Thursday, February 28, 2008

Scorecard - EJF is losing

Recipients and Publicity wrote:

The "alignment" of the RCA and the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel should not come as any surprise nor is it a great chidush.

But the real chiddush is that the awakening of this sleeping tiger will now seriously cut into the the EJF's very existence and to Rabbi Tropper's role as a kind of self-appointed de facto "chief rabbinic co-ordinator of conversions" in America.

Rabbi Tropper has only himself to blame for centralizing all power relating to EJF's rabbinical affairs for himself. Rav Reuven Feinstein has too much of a busy life running the branch of MTJ on Staten Island. He is a Rosh Yeshiva first and foremost and in that role he is not a dayan on batei din nor a community activist no matter how much Rabbi Tropper wishes to delude the world that Rav Reuven is somehow intimately involved with EJF because he is not.

EJF all starts with Rabbi Tropper and Tom Kaplan and ends with Rabbi Tropper and Tom Kaplan. And since Tom Kaplan is not a rabbi, Rabbi is the star of the show of EJF which is how he has always wished it to be.

That tight-fisted running of an operation may be fine for a CEO or for the way Rabbi Tropper micro-manages his own Yeshiva Kol Yaakov. But it is for good reason that when it comes to the application of Dinei Torah that there be as large a quorom of equally empowered dayanim. Thus a basic beis din needs a minimum of three reliable dayanim which should be instructive to any Torah leader that to have only one leader at the top is not the best situation, especially in dinei Torah.

The point being, that with the RCA's announcement that they have finally organized for themselves and agreed upon their own choices for dayanim and reliable judges of dayanim, and have delivered a strong blow to the EJF and it's modus operandi.

That the RCA will have Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz as Av Beth Din is no chidush. He has been in this role for a long time and his Beth Din has long dealt with conversions as head of the Chicago Rabbinical Council,

see "cRc Beth Din"

"In addition to dealing in the area of Jewish divorce, the Jewish court deals with Jewish adoption, CONVERSION, cases of mediation, and legal disputes. The Chicago Rabbinical Council is proud to announce that two additional distinguished..."

so this is nothing new.

What is also not new is that Rabbi Mordechai Willig of the Beth Din of America (established 1960, "The Beth Din was founded by and is affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and is sponsored by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America") that will be involved in the RCA effort because the Beth Din Of America has also long occupied itself with the subject of conversions, although it does not use the word outright, it is clear that that is what the line "Personal Status: Issuing certification of personal religious status recognized by rabbinic courts in Israel and worldwide" relates to on its "Services" page:

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is deeply involved in issues of conversionשירותי+דת/מערך+הגיור/default.htm
as is known.

The greater presence of especially Sephardi Charedi-oriented rabbis within the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the concerns within Israel about the secular government's desire to meddle in this field has put the right wing in the Rabbanut on guard and one way that has played out is by confronting the RCA rabbis in America.

At the same time the RCA rabbis were probably at first intrigued by Rabbi Tropper's new EJF project and the pipe-dream that maybe there was a chance of a "big tent for geirus" but that was shattered beyond repair by Rabbi Eisenstein's pronouncements from the podium in 2007 that the Modern Orthodox rabbis are pasul if they dream of a world before 6,000 years ago and or if they also "wear perfume' (deodorant?) and wear anything but uniform Charedi-black something that is pashut for a frummer Yid but sounds very castrating to a YU grad who may have worn a kippah seruga and colored shirts all his life.

Anyhow, the RCA pretty quickly saw the wrting on the wall and by 2007, they claim it was 2006, but the "official policy paper" was only put out in April 2007 and now they are confirming the conformation in February, nearly March 2008.

But here is what the RCA was already saying in 2006, from its website

"Conversion to Judaism: In the summer of 2006 the Rabbinical Council of America and the Beth Din of America commenced a project to establish an improved and more dependable conversion process that would Be fully in accordance with Halachah (Jewish law), Ensure sensitivity to the dignity of all potential converts at all times, and Provide reasonable assurance that its converts and their offspring be accorded acceptance and recognition in other Jewish communities in the future. This initiative grew out of a widespread recognition that, in light of the great distances and variations inhering in American Jewish life, the existing system for carrying out conversions in the Orthodox community needed to be reviewed and improved upon. Specifically, it had become more and more difficult for sincere converts, or their offspring, to receive deserved recognition by rabbinic authorities in other communities and countries,
including Israel, due to the growing number of outreach and conversion programs, varying standards adopted by individual rabbis in disparate communities, the increasing incidence and complexity attending so-called mixed marriages and their resulting children, and more generally a lack of reliable data and factual information to be made accessible to converts, rabbis, synagogues, schools, and Jewish communities at large. This is made all the more complex by virtue of the fact that recognition might be sought many years, even decades, after such conversions may have been performed by rabbis and Batei Din who might no longer be active, or even alive."

"With these issues in mind, the RCA and its affiliated Beth Din of America set out to create a comprehensive set of policies and standards, that would be adopted by existing rabbinical courts (Batei Din) dealing with conversions, as well as by new Batei Din that would be established in locales where none already existed. In so doing, individual rabbis would come together in a larger regional structure, pooling their
resources, agreeing to adhere as a group to the published standards, and agreeing for the larger good of all concerned to work together for mutual benefit."

"The result was the establishment of the North American Regional Network of Conversion Courts, launched in Jan 2007. With the passage of time additional Batei Din have been, as will continue to be, established."

"Geirus Policies and Procedures is the document governing the activities of the Regional Network of Conversion Courts."

