Friday, January 08, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There are articles in the Jerusalem Post and in a blog called Jewish Israel that are at the same time heartwarming and enraging. It is the story of Shanon Orand’s amazing trek form Christianity to Orthodox Judaism.

Shannon Orand exemplifies what I have always admired about Gerim and Baalei Teshuva. They seek Truth and find it in the Torah. How fortunate are they to have examined their lives, seen the distortions of former beliefs and concluded the Truth of the Torah. How many people born and raised Orthodox have analyzed their beliefs that way?

In the case of Shannon Orand much of her story has already been told in the media. At least the tawdry parts. She is the woman that Leib Tropper tried to coerce into prostituting for him in exchange for a conversion.

Ms. Orand recorded conversations with Tropper in order to gather evidence of this extortion. Among other things Tropper asked her if she would have sex his with ‘clients’ – or at least phone sex. Three conversations were recorded and somehow got leaked to bloggers and the media. That ended Tropper’s career in Orthodox conversions. But it did not end the damage he caused for converts – past, present, and future.

That was only part of the story. What wasn’t known until now – at least to me - is a quite chilling ‘rest of the story’. Ms. Orand was in a custody battle with her ex-husband who sexually molested their daughter. She wanted - not only full custody of her children but to deny him any visiting privileges. She got full custody, but her husband was given visitation rights to their son.

Her legal expenses were enormous – beyond her means. But after befriending her and becoming her patron for a conversion Tropper offered to pay her legal expenses. She accepted this 'kindly gesture from a respected 'rabbi'. Once invloved in this way he sprang these revolting requests upon her. She was then in a terrible bind. That’s why she didn’t just pick up and leave. And that’s why she recorded those conversations. They were not intended for the media but for rabbinic authorities.

What is amazing is her description of how she fell in love with Judaism. Her father was an Evangelical preacher. He has now rejected Christianity and basically embraced the concept of being a Ben Noach. Her mother is still a devout Evangelical who believes her daughter and grandchildren are going straight to hell. (Her parents are divorced).

How she came to believe that Christianity is a form of idolatry and what led her to Judaism is fascinating too. I recommend reading both articles in full for that. But the story of how she was treated by Charedi Rabbis involved with her conversion process is disgusting. I am embarrassed by it. The American Charedi system placed a ‘ great – almost exclusive - emphasis on Halacha’.

To test a sincere convert on the minutia of Halacha when the Gemarah and Halacha clearly states that a sincere convert need not know more than a few basic Halachos and then convert them immediately - turns Halacha on its head.

The Charedi Hashkafa is truly deteriorated and is being led by influential people - like certain ones involved with EJF - down a path that is beyond revolting.

Every time I see a light at the end of the tunnel - a turning point of sorts - a ray of hope that in some way things are improving in that world -that some sort of meeting of the minds is possible - something like this shows up and makes me wonder, is there really any hope? How in God's name did we get to be this way?! The comparisons to the Taliban are valid. Critics of the way Charedim are handling conversions are right. I don't know how any Charedi 'Gedolim' justify this stuff. It makes absolutely no sense.

For a woman who has gone through what Shannon Orand to be treated this way... is a Maaseh Rishis! It is evil! Claims that this is all about the sincerity of the converts are lies! Shanon Orand was as serious as a heart attack about accepting the Ol Mitzvos. No one doubted that. Why were they blasting her with questions about Halacha? Why the delay? The hardships caused to this woman are unconscionable! And yet the inspiring part of this story is that she was not deterred by any of this. Not by Tropper and not by the Charedi rabbis who were her inquisitors. She was determined to pursue Truth - flew to Israel, and got three distinguished rabbis to constitute a Beis Din. They were:

Chief Rabbi Dov Lior of Hevron, Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Safed, and a respected rabbi who requested that his name be withheld. In addition, another recognized Chief Rabbi facilitated in the conversion process.

As if to emphasize just how terribly things have deteriorated at the hands of grossly incompetent representatives of Charedi Judaism - Nachum Eisenstein reared his ugly head to comment on it. From the Jerusalem Post:

Rabbi Nahum Eisenstein, chairman of the International Rabbinical Committee for Conversion Matters, who is close to Tropper, said that the decision by the Israeli rabbis went against rabbinical ethics.

"Since there was a file open in the Houston Rabbinical Court which has not been closed yet it is unacceptable according to rabbinical ethics to do what they did, especially when we are talking about a woman who did a quickie conversion in Israel and immediately went back to the US," said Eisentstein,

"Also, the way I understand it, the rabbis did something illegal according to Israeli law, which says that only authorized rabbinical courts are allowed to perform conversions. This is unacceptable and I expect the Rabbinate to take measures against this conversion," Eisenstein said.

"Finally, it just strengthens the argument against allowing city rabbis to do conversions. Rather, conversions must be done only in a proper rabbinical court that has controls and checks."

How any human being - let alone a Jew whose innate character should be one of Chesed can be so callous to another human being is beyond my comprehension. Add the fact that his words are hurtful to Giyores whicht the Torah expressly forbids – makes it unconscionable. So vile is this man. I have lost any vestige of respect for him that I might have had in the deep recesses of my mind. He is an absolute nothing to me!

If this guy were the best Charedi Judaism has to offer they too would be worthless. Fortunately he is only one man – but with a lot of power – power he attained by managing to worm his way into Rav Elyashiv’s inner circle. Rav Elyashiv apparently trusts him. I cannot explain that other than to say that Eisenstein has deceived an elderly Gadol into thinking he is someone he is not. I don’t know that at his age, anyone can convince R’ Elayshiv otherwise about one of his trusted insiders.

Eisenstein has caused a lot of trouble. He has to be denounced by as many Charedi rabbis as possible. The conversion standards that he has been successfully involved in implementing should be discarded. They are agendized and extreme. The intent to standardize conversions is a good idea - but not if Eisenstein is involved. He has tainted the system badly.

The Jerusalem Post article ends with some very inspiring words from Ms. Orand. She was asked by the members of her Beis Din why she was not totally disenchanted by the prospect of conversion after her negative experiences.

She answered as follows:
"I come from Christianity, an idolatrous religious that worships a man as God. Judaism, in contrast, worships God directly. And no man can take that away from me. I am not worshiping a man anymore."

Rav Abba Dunner has been interviewed about his position on Tropper and EJF. I could almost swear he read my posts on the subject. It is a valuable read and available on VIN. Updated: 3:36 PM CST