Tuesday, December 29, 2009

EJF scandal - R' Adlerstein nails it!

If you don't know what it stands for, skip the rest of this piece. I am not going to rehash the whole sordid affair.

For what it is worth, I will offer one man's opinion, written as a bit of an insider in the world of gerus, since I sit from time to time on a respected beis din for gerus. The opinions expressed herein are my own; they were not vetted by my colleagues.

I have come neither to praise EJF, nor to bury it. If I believed that EJF was worthless, I wouldn't bother writing. It is only because I see the potential for accomplishment that I pen these thoughts, in the hope that others will feel the same way.

The chief problem with EJF is not its recent scandal-ridden past. The problem is that to date, it has not done enough to insure that the past will not be repeated. The way in which it has addressed the past hardly inspires any confidence. [...]


  1. Yasher koach, Rav Adlerstein, for an excellent article. While I agree that, properly run, an organization such as EJF could be valuable, it seems that EJF itself is beyond saving. By all accounts, the previous director still controls the finances. And the new director is the nephew of the previous director’s friend and colleague, who also has a less-than-squeaky-clean record. The only way EJF could be saved is by completely replacing everyone there – essentially rebuilding it from scratch, without any involvement from people formerly involved – which obviously is not going to happen.

  2. The most important and general sentence in that article was:

    Believing that anyone but a
    certain part of the population would be satisfied with such an
    explanation is an insult to the intelligence of everyone else.

    The big problem in the Jewish world is that there are many 'leaders' who do not care at all if everyone of any intelligence or critical thinking ability abandons them or abandons Judaism altogether.
    They know that they have an endless supply of fools, whether home-grown or imported through superficial 'kiruv'.
    They don't care at all about Yiddishkeit or emes. They care only about their own power.
    Until we do something about this, nothing will get better.

  3. as long as ejf continues to push for the retroactive annullment of conversions, based not on the ger's intentions at the time of gerut but rather his/her actions AFTER gerut they are nothing but a source of evil and chillul hashem in the world. it is the innovation (yes, innovation) of this power of bais din that allows them to wield the power of fear in order to fill their coffers and increase their influence. not to mention the "magical" power of misdirection, which is so attractive to the rabbonim- that is, misdirecting attention from the problems within the chareidi world onto problems that have nothing to do with it.

    it's pure hollywood and our rabbis are falling for it hook, line and sinker. tropper is the master of the "pitch" and the rabbonim are "soft targets" for him. even now, it seems.

    if he/they could come up with a way to retroactively annul the jewishness of born jews i have no doubt they'd go for that too.

    if he/they could come up with a way to retroactively annul the jewishness of born jews i have no doubt they'd go for that too.
    Jonathan don't be naive that is going on.

  5. Rav Eidensohn, I must respectfully disagree. I can see no merit to any kind of EJF ideology.

    Although the RCA idea of regional batei dining to to raise the standards of geirus is certainly a good idea, it is fraught with all kinds of danger.

    Suppose I were to start an organization whose sole purpose was to be bodek and guarantee the kashrus of eidim at weddings. Suppose I wanted to make sure that all the eidim met every single standard of eidus including kashrus, shemiras shabbos, their perfect familiarity with dinei mamonos and one hundred other halachic matters. Suppose I added vast sums of money into the mix.

    The eidim of course, are of different kehillas, with different standards- chassideshe, litvishe, misnagdim, Syrian, Morrocon and so on. Suppose some members of this new organization wanted to metaref YU rabbonim, MO rabbbonim, eidim without beards, some Sephardim and eidim who ate from hasgoches they didn't like.

    (And suppose some of these same rabbonim had no trouble with eidim who might have been convicted in criminal courts).

    Now suppose someone came up to you and said, 'We aren't happy with eidim on record at your parents wedding.'

    That organization would be doing the exact same thing EJF does.

    I am all for stricter standards on geirus (and eidim), but in the end, local rabbonim must have the final say. We cannot second guess them.

