December 27, 2009 1:10 am

    Rav Druckman was very wrong in what he did with his conversion factory. The bottom line remains, those actions had to be opposed by the Rabbonim. Additionally, R. Tropper was not responsible for the opposition to Rav Druckman.

    You wrote: “I was shocked to see leading Zionist rabbis referred to as Reb So and So in mainstream charedi newspapers”

    Where is one example of a Rabbi being referred to as “Reb” So and So?

  4. Leah permalink*
    December 27, 2009 1:15 am

    @Dave – I am not going to argue whether Rav Drukman was right or wrong. He might have been a zillion times wrong, but there is a way to argue, and throwing dirt at a rav is not one of them.

    I am not going to name the paper, because I am really not looking to create any more ill will. My only purpose is to create awareness of a problem, which does exist.

    • Dave S. permalink
      December 27, 2009 2:14 am

      @Leah – I’m not sure what dirt you referring to. A Beis Din invalidated many of Rav Druckman’s purported conversions due to the fact they were issued factory-like without regard to the potential convertees commitment to maintaining taryag mitzvos. Additionally, the Beis Din and the Dayan who did these invalidations, are religious zionists themselves! (Namely Rav Sherman.)

      As far as the “Reb”, I submit it is a unusual circumstance that perhaps was a typo and if not it certainly is atypical.

      • HBS permalink
        December 27, 2009 2:40 am

        @Dave: The Blogger of this site is attempting to avoid nasty exchanges and undertones. She, also, has, twice, said that she is not prepared to debate the halachic issues.
        Notwithstanding the flaws of Rav Sherman’s reasoning* (on Halachic grounds) as eloquently pointed out by Harav E. Ben-Porat in journals with which I am sure you are acquainted and by others, the issue raised here was the need to place similar emphasis on refining ones own character and mentchlechkeit.
        Yes, geirus is an important part of living as a Torah-Jew; maintaining basic decency and being a mentch are the chomer of a Torah-Jew (or should be).
        In the spirit of the tone set by the author of the original posting, I will not be drawn into rehashing was has already been extensively debated online. I only wish to remove any appearance of accepting the information you put forth as fact.
        *You describe him as a Religious Zionist, yet as one knowledgeable about the subject , you are undoubtedly familiar with what led up to the ruling.

        • Dave S. permalink
          December 27, 2009 2:48 am

          @HBS – The flaws of Rav Druckman’s conversions were known long before Rav Sherman’s sound ruling. My contention to Leah was simply that the R. Tropper was not responsible for the R. Druckman controversy. So the whole premise of this blog posting is misguided.

        • Leah permalink*
          December 27, 2009 6:10 am

          @Dave – That ruling was not issues in a vacuum. Rav Sherman was sitting on a specific case of a specific geyoret. If he found flaw with her geyrut, he might have revoked it (although AFAIK revoking giyrut has pretty much been unheard of until recently). Anyone confident enough to automatically annul several thousand geyurim would need fairly broad support for such an extreme step.

  5. HBS permalink
    December 27, 2009 1:25 am

    @Leah, you have impressed me, yet, again. Very well handled.

  6. Dave S. permalink
    December 27, 2009 6:19 am

    @Leah – There was fairly broad support for the ruling. I think this is obvious by the support Rav Sherman received by Gedolei Yisroel.

    And there is nothing “recent” about this type of action by Beis Din. See Shulchan Aruch YD 267:

    שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות גרים סימן רסח סעיף יב

    בפני ג’ הדיוטות, ה”ז גר אפי’ נודע שבשביל דבר הוא מתגייר, הואיל ומל וטבל יצא מכלל העובדי כוכבים, וחוששים לו עד שתתברר צדקתו; כ

    Rav Moshe Feinstein, Igros Moshe:

    שו”ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק א סימן קנז

    בגר שאנן סהדי שלא קבל מצות אף שאמר בפיו שמקבל
    ז’ דעשי”ת תרפ”ט ליובאן. מע”כ ידידי הרב הגאון
    המפורסם מהר”ר שמעון טרעבניק שליט”א הגאב”ד האדיאץ.