"Geirus Policies and Procedures" is linked to in full at

"Geirus Policies and Standards
Governing The Network of Regional Batei Din for Conversion under the auspices of The Rabbinical Council of America and The Beth Din of America Adopted April 30, 2007 Revised November 28, 2007..."

With each and every word, what becomes clear is that that projects like the EJF are doomed from the point of view of Centrist Orthodoxy, Modern Orthodoxy, Religious Zionist-Mizrachi circles in America.

And to top it all off, the real Chidush is that the MOs are now taking out their biggest guns, by stating that they will be using Rabbi Hershel Shachter, "head of the Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York" as one of the conversion judges with Rabbi Mordechai Willig. It is well known that the MOs have been using Rabbi Hershel Shachter as their posek for a long time. He is consulted by MO day svhools, congregations, organizations and individauls not to mention the huge YU operation itself. And once they invoke that in this context, that he is also the Rosh Yeshiva of "Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York" as is Rabbi Willig (actually Rabbi Norman Lamm is the official only Rosh Yeshiva, but that is a separate discussions about how YU and RIETS and its heirarchy are set up) they have drawn a line in the sand. (Of course Satmar and Chasidim don't care, but they have no shaiches with the YU world and the rest of America, the same reasons that EJF means less than bubkes to them also.)

That is the real chidush, that YU is now officially involved in the question of geurus and has officially unleashed its Roshei Yeshiva to get involved with Beth Dins that deal with conversions and they will have none of EJF's baloney. See also the professional way they work. Everyting is more open, they are not hiding agendas, even though they will not be seen as reliable in Charedi eyes, but that also is no chidush, because there is a huge chasm between Modern Orthodoxy-Religious Zionism and Charedim-Chasidim.

What is interesting is that not only is the pact between the RCA-YU-Modern Orthodox camp and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate-Rabbanut no real surprise because they have been natural allies for a very long time having more in common and very little that they disagree over le'ma'aseh, but this now officially refreshed, reconsummated union and renewed alliance eats into EJF's claims and wishes for itself that it is somehow or other connected to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate as well, when in actual fact the ground beneath under EJF is quickly crumbling in the open for all the world to see.

That is some big headache for EJF.

And then there the issue of the open attack against the EJF from the BADATZ on the right. So far, it would seem that the BADATZ is implying that it would like to see where the Agudah world stands regarding EJF, especially with Agudath Israel of America where it is known that Rav Aharon Schechter the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and a key Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah member of Agudah in America is one of Rabbi Tropper's friends. But there are complications for both of them here. No doubt that Rabbi Tropper would love to be able to use Rav Schechter's name as openly as he uses that of Rav Reuven Feinstein as a support for himself, but obviously Rav Schechter has shrewdly not allowed that. Rav Schechter also has veto powers of what can get into the English Yated in America and so far, the recent two-page pro-EJF color ad was not allowed to be published in it, as it was in the English Hamodiahd and the Jewish Press which are not controlled by Gedolim.

Rav Aharan Schechter is also known as HUGELY respectful of Rav Shternbuch and his seforim on the Moadim and piskei Halachah and he would never chas vesholom say anything openly against someone like Rav Shtrenbuch nor openly defy him. No doubt he must be torn in angst between his desire to help Rabbi Tropper and be in good diplomatic standing with billionares like Tom Kaplan and simultaneously not do anything to arouse the suspicions or antagonize Rav Shternbuch and the BADATZ, so he keeps a low profile, does not lend his name, and keeps the EJF ads out of the Yated.

But sitting on the fence will not help anyone, just as Eliyahu HaNovi asked. The question of how long Rav Eisenstein will go along with EJF is not clear either. For all the shouting that he is Rav Eliashiv's "right hand man" on geirus, that is false. Rav Eliashiv does not have and does not need "right hand men" because, Baruch H-shem his own right and left hands work just fine.

Relibale people who have been to Rav Eliashiv's home know that Rav Eliashiv has to listen to a lot of supplicants every day. All sorts of people with their own agendas put him on the spot frequently and he is not in a position to always be frank. So Rav Eisenstein comes to see Rav Eliashiv and chew his ear off about geirim, good, as long as Rav Eisenstein is running his Beis Din LenInyanei Giur he is doing great work to help Klal Yisroel, but that does not mean that he is automatically in the groove with EJf and its global goals to be a clearing house for geirim and help them "make it" through the process.

In fact it's somthing of a paradox right now. Rav Eisenstein is a kanoi. He has already destroyed Rav Tropper's hopes of an alliance with the MO rabbis, and not only that, Rabbi Eisenstein does not go for any Mickey-mouse with geirim, he is very quick to pasul them and has no interest in mass geirus of gentiles, in fact he is suspicicious of each and every one of them and if he had his way, he would probably deport anyone with a weak geirus from Israel. He does not play games.

So why Rav Eisenstein keeps up his alliance with EJF for now is an open mystery and now that the BADATZ has actually done what he no doubt thinks (no doubt that Rav Eisenstein and Rav Shternbuch both agree about what to do about discouraging goyim from becoming geirim as much as they agree on perakim in Chumash), it remains a question of time to see if Rav Eisenstein in Israel and also Rav Schechter and the Agudah in America will join the BADATZ in creating clarity in Klal Yisroel about this challnge of our generation and not hide behind the shadows of doubt which only helps the EJF in its games of deception by deploying genuine unverbalized clear-for-all-to-see s'fekes and reprojecting them as fake "haskomes".

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