Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum has done a despicable thing.
Rabbi Rosenblum is the only haredi spokesperson I respect. While I often disagree with him, he is usually honest and forthright, and he tires to make his case in a clear logical manner without using the tricks and verbal gymnastics so common to those who ply his trade.
Rabbi Rosenblum has a column in today's Jerusalem Post defending the haredi rabbi, Avraham Attiya, who voided a woman's conversion 15 years after the fact and ruled that her children are non-Jews. He forbade anyone in the family – including her husband, who either was converted separately or was born Jewish – from marrying into the Jewish community. Not content with this butchery alone, Rabbi Attiya went on to excoriate the state-sponsored Orthodox conversion courts and the rabbis who serve on them, calling them sinners and non-Jews. He summarily voided all conversions – thousands of them – done by these Religious Zionist Orthodox rabbis.
To defend Rabbi Attiya, Rabbi Rosenblum uses former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren:
…I WONDER how many of those calling for Rabbi Attias's scalp remember that Rabbi Shlomo Goren "freed" a brother and sister from the halachic status of mamzerut by voiding their mother's marriage at the time of their conception. And that was done, in turn, by voiding her husband's conversion, despite the fact that he had been living as a fully observant Jew for decades. For his promise to "solve" the problem of two mamzerim, Goren was rewarded by prime minister Golda Meir with appointment as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi and became a national hero.…
There was a German girl in my ulpan class 30 years ago who was living at a nearby kibbutz. She was personally converted by then-chief rabbi Goren late in her ninth month of pregnancy. When I asked her whether Goren had inquired about the likelihood of her keeping mitzvot on the completely secular kibbutz, she laughed. "Right," she said, "a little German girl is going to come here and tell a group of German Holocaust survivors that they should make the dining hall kosher."
In the famous Seidman case, Goren personally converted a woman who had repeatedly stressed that she saw no need for an Orthodox conversion and had no intention of becoming mitzva observant in order to forestall a civil marriage law in the Knesset.…
Of course, what Rabbi Rosenblum does not mention, what he does not tell his readership, is that every Goren case mentioned involved ruling leniently, to kula, in order to reduce or prevent suffering (or, in the Seidman case, to protect the integrity of the rabbinic monopoly over marriage as a whole, which would have been removed in its entirety by the Knesset). What Rabbi Goren did, as controversial as some of it was, is well-supported in halakhic thought.
As I've written many times before, the idea is not for rabbis to be strict, especially with people who will not abide by that strictness. From Hillel the Elder onward (at least until the birth of haredism in the early 1800s), this has been the norm. As Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach told a former teacher of mine (and I paraphrase), "It is easy to be strict. It is much more difficult to be lenient. My job is to ease the burden on Jews and to be lenient whenever possible."
To void a conversion 15 years after the fact, to be as harsh and uncaring, as brutal and as barbaric as Rabbi Attiya is to turn the entire halakhic process on its head.
There is no way Rabbi Attiya can know why this woman's converting rabbis did what they did. (More telling: He did not even bother to find out.) Rather than behave with kindness, to try to draw the woman closer to observance, to try to befriend the family, he lashed out, causing irreparable harm.
Rabbi Rosenblum goes on to compare the case of this poor woman to conversions done by non-Orthodox rabbis.
Then, Rabbi Rosenblum discusses with approval the work of the Monsey-based haredi group, Eternal Jewish Family. EJF, founded and run by Rabbi Leib Tropper, is a major player in the haredi move to control the conversion process worldwide.
Rabbi Tropper, who is also the founder and rosh yeshiva of Kol Yakov, a Monsey-based haredi ba'al teshuva yeshiva, is a controversial figure.
Rabbi Tropper has been accused of using bait-and-switch tactics to lure potential converts from intermarried families. In one southern city, Rabbi Tropper promised potential converts that a mikva would be built and a shul opened – no one would need to move to Monsey or another Orthodox enclave. But, when the time for conversion neared, no mikva existed and no synagogue functioned. The promised rabbi Tropper was to send had not arrived. Then, Rabbi Tropper dropped a bombshell. These potential converts, all serious, all had studied for more than a year, would have to move from the southern United States to Monsey, New York – or their conversions were off.
Rabbi Tropper told me these converts confused his hopes with promises. But in email correspondence shared with me, Rabbi Tropper admits in part to misleading these poor people.
Further, there are cities with mikvas, Modern Orthodox congregations and YU-trained rabbis relatively close to where these people live. They could drive for an hour and a half and spend Shabbat and holidays with families there until a congregation can open in their home town. Rabbi Tropper did not propose that option. (In their home town, by the way, there are other such Tropper-involved families facing similar decisions, and where one or two observant Jews live. Some of those potential converts have been said to be fearful that Tropper will cut them off, too, if they speak out about his dishonesty.)
The husband of this family is in his 50s. He has years vested at his job with a pension due on retirement. He will lose all that if he moves, along with facing the problem of finding a new job at that age. Rabbi Tropper made many cloud-like promises – this friend in Monsey will find something for you or that man who works for the city will take care of you – but nothing concrete, and the family was unwilling to trust a man who had already lied to them.
Rabbi Tropper summarily threw the eldest son of this family out of his yeshiva, leaving him broke with no way to get to the airport and back home. He claimed the boy was not serious about his learning yet the boy's teachers had given the family nothing but praise – until the day they refused to move to Monsey. This teenager had to borrow money to get home.
Tropper had promised the family the boy would be able to get his GED at Kol Yakov, and he urged them to withdraw the child from public school and send him to Monsey and Tropper's yeshiva. But Tropper made no arrangements for that GED. It did not matter, however, because the boy was ineligible for a GED under NY law because he was too young. He lost a year, and had to regroup and restructure his life, all because Rabbi Leib Tropper cannot tell the truth.
These people spent thousands of dollars on new kitchen appliances and dishes, kept strictly kosher and did whatever Rabbi Tropper demanded. They appeared on Tropper's EJF website praising the organization and were used by Tropper as examples of his "successful" approach. This material was apparently shown to Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Israel's Sefardic chief rabbi, and to other Israeli haredi leaders who later moved to block acceptance of all Rabbinical Council of America (Modern Orthodox) conversions. Now this family is "lost" to "Yiddishkeit" because of Tropper's failings.
(By the way, I, along with David Kelsey, pitched this story to a major Jewish newspaper last year. The paper, familiar with this blog, would not assign the story to me because I'm too close to the issue and too outspoken. But they were not aware of Kelsey's blog, and were willing to assign it to him. Or, if we wanted, we could do it as an op-ed. I was game for that; Kelsey was not. In the end, we turned it down hoping the paper would relent. It did not. No one else has the story, so, as far as I know, this is the first place this has appeared.)
While it is true that Rabbi Rosenblum can hardly be expected to know the details of this story, there are other similar stories about Rabbi Tropper. A bit of poking might have served Rabbi Rosenblum well.
To sum up: Extremely lenient rulings to spare individuals pain is the halakhic norm, not the halakhic exception. Using halakha for political gain, while unfortunately the common these days, is neither laudable or supported by normative halakha.
Jonathan Rosenblum should apologize for his lapse in judgment. He can then go on defending that which I believe he often, in his deepest thoughts, knows to be indefensible.