    במה שנסתפק כתר”ה אם גר שלא קבל עליו מצות אם נחשב גר, פשוט וברור שאינו גר כלל אף בדיעבד וכן הורה אבא מארי הגאון זצלה”ה הלכה למעשה בסטראבין בעובדא כזו שאינו גר כלל בין לקולא בין לחומרא שקבלת מצות בגר מעכב כדאיתא ביו”ד סי’ רס”ח סעי’ ג’. ואף אם אמר בפיו שמקבל מצות אם אנן סהדי שאינו מקבל עליו באמת אינו כלום. וגר שמהני לשם אישות בדיעבד, איירי שבשביל האישות קבל עליו מצות באמת והוא ברור ופשוט וכל זה אמר אבא מארי הגאון בפירוש אז כשהורה. ובכלל איני יודע טעם הרבנים הטועים בזה דאף לדידהו עכ”פ איזה תועלת הם מביאין בזה לכלל ישראל שמקבלין גרים כאלו דודאי לא ניחא ליה להקב”ה ולעם ישראל שיתערבו גרים כאלו בישראל. ולדינא פשוט שאין זה גר כלל. ידידו, משה פיינשטיין

    AchieEzer

    שו”ת אחיעזר חלק ג סימן כו

    אולם היכא שברור הדבר שבודאי יעבור אחרי כן על איסורי תורה חלול שבת ואכילת טריפות ואנו יודעים בבירור כונתו שאינו מתגייר רק לפנים ולבו בל עמו, הרי אומדנא דמוכח שמה שאומר שמקבל עליו המצות לאו כלום הוא א”כ זהו חסרון בקבלת המצות דמעכב

    And another Rav Moshe:

    שו”ת אגרות משה יורה דעה חלק ג סימן קו
    א’ הנה ענין הגרות רובן דרובן הם בשביל אישות שבעצם אין ראוין לקבלם, ורק כשקבלום הם גרים, אף כשקבלו עליהם כל המצות מאחר שלא באו להתגייר לשם שמים, ולכן פשוט שיש לחוש שאף שאומרים לפני הב”ד

    שנזקק להם שהם מקבלים עליהם המצות אינו אמת וצריך לבדוק ביותר. וזהו כוונת הש”ע יו”ד סימן רס”ח סעי’ י”ב בנודע שבשביל דבר הוא מתגייר חוששים לו עד שתתברר צדקתו, והוא משום דכיון שבשביל דבר נתגייר יש לחוש שמא אף שקבל המצות בפיו לא קבלם בלבו, וכיון שיש טעם וסברא לחוש לזה הוא כאנן סהדי שיש ספק שאין בזה שוב משום דברים שבלב אינם דברים, עיין בתוס’ גיטין דף ל”ב ע”א ד”ה מהו ובקידושין דף מ”ט ע”ב ד”ה דברים ואף ששם איירי בדבר שאנן סהדי בודאי על מה שבלבו מסתבר דכשיש טעם ברור להסתפק הוא כאנן סהדי שיש ספק שלכן חוששין לו להחזיקו רק כספק גר עד שתתברר צדקתו ויעשה בדין גר ודאי. וברוב הפעמים ואולי גם כל הפעמים הרי הבן ישראל שרוצה בנכרית ובת ישראל הרוצה בנכרי אינם שומרי תורה בעצמם, שלא מסתבר שהנכרי והנכרית שמתגיירין בשבילם ישמרו דיני התורה יותר מהם שהוי כאנן סהדי שאין מקבלין המצות בודאי שלכן צריך ישוב הדעת גדול בקבלת גרים.

