I wrote early Friday morning that the new conversion agreement between the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and Israel's haredi-controlled chief rabbinate has much more to do about power struggles within the RCA, and the power struggle between haredim and Modern Orthodoxy, than it does about conversions.
It turns out my analysis was, unfortunately…
Dei'ah V'Dibbur, the English-language version of Yated Ne'eman, Israel's haredi newspaper controlled by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, tells us about a part of the conversion deal RCA functionaries have been keeping secret – the non-right wing of the RCA cannot qualify to sit as conversion judges.
That means Rabbi Haskell Lookstein or Rabbi Marc Angel could not be conversion judges. Neither could any of the rabbis associated with Chovvevei Torah, especially Avi Weiss, because Weiss has a womens prayer group in his synagogue. According to Israel's Sefardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, that womens prayer group alone is enough to disqualify Weiss or any other rabbi who allows one, from serving as a conversion judge:
By Yechiel Sever
Following an agreement signed by the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) to set up a network of regional botei din in cooperation with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, Eternal Jewish Family (EJF), headed by HaRav Leib Tropper which works extensively to uphold proper conversion practices around the world based on consultations with gedolei Yisroel, is warning against certain Chief Rabbinate officials who are offering support and recognition for modern rabbis who do not operate in accordance with halacha and is urging the Chief Rabbinate to announce publicly that it will not back these rabbis. According to reports in the foreign press the list of rabbis approved for these botei din includes individuals whose kehillas hold minyanim for women.
Recently officials at the Chief Rabbinate have recognized a number of new rabbis outside of Israel, some of whom are upstanding dayanim. But there are also a number of modern rabbinical organizations whose dayanim do not operate in accordance with halacha and Jewish hashkofoh, and their actions are liable to create major breaches in Kerem Beis Yisroel.
EJF has voiced its strong support for steps the Chief Rabbinate has taken to strengthen conversion abroad by cooperating with the organization, but at the same time EJF is warning not to submit to pressure of any kind, and to ensure that conversions are performed only by dayanim who have yiras Shomayim and are qualified to uphold the halacha passed down through the generations — especially in the area of conversion, a matter held dear by Torah-true Judaism.
The organization also notes the importance of distinguishing between rabbonim, who may be very capable of heading a kehilloh, but they are not dayanim who have specialized training and experience — including shimush — needed to sit on the bench of an orderly, permanent beis din. Without this training and experience they should under no circumstances be authorized to serve as dayanim in conversion courts. Proper conversion courts require an av beis din widely recognized as an expert and two other dayanim worthy of the title.
Recently, with the encouragement of EJF, 13 botei din have been set up around the US to hear cases related to all areas of Jewish law, including conversion. All these botei din include a well-known av beis din.
EJF welcomes the RCA's initiative to transfer the authority to perform conversions from individual rabbonim to fixed, regional botei din, but at the same time calls on the organization to ensure that the sitting rabbonim are properly trained to serve as dayanim.
In a related matter, EJF wishes to clarify that information regarding the agreement reached between the Chief Rabbinate and the RCA is being distorted in reports in the general press due to the efforts of several people who have ulterior motives.
Chief Rabbi Amar has told Rav Tropper that the Chief Rabbinate has only approved seven regional RCA botei din and not 15 as has been widely reported in the press. Also Chief Rabbi Amar has said that rabbis whose kehillas have prayer groups for women will not be approved as dayanim.
In a conference call among Rav Nochum Eisenstein, chairman of the Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l, Rabbi Peretz of the Chief Rabbi's Office, and a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, this message was clearly conveyed. Nonetheless, the Jerusalem Post refused to print a correct of the incorrect information in their previous articles, saying that it was not "interesting" to their readers.
My analysis now is the same as it was early Friday, before I saw this Yated piece. Eichenstein, Tropper & Co., working for Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and other haredi gedolim, hoped to completely destroy the RCA through denying all RCA converts Jewish status.
Unwilling to fight the haredim and, at the same time wanting to destroy the moderate elements within its own organization, the RCA dealt with the devil. The haredi-like faction within the RCA gets to destroy its moderate competition, and gets to blame that destruction on Israel's chief rabbinate. Neat.
Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, a pillar of moderate Orthodoxy was on the RCA's commission tasked with making a conversion deal with the Israeli chief rabbis. Lookstein told the Jewish Week that he tried over and over again to get the hardliners on that RCA commission to not make this deal with the Israeli chief rabbinate. His 'colleagues' would not listen. We now know why.
Haredim get what they wanted for conversions and, at the same time get a more right wing, more haredi-like RCA.
Who loses in this deal?
Jews. Moderate Orthodoxy. Women.
A man who compared women to monkeys, who (jokingly, he claims) called for the murder of Israel's prime minister, and who told yeshiva students not to serve in the Israeli army is now the chief authority on conversions in America.
A man who excoriated victims of Rabbi Baruch Lanner and who violated the neutrality of a beit din (Jewish court) to do it (*please see below), is now the number two authority on conversions in America – a man who now chooses which rabbi sits and which rabbi does not sit on conversion courts.
The darkness you see around you is not night – it is Orthodoxy.
[Hat Tip: Yankle.]
* Here is the chronology of Rabbi Willig's misbehavior.
- Beit din convened in 1989 to hear charges that Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a leader of the Orthodox Union's (OU) National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), was emotionally, physically and sexually abusing children. (The OU is the parent body of the RCA.)
- Rabbi Willig excoriates Lanner victims and their families at the beit din before evidence has been heard in a clear attempt to stifle their testimony.
- The beit din finds Lanner guilty of abuse in a 2 to 1 vote.
- The beit din does not call police.
- The beit din allows Lanner and his supporters to publicly claim he has been cleared of all charges by the beit din.
- Lanner continues to abuse women and children while remaining in the employ of the OU and of Hillel Academy.
- No steps are taken by the beit din to end Lanner's emplyment by these organizations or to limit – or even to supervise – his contact with children.
- June 23, 2000 - The New York Jewish Week publishes an investigative piece exposing almost thirty years of Lanner's abuse.
- June 27, 2000 - Lanner resigns from the OU.
- Dec. 26, 2000 - The OU releases a report accusing Lanner of sexually abusing girls and women and of physically abusing boys and girls. The report concludes employees of the OU and NCSY did not properly respond to "red flags" raised in the almost thirty years Lanner abused.
- March 21, 2000 - Lanner on charges that he had sexual contact with two female students at Hillel Yeshiva. He is charged with two counts each of aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal sexual contact, and endangering the welfare of a child.
- June 27, 2002 - A jury convicts Lanner of fondling one student. He is acquitted of fondling another of his accusers.
- Feb.19, 2003 – Almost 8 months after Lanner is convicted, more than three years after the beit din proceeding, years after the evidence against Lanner is made public, and under great pressure, Rabbi Mordechai Willig "apologizes" to Lanner victims and their familes in front of hundreds of Yeshiva University students (but not in front of the families or many of the victims).
- At the same time, Rabbi Willig says that rabbinic sexual and physical abuse against children should be reported to Jewish authorities and only “at times” to secular authorities, even though the beit din he sat on was made up of the premier rabbis of the YU, OU community and it failed to execute justice or protect children.
- I don't have any record of Rabbi Willig modifying his statement to advise calling police to report all child sexual or physical abuse.
- Willig claimed during his "apology" that his primary goal was "protecting children." Yet Rabbi Willig has taken no known actions to deal with sexual and physical abuse against children since that "apology" was made.
- In contrast, Rabbi Yosef Blau, one of the three members of that beit din, has spent years fighting child sexual abuse, beginning even before the Jewish Week exposé was published.
- The third member of the beit din, Rabbi Aaron Levine, is not known to have either apologized or to have taken any action to stem abuse. He is a professor of mathematics at YU.
- Ironically, Willig's "apology" was seen by some as stemming YU's rightward move, the idea being that YU rabbis were increasingly being viewed as infallible, much in the same way haredim view their "gedolim." The apology was thought to be a weapon to stem that tide.
Forward report on Rabbi Willig's "apology."
YU Commentator on Willig's apology.
The NY Jewish Week article that broke the Lanner case.
The Awareness Center page for Rabbi Mordechi Willig.