    We cannot set up a Vatican system with a supra rabbonus, issuing fatwas left and right and overseeing and undermining local kehillas.

    As an aside, TY for blogging. You and your readers have tossed out some outstanding food for thought.

  6. My comment there:IMHO what you are saying is that the shell of EJF should remain but the leopard should change its spots. Given the negative history, I’d suggest a fresh start for a new organization (even AIG realized this and renamed subsidiaries where it could)
    Joel Rich

  7. The chief sin of the EJF was its proselytization efforts, as Rav Moishe Sternbuch and the Badatz in Yerushlayim have been crying against them for years -- long before the current scandal. Which other prominent Rabbis (or even public figures) other than Rabbi Sternbuch and the Badatz have been crying against the sins of the EJF prior to the current scandal? None that I am aware of. (Please correct me if otherwise.) So all the johnny-come-lately's who are now piling on EJF's carcass with all their pet peeves against the geirus system (as well as other issues) that they are now retroactively attempting to tie-in to EJF in the hope they can gain traction in their efforts on those issues (i.e. conversion standards, acceptability, and even the Slifkin issue), have no leg to stand on. Sure, there were a small number of mostly anonymous blog complaints [notably on this very blog and almost nowhere else] tying EJF to some other alleged sins (i.e. other than its proselytization efforts) prior to this scandal, yet there were no Rabbinical outcry against EJF on these other (than proselytization) issues. And even on the proselytization issue, the outcry was mostly from the Badatz in Jerusalem, and not others in the Rabbinical world. Indeed even members of YU, Young Israel, and the RCA were full participants in the EJF and its activities (at least until this scandal occurred)!

    So the sin of the EJF was its proselytization efforts and not all the other things some are now railing about -- things these people had gripes against long before the EJF that they are now (unconvincingly) trying to tie into the EJF scandal to use to change the status quo on these other pet peeves of theirs (i.e. looser conversion standards, Slifkin, etc.) The issue of "calling into question the conversion of any candidate who believed that the earth might be older than 5770 years" has been made by Rav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and does not originate with the EJF.

    This scandal may put the final nail in EJF's coffin, and hopefully the proselytization that went with it. But the definition of conversions remains what was defined long before them, including by EJF's long-time adversaries - notably Rav Moishe Sternbuch and the Badatz.

  8. Rabbi Adlerstein seems to be contradicting himself.

    On one hand he writes that the "EJF needs to be inclusive of all legitimate batei din" and that "What cannot be disputed is that if EJF continues to covet the position of supreme setter of standards, it should be shunned and dropped by every self-respecting beis din. There is no one in the American Torah world who can claim such authority, and the exigencies of the realities here make it impossible for anyone to set policies from a distance. Gedolei Torah have always emphasized that many, many questions require the knowledge and experience of people closer to the local situation."

    Yet on the other hand, in the very same article, he praises the RCA for (seemingly) the very same thing stating that "The RCA (which is responsible for a great portion of the conversion in the US, and has been working hard in the last few years to vastly improve its own standards by switching to a regional beis din system)...

    Perhaps he can clarify.

  9. Aaron-

    The greatest sin of EJF was turning geirus into a business, with the use of proselytization as a marketing tool to increase revenues.

    Geirus has become a subsidiary of the American kashrus industry.

  10. I have never really understood the point of much that Rabbi Adlerstein writes. Does he try to appease all sides? Is he just confused? He once wrote a piece about a controversy surrounding R' Shmuel Kaminetzky admitting that even though he knows R' Shmuel very well, he did not bother to get his input before publishing a long tangent of his theories as to what happened.

    There is certainly a much larger problem with EJF than what he describes.

    And if Rabbi Adlerstein wants to "address scandal" why not start on the very Cross Currents where he is syndicated, a website run by ...

  11. Joseph-

    I couldn't agree more. That said, even the RCA's proposed 'regional batei din' system might be problematic.

    As it is, we make geirus a difficult proposition. There comes a point where the burden, especially for potential geirim who are poor, becomes onerous.