  7. Nathan permalink
    December 27, 2009 7:41 am

    Dave S.
    Your references to Igros Moshe – while certainly convincing proof to nullify certain G’yorim – does not prove convincingly to nullify thousands of G’yorim. Rav Sherman, by the way, is not currently in the Reigious Zionist community and Rabbi Tropper’s orginization has had much influence and contact with many Charedi Rabbonim involved in Geirus in Eretz Yisrael.
    What disturbs many in the “Frum but Non-Charedi world” is the appearant hypocrisy and lack of Rachmanus from these Rabbonim who disqualify or nullify without concern of the ramifications on that person. While some – if not many – of these nullifications of Gayrim are totally justified, ( if someone is not Shomer Shabbas within one year of his/her Gayrus – there is certainly something to be suspicious of) – but what about the individual’s desire to be part of Klal Yisrael. Halacha is clearly sensitive to this issue. Do we simply ignore a person’s interest in helping Jews and being part of a Kahal if he cannot handle all the rigors of Halacha. True – he/she may not be able to enter “Kahal Hashem” – but what is his status? The Charedi Rav, for example, who boldly stated that a Non-Jewish deaf person cannot – under any circumstances- convert may be correct ( but probably is not) because that deaf person may not “understand” what Halacha requires him to do – to become a fully fledged Jew. But what do we do with these genuine people ( even if there is only 1 or 2) – discard them as inferior. That Rav never mentions what to do with these deaf people. Can they be at least a Noachide? Where’s the Rachmanus or humanity in that?
    The point here is “Bain Adam L’Makom” cannot be the only criteria in determining the legitamcy of a Ger or a Rav who is M’Gayair. If a rav is consistently arrogant or deceitful and many of his Gayrim are also – ( therotically) decietful or without compassion – the conversions of that Rav and the convert himself should – by sheer logic – also be suspected. Rabbonim who are accused of oppressing a potential convert should have all his previous converts be under investigation.
    There are many reasons why so many of our precious children are leaving the Torah way of life but strict halachik dictates without sensitivity to the humanity of the individual involved – is definitely in the top five.

    • Will Hillstein permalink
      December 27, 2009 7:50 am

      Nathan, Your criticism of the Rabbonim is unwarranted and factually incorrect.

      “what about the individual’s desire to be part of Klal Yisrael. Halacha is clearly sensitive to this issue. Do we simply ignore a person’s interest in helping Jews and being part of a Kahal if he cannot handle all the rigors of Halacha. True – he/she may not be able to enter “Kahal Hashem” – but what is his status?… Can they be at least a Noachide?

      Of course! That’s just it. Any non-Jew can be a Noachide. No one disputes that.

  8. HBS permalink
    December 27, 2009 11:39 pm

    Nobody disputes the facts referred to by RMZ”L or others. The point that is flaky halachicly and lacks the compassion (even within the confines of ayn mrachamin bdin) and understanding of our chachamim throughout the doros is to say that even the geirus performed properly by one beis din or another are suspect; retroactively, no less!

    • Will Hillstein permalink
      December 27, 2009 11:43 pm

      HBS, Reb Moshe’s psak din is referring retroactively. There is nothing “flaky” about it. Thousands of conversions were issued, especially to Russian gentiles, factory-like by a zionist beis din, without regard to whether the goy made any commitment to keeping all 613 mitzvos.

      This is the situation Reb Moshe wrote about.

  9. HBS permalink
    December 28, 2009 12:11 am

    I suggest that you research what you speak of more thoroughly. But as I said before, the place for Halachic debate is not in lay circles and blogs. Much has been published on the subject.
    In any case, I am not referring to clear-cut cases where torah and mitzvos were not accepted. I am referring to the shadows being cast upon and the rejection of geirim who were mekabel mitzvos and completely shomer shabbos at the time the converted with numerous North American botei din such as those of Rabbi Denberg and those of YLT Rabbis Bulka, Bomzer and now, Whitman.
    Harav Sherman’s open ended psak has reached far beyond the Russian issue and has accordingly been challenged in numerous Halachic publications.

  10. HBS permalink
    December 28, 2009 12:18 am

    n.b. the retroactive element that I referred to was to say that a beis din involved in suspect conversions is considered retroactively never to have performed a valid geirus; hardly what RMZ”L was speaking of.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    June 2, 2014 12:23 am

    Oseh shalom says: very strong and true point.

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