"Then things took a turn for the surreal and grossly inappropriate. I was asked a question so disgusting, I was rendered temporarily speechless. One of the Dayanim asked me, to whom does my wife send her spotted underpants for investigation when she has irregular menstrual bleeding?"
Image above right: Melbourne Beit Din Letterhead circa 1951
Rabbi Yaron Gottlieb wanted to teach prospective converts to prepare them for eventual conversion with the Melbourne Beit Din.
All of the current members of the beit din are Chabad rabbis.
Gottlieb is Modern Orthodox.
Gottlieb went to the beit din to get the required permission. Writing in Galus Australis, he tells us what happened:
…The questioning [from the rabbis] began simply enough about my observance of the basic commandments (shabbat, kashrut, and family purity).
Then things took a turn for the surreal and grossly inappropriate. I was asked a question so disgusting, I was rendered temporarily speechless. One of the Dayanim asked me, to whom does my wife send her spotted underpants for investigation when she has irregular menstrual bleeding?
No questions were asked about my honesty in business, nor whether I help the poor or underprivileged. From their questioning, it would seem being a decent, moral human is not important.
After the interview, I heard nothing. After repeated attempts to get an answer, I finally spoke to the secretary. She told me that I was rejected, the reason being that my wife does not cover her hair. When I challenged the board of the Beit Din on that explanation, they told me that:
1. The secretary had no authority to give me that information;
2. She would be told off for giving over that information;
3. The information was wrong; and
4. The reason would be forthcoming in a letter I would receive shortly.
They were at a loss to explain how the secretary knew of my wife’s head covering practices. Following my numerous requests for an official explanation, I did receive a response. Six months later!
The letter told me there were halachic considerations behind the rejection, but no actual halachic reason was given.…
Melbourne's beit din was dissolved in 2002 in a scandal that got national coverage in the Australian press. As the Australian Broadcasting Company noted in 2002:
Melbourne's Beth Din, or Jewish Court, has been dissolved, and its head Rabbi has resigned, amid accusations of insensitivity, lack of transparency and administrative chaos. The Rabbinical Council of Victoria now has a problem on its hands - not just to reconstitute the Beth Din, but also to rekindle the faith of Melbourne's Orthodox Jewish community in its leaders.
When it was reconstituted, it adopted a process to allow litigants to appeal decisions. The problem with that process, Gottlieb discovered, are many.
For example, until a decision has been formally issued, a litigant cannot appeal – and the beit din can delay issuing a ruling indefinately, negating the appeals process.
Halakhic decisions cannot be appealed. So to block an appeal, the beit simply has to say it has rejected or accepted a litigant's argument for halakhic reasons – even if it does so without listing what those allegedly halakhic reasons are or citing the actual halakhot they are allegedly based on.
In its belated rejection letter to Gottlieb, the judges of the beit din noted that the form of Judaism taught to prospective converts must be "uncontroversial."
In response Gottlieb asks an important question about the conversion preparation teachers the beit din has approved:
Have the Chabad teachers on the list (who are in the vast majority) been vetted for their views on the Rebbe (is he the Messiah, is he alive, is he God)? Have the teachers been quizzed about their views on the State of Israel? Could there be converts being taught to hate the State?
Because the beit din is run by the rabbinic judges themselves, and because it lacks transparency, we'll probably never know the real answer to those questions, even if the rabbis choose to 'answer' them.
The rejection of Gottlieb's application may be more closely related to Chabad than Gottlieb realizes.
Gottlieb has spoken out about the Chabad child sex abuse scandal that has rocked Melbourne, and the alleged coverup of these crimes by the late head of Chabad in Australia, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner.
The Chabad community has been chatized by police and by alleged victims for its alleged failure to fully cooperate with the police investigation, and there has been much anger among Chabad community leaders about the police investigation, media coverage of the scandal and the alleged victims' mesira, informing, 'ratting out' the alleged pedophiles and Rabbi Groner to police and the media.
Perhaps it is Gottlieb's public condemnation of that child sex abuse and of that alleged coverup that prompted the beit din to label Gottlieb's Judaism "controversial."
[Hat Tip: Frum Satire.]