Influential ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Monsey caught in sex scandal

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community likes to keep to itself, but you may hear a very loud sigh coming from Monsey and NYC these days.

An ugly scandal is unfolding regarding one Rabbi Leib Tropper, a Monsey-based fellow who has headed a prominent group called the Eternal Jewish Family. The EJF’s mission has been to oversee the conversion of non-Jews married to Jewish spouses — according to the most strict standards for Jewish conversion.

leibBut Tropper has resigned in recent days over a Tigger Woods-ish scandal.

Apparently, he was taped speaking to a woman seeking conversion about highly un-rabbinic things.

The blog FailedMessiah.com, which chronicles the failings of the Orthodox Jewish community, spoke to the woman and reported this:

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The woman told FailedMessiah.com Tropper was “holding things over me.” Tropper can be heard on one of the tapes asking the woman to have sex or phone sex with other men. She said Tropper would tell her, “If you fulfill my needs, I’ll fulfill yours – and you need a conversion.”

Tropper can be heard on the tapes saying, “I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t want to…you own your body, I don’t own your body.”

The woman says Tropper asked her to role play certain sexual scenarios with these men, either capturing the encounter on tape or describing the encounter in detail to him afterward, but she refused. “He likes to see women raped,” the woman said. While sometimes Tropper suggested men for her to have encounters with, he encouraged her to find men on her own and then report back to him. “He wanted someone who would be very rough.”

She says other women were also recruited by Tropper to fulfill these fantasies.

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Howsa.

Tropper is no minor figure in the Orthodox world. One Orthodox blogger writes that he gained the support of many ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. and Israel by focusing on an issue they care about: conversion standards.

He writes:

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One of the biggest problems with EJF’s founder long before this sex scandal broke is that he somehow managed to commandeer and virtually control one of the most important aspects of Judaism: The ability of any sincere human being to convert and join the people of Israel.

Leib Tropper is not a stupid man. He managed to connive and cajole leading rabbinic figures both here and in Israel to come on board and endorse what he was doing. International meetings were held and attended by very prominent rabbinic figures or their representatives – traveling from all over the world to attend – as the above list from their website shows.

The names of those involved with EJF is mind boggling in its depth and Hashkafic scope. The above photo of some of them sitting on an EJF dais was taken from their website and is but a small sampling of those who attended and who supported Tropper and his EJF.

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Even before this sex scandal broke, Tropper and the EJF were criticized — by some — for bring ultra-Orthodox conversion standards to the wider Jewish world and for using their clout to hurt people.

Jewcy.com wrote last year:

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Times have changed. That’s because haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews like Leib Tropper, founder and director of Eternal Jewish Family—an organization dedicated to converting non-Jewish spouses of intermarried Jews—represent the most rapidly growing demographic in Judaism. Tropper also founded and runs a yeshiva in Monsey, New York, and travels regularly to Israel, where he frequents the halls of haredi power and hobnobs with its leaders. People like him are the Jewish future. They’re at the center of a seemingly irrevocable schism between Orthodoxy and every other denomination of Judaism. They’re determined to restrict and to monitor all Orthodox conversions as part of their spiritual war against non-haredi Judaism, and they want nothing less than ultimately to define who is a Jew.

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Now the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents “modern” Orthodox rabbis but has increasingly tightened its conversion standards to comply with ultra-Orthodox dictates, has issued a statement on the scandal:

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Dec 22, 2009 — We are deeply appalled, saddened and pained by reports that have reached us concerning alleged inappropriate behavior on the part of the chairman of the rabbinic committee of the Eternal Jewish Family, Rabbi Leib Tropper. We need to wait for more complete information before we can react fully.

Nonetheless, at this time, we would make the following points clear:

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

2. We urge anyone who might have been victimized to seek appropriate counseling and we, at the Rabbinical Council of America, remain ready to refer anyone who needs such assistance to the appropriate professionals.

3. Anyone who may have any questions of Jewish Law regarding conversions should feel free to contact our Geirut administrator, Rabbi Michoel Zylberman, at 212-807-9000 ext. 3.

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.