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Why the Rabbis Are Silent on Tropper

Reserving judgment on sex scandal reported by Tablet

Marc Tracy
January 25, 2010

Over four articles (all of which you can find here), Tablet Magazine traced the scandal surrounding Leib Tropper. A one-time Monsey, New York, Orthodox rabbi, Tropper raised himself to the status of Jerusalem-based conversion guru by dint of powerful connections, only to fall from grace after audiotapes purportedly recorded him making sexual advances toward prospective converts. In her final article, Allison Hoffman reported on the conspicuous silence with which ultra-Orthodox Judaism’s rabbinic elite have greeted the revelations—some of them broken by Tablet Magazine. And there has barely been a slap on the wrist: Tropper remains, for example, rosh yeshiva—the head of a religious day school in Monsey.

The 5 Towns Jewish Times, which serves a heavily Orthodox area of Long Island, runs a fantastic interview with another Monsey rabbi that tries to get to the bottom of this troubling lack of condemnation. The rub seems to be that the rabbis feel they are barred, under Jewish law, from speaking out against Tropper until his case has been formally tried in front of a Beth Din (a formal rabbinical court). Says the rabbi: “until there is due process we are not Halachically permitted to issue condemnations against an individual, or to take any other action against him.” He adds:

This terrible episode has brought great pain and embarrassment to the entire Torah community. … If, however, [the allegations] are proven to be true, then we have discovered a venomous snake in our midst, an immoral individual who abused his rabbinical position and caused immeasurable Chillul Hashem [desecration to the Name], and shame to our community.

The rabbi also denied that Tropper’s extensive connections throughout the community has anything to do with the kid gloves with which that community has (so far) treated the allegations against him.

So: hemming, hawing, non-denial denials; earnest concern that Jewish law be followed; and somewhat useful boilerplate that at least recognizes the magnitude of the allegations.

Meanwhile, an editorial in The Jewish Star, which also serves Long Island’s Orthodox communities, offers a slightly different point of view:

Are we the only ones taking crazy pills or does anyone else find it strange that virtually not a single prominent rabbinical figure outside the leadership of the Rabbinical Council of America—and they are hardly household names—has said a public word about the incredible scandal this man created? After years of instigating holier-than-thou controversies over conversions and other issues, funded by someone else’s millions, Tropper was unmasked as the worst sort of hypocrite—he has denied nothing—and yet, he continues to go to the office each day and call himself a rosh yeshiva.
Really, this one takes the cake.

Related: Sex, Lies, and Audiotape [Tablet Magazine]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

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