    Do we now demand of a ger tzedek that he or she add to the burden? Further, we all know that once projects such as EJF or the proposed RCA program is established and proven to be successful (read: money making), kannoim will come in and up the ante with their own 'new and improved' program- one that metarefs what preceded it.

    The Kashrus Industry is a perfect example of how to poison and abuse an entire community.

    Do we need that model for geirus?

  12. Trying to appease all sides is something that Gil Student is known for. He has books to sell and doesn't want to offend any part of the population. But that can get very sticky sometimes. When he tried to play both sides on child abuse he got everyone upset.

  13. Recipients and PublicityDecember 29, 2009 at 4:47 PM

    "Anonymous said...Aaron-The greatest sin of EJF was turning geirus into a business,"

    Nope, the "greatest sin" of EJF=Tropper=sex scandal is that Tropper hoodwinked Tom Kaplan and Guma Aguiar to channel big money to Charedi rabbis and institutions that had nothing to do with geirus or kiruv.

    The money of Tom Kaplan should have gone to KIRUV, like the tens of millions that Chabad and Aish HaTorah raise it goes to further their outreach agendas as they have succeeded in getting BTs, potential BTs and sypathizers and admirers of kiruv rechokim to fund that cause.

    Kiruv funding and fundraising for Charedi instututions do not mix. It's as if the money for KIRUV was sanctified for that from above, and to violate that is like violating a barrier of kedusha and kedushin, Likewise, big money that is set aside by the Charedi establsihment for their institutions does not go to kiruv and it is very rare that big money or a big donor from the purely Charedi world gives huge chunks of money to kiruv because his kavana is to help Charedi causes and yeshivas, as he is "mekadesh" his tzedaka for that, and not to fund BTs and their needs.

    No BT institution would dream of taking money that should be directed to big mainstream yeshivas. So Tropper confused all this and caused chaos.

    Topper was poretz geder and gave away the mayim genuvim of two people like Kaplan and Guma who were typical candidates for supporting kiruv and not for seeing their money drained into the bottomless pits of mainstream Charedi yeshivas, rosh yeshivas, batei din, dayanim, rebbes and the Charedi establishement that have their own network of financial supporters and rich backers and they have no real need to venture to feed from the watering holes that are vital for furthering the ongoing baal teshuva movement.

    This is all Tropper's fault because he sees himself not as part of the BT culture but as an enforcer and interloper from a more strident Charedi culture that is actually hostile and indifferent to the vast needs of BTs on all levels which is why Tropper treats BTs so brutally. He metaphorically "rapes" their minds and personalities and ruins their lives just as he admits on the tapes to having real rape lusts with hookers. Incidentally, the original serpent also first seduced then raped Eve as he got her to eat from the forbidden fruits.

    So just as Adam and Eve messed themselves up when they ate the forbidden fruits, Tropper, as the proverbial serpent lured the Charedi establishement into eating from the fruits that were not meant for them, and as a result they all got tainted by it.

    The resultant fallout of the massive Chillul Hashem still continues.

  14. Joseph - The difference is that these Batei Din are already operating under the umbrella of the RCA. The RCA is saying they will now operate regional Batei Din. If someone wants to be megayer people on his own, that is fine, but it won't be sanctioned by the RCA. Perfectly within their rights and a far cry from saying everyone has to meet their standards.

    However, you also quote from R. Adlerstein that "Gedolei Torah have always emphasized that many, many questions require the knowledge and experience of people closer to the local situation."

    For some reason R. Adlerstein is still trying to convince himself that this is a true statement. It has not been true in years. If it was, the E"Y gedolim would say they aren't answering chinuch/kehilla etc. questions that that pertain to the US.

  15. The gedolei Eretz Yisroel have been forced into poskening for America because the few remaining gedolim were sidelined by the Agudah.

    The real gedolim like R' Zelig etc have been ignored while the Agudah is putting forth proclamations on child abuse and other issues that serve themselves instead of Klal Yisroel.

