U.S. rabbi involved in sex scandal led fight against non-Haredi conversions in Israel
It is hard to imagine a more embarrassing situation for a prestigious Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) organization, a standard-bearer in the fight against conversions that fail to meet the strictest Haredi standards: The man who heads the organization, Rabbi Leib Tropper of Rockland County, has been accused of abandoning these standards and establishing a conversion process based mainly on satisfying his sexual urges.
Earlier this week, the New York Post published a sensational story: A "prominent Orthodox rabbi has been caught on tape discussing his apparent love affair with a shiksa [non-Jew] he was converting to Judaism." The woman in question is Shannon Orand, 32, of Houston, who sought to convert from Christianity to Judaism.
The bulk of the report is devoted to a recorded phone call in which the rabbi demanded that Orand perform various sexual services for himself and his friends in exchange for granting her a conversion certificate.
Only at the end does it mention that at the start of the month, Tropper resigned as head of the Eternal Jewish Family organization, which deals with conversions. But his connection to the group is in fact the story's punch line.
Tropper's stated goal in founding Eternal Jewish Family was to bolster Israeli Haredim in their war against non-Haredi Orthodox conversions, which they deem too lenient. Tropper, who is a well-known rabbi in the New York area and head of the Kol Yaakov yeshiva, enlisted wealthy American Jews in the fight against these conversions, especially those carried out by the Israeli Conversion Authority headed by religious Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman.
The doors of Haredi leaders were thus flung open to him, including that of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leader of the "Lithuanian" (non-Hasidic) Haredi sect. The ultra-Orthodox press even conferred the title of gaon ("most learned") on him due to his efforts against the Conversion Authority's conversions, which the Haredim view as allowing the "infiltration" of gentiles into the nation of Israel.
After news of the scandal broke two weeks ago, posters denouncing Tropper were plastered across the Haredi city of Bnei Brak. Under the headline "Leave impurity," the text's anonymous authors threatened that if he did not quit his organization, "We will publicize his shame to the multitudes, accompanied by pornographic pictures and shocking video clips."
The rabbi did indeed announce his resignation, but failed in his efforts to hush up the affair: It was leaked to American Jewish bloggers, the audio tape was posted on YouTube, and the Post published the story.
The current scandal is not the first in which Eternal Jewish Family and Tropper have been involved. Tropper recently accused the chairman of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, Brazilian Jewish entrepreneur Guma Aguiar, of assaulting him in a Jerusalem hotel in April because the rabbi was serving as a witness for the plaintiff in a civil suit against the businessman in Florida. Aguiar allegedly entered Tropper's room at the David Citadel Hotel, assaulted him and threatened to cause him further harm.
The suit, which accuses Aguiar of mismanagement, was brought by the businessman's uncle, Thomas Kaplan - who is also Eternal Jewish Family's main donor. Aguiar was a patron of the organization as well, but recently resigned.
In the context of this ongoing dispute, an advertisement was published in the Haredi newspaper Hamevaser accusing rabbis close to Aguiar of waiving the usual stringent halakhic requirements with regard to his wife's conversion. The businessman, it charged, is "married to a woman who underwent a very dubious conversion."
Tropper's associates claim that Orand, the tape and the posters are all connected to the Kaplan-Aguiar legal dispute. "Guma Aguiar succeeded in ensnaring Rabbi Tropper," one claimed.
Saul Sadka contributed to this report