Why have the Rabbis been silent about Leib Tropper?

This interview which appeared in the Five Towns Jewish Times illustrates why the Rabbis have been silent, which is mostly because there is sex and women involves. It seems to me that the Rabbis are silent whenever the scandal involved sex, women or children. They are silent when it comes to giving gets, child molestation and domestic abuse. When it comes to money, they speak up, because it hurts them directly.

Monsey, NY – Rabbi Dovid Ribiat heads the Kollel Ohr Yaakov of Forshay in Monsey NY, and is regarded as a prominent Halachic authority across the US. He is also the author of several Seforim, including the world-renowned four-volume work on the 39 Melochos of Shabbos. On January 21, 10 he graciously consented to the following interview regarding the Rabbi Leib Tropper scandal:

Interviewer: Over the past several weeks there have been a lot of questions in the media over the silence of the Rabbis in the Ultra-orthodox community re. the Tropper scandal. Why has there been no condemnation of Tropper from the Rabbis?

RR: I can only speak as one of the Rabbis of Monsey. Firstly, you must understand that there is no single authoritative Rabbinic body in Monsey. The city is comprised of many different Orthodox segments and synagogues, each with its own Rabbinic leadership. Although the Rabbis do get together on issues affecting the entire community, this can take time, especially when the issues need a great deal of clarification. Even though Rabbi Tropper lives in Monsey, the scandal, based on a series of tapes (which Tropper claims are fraudulent), only came to our attention through media reports. The Rabbis had no prior knowledge of this scandal and had no way of confirming the reports without undertaking their own independent investigation. It has taken time to organize a focused investigation and begin the process of sorting out the claims and counter claims in the media in search of the objective truth. We cannot issue condemnations against an individual without due process or before verifying the facts. This is why you have not heard any statements from the rabbis as yet.

INT: Rabbi, these tapes have been available on the Internet for many weeks already; didn’t this leave a lot of time to come to some conclusion by now?

RR: There is no special Rabbinic “investigating agency” in Monsey with forensic experts responsible for investigating and reporting on scandals. This kind of embarrassing incident is not something that occurs, Heaven Forbid, on any regular basis; it is obviously not something that we ever anticipated.

INT: As you know, the EJF (Eternal Jewish Family) and Horizons, two major organizations that enjoy the broad support of the foremost Orthodox Rabbis today, were headed by Rabbi Leib Tropper. These well-funded organizations have distributed large sums to many Yeshivos and Rabbinical institutions. Tropper has resigned from EJF, but still remains in charge of Horizons, which is the parent organization, and has control over the money. Why hasn’t he been asked to step down, at least temporarily, until this scandal is investigated?

RR: I am not sure that EJF has the broad Rabbinic support that you describe. In any case, the information I have indicates that he has indeed stepped down from both organizations. Regardless, these organizations do not function principally in Monsey, and are not under our jurisdiction.

INT: But what about his Yeshivah in Monsey? Isn’t he still there?

RR: Yes, we understand that he is still in his Yeshivah. However, as I said, we cannot force him to resign before confirming the rumors about him while he continues to deny them.

INT: Why can’t he be told to step down at least temporarily?

RR: This too is not something that we can force without a hearing in Beis Din. The Rabbis did not want to proceed until their investigation was completed. Incidentally, there is a lot of outrage in the community here in Monsey, and I suspect that Rabbi Tropper has heard this message from others.

INT: Still, all of this does not explain why the most prominent Rabbis in the US and Israel have come out with statements in support of Tropper?

RR: I have not seen any of these alleged statements, but I do know that at least some of the claims of their support are not true.

INT: May I ask you to please explain?

RR: Well, for example, there were rumors being spread that Rabbi Wachtfogel