  16. Um, what planet is Rabbi Adlerstein living on?

    There are two ways of coming up with "Universal Standards."

    One is through negotiation, which involves compromise from all sides, ultimately leading to an agreement where none of the key players feels delegitimized.

    Another is through intimidation, grabbing all power for oneself and threatening to destroy anyone who dares to disagree.

    EJF chose the latter -- ruthlessly.

    Rabbi Adlerstein would probably agree with the above assessment.

    However, here's where we disagree:
    EJF is and was made up of human beings. It is not a "thing."

    Those human beings were perfectly fine with the bullying of past and future geirim.

    They were perfectly fine with giving the greatest of kavod to someone who every normal person who has dealt with him over the past decades had recognized as a slimy, manipulative, and highly-controlling personality.

    In other words, either these leaders did not "see" what was apparent to so many others -- or they did not care.

    Either way, it demonstrates that these men are not leaders.

    Clearly, the present leadership and membership of EJF has to be jettisoned.

    Who, then, is to lead this new EJF that Rabbi Adlerstein is touting?
    Who remains, who has not already been tainted? True, Rav Schechter was wise enough to see through these guys, but he is the exception. Who else cut ties with them out of principle?

    The Agudah/Charedi faction would only join the new EJF if it was "under the supervision of the Gedolei Hador."

    Access to the "Gedolei Hador" is monopolized, though, by the very people most tainted by the scandal. And, the one from this organization who most wraps himself in the "Godol Hador's" glory is also the one who has been just as unscrupulous and deceitful as Tropper -- and is probably more dangerous.

    So, forget about having support from the "Gedolei Hador."

    WHat is left?

    Agudah Rabbonim who will sit down with Modern Orthodox Rabbis in a respectful fashion and then issue a joint standard?

    Aside from the fact that granting this level of legitimacy and respect would be anathema, they won't even go to the table without support from the "Gedolei Hador."

  17. Thank you for a thoughtful piece that touches on one of the most painful but most important aspects of this issue, protecting the integrity of dayanos and psak halachah. I agree that not all who were on a dais are suspect. Certainly it does not automatically impugn anyone's integrity. Unfortunately others were on regularly and received other significant contributions to their mosdos. To date it is not clear what sorts of payments were made to attendees.In many instances this raises questions about the purchase of implicit endorsements of EJF's approach and integrity. I agreed with you about the proper approach to those individuals affected by EJF. But I feel we need a financial accounting to clarify which if any individuals had improper financial relationships to EJF.

  18. Adlerstein is a faculty member in Loyola Law School and I am sure he knows the structure of American Corporations, I am sure he knows how non for profit organizations work.

    He probably knows that the EJF is horizons (Horizons Bais achiezer, EIN: 13-4077539) and Tropper is the president and the chairman so as long as Tropper still writes the checks changes are only cosmetic.

    It seems to me that many people still want to EJF to continue (or as long as the EJF has monry in their coffers)

  19. Rav Herschel Schachter shlita attended multiple EJF conferences, and never renounced EJF (at least not prior to this scandal.)

    This does not pasul him anymore than any of the other participating Rabbis of EJF are pasuled for anything.

  20. RHS stopped associating with EJF a long time ago - at least 2 years ago if not more. There was plenty of discussion about this at Gil Student after readers were angry that Tropper was denigrating the RCA.

  21. Rav Aharon Feldman, shlita, rebuffed Tropper's advances on Ner Israel numerous times. He's been on to him since Day 1.

  22. From the EJF erb site http://www.eternaljewishfamily.org/site/programs/rabbiconferences/

    we can see that last conference rabbi Schachter participated was in 2006, so he did show better judgment than other (mostly) ultra and (some) modern Orthodox rabbis.

    For sure you cannot blame him for being corrupted !

  23. Monsey: You had Modern, Zionist, Ultra, and Sephardic Rabbonim attending and participating in the EJF.

  24. Why did Harav Shlomo Ryback (Rabbinical Council of America) attend in 2007?


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