Sex tapes rock the Orthodox

By Paul Berger, December 23, 2009
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Recordings of sexually explicit conversations, apparently between a strictly Orthodox rabbi and a woman he was helping convert to Judaism, are rocking the entire Orthodox world.

New York Rabbi Leib Tropper resigned earlier this month from the organisation he founded, Eternal Jewish Family (EJF), after posters appeared in Orthodox neighbourhoods of Jerusalem insinuating that he had committed sexual indiscretions.

Within days, recordings of salacious phone conversations between a man and a woman were disseminated on the internet. The man — reported to be Rabbi Tropper, 59 — discusses the woman having sex with him and having sex and phone sex with other men. He also discusses cash payments.

The woman, Shannon Orand, a 32-year-old conversion candidate in Texas, admitted to the New York Post that she recorded the calls but said they were never meant to be made public. Ms Orand did not respond to attempts to contact her via email.

What we have heard, if true, violates the fundamental elements of all that Judaism holds sacred

Rabbi Dovid Jacobs, executive director of EJF, said he would not comment on the recordings. But he did say that EJF’s affiliated beth dins and its chairmen, including Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, the former head of the London Beth Din and head of EJF’s European halachic committee, remain committed to the group.

Calls to Dayan Ehrentreu were not returned.

Two weeks ago, the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) passed a unanimous resolution at a meeting of its Standing Committee, in Moscow, objecting to EJF’s attempts to establish itself in Europe.

It had “strong reservations” about the EJF’s attempts to organise local conferences and activities by a new EJF office in Amsterdam were “not welcome”.

Dayan Ehrentreu, who presides over CER’s beth din, was not present at the Moscow meeting. However, last month he spoke at an EJF conference in New Jersey at which — according to the Etrog news website — he called for EJF to strengthen its activities in Europe.

“Would it only be that Eternal Jewish Family will expand its activities among European Batei Din... This matter would be a great rectification for conversion across Europe,” he was quoted as saying.

EJF, founded by Rabbi Tropper in 2005, aims “to protect the Jewish people and sincerely committed converts from fraudulent or unacceptable conversions”.

It promotes a hardline approach to conversions, in which converts must adhere to “the highest standards of halachah”. It has provoked controversy on a number of issues, including its refusal to recognise many members of the largest Orthodox rabbinical organisation in the world, the Rabbinical Council of America.

In 2006, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, under pressure from Charedi groups like EJF, stated that it would no longer automatically accept conversions performed by RCA rabbis.

This was the catalyst for the RCA to create a more centralised system of regional conversion courts in America, which limited the number of rabbis able to perform conversions to a short list approved by the Israeli rabbinate.

The RCA this week issued a terse statement saying it was “deeply appalled, saddened and pained” by the reports of Rabbi Tropper’s “inappropriate behaviour” and calling on anyone who had been victimised to “seek appropriate counselling.

“What we have heard, if true, violates the fundamental elements of all that Judaism holds sacred,” the statement said.

Marc Angel, of the International Rabbinic Fellowship and a former president of the RCA, said in light of the scandal the Orthodox rabbinate in the diaspora, as well as in Israel, needs to re-think its conversion policy.

“When power is concentrated in the hands of a few self-righteous rabbis, the result is inevitably corruption, injustice, immorality,” Rabbi Angel said in an email.

He called the scandal “a siren call to all decent Orthodox rabbis to stand up against the existing ‘rabbinic establishment’”, and to insist that conversions be placed back in the hands of local rabbis — not in the hands of “self-righteous rabbis who betray Torah.”

Calls to Rabbi Tropper, at the Kol Yaakov Yeshivah he founded in Monsey, NY, were not returned.

    Last updated: 1:16pm, December 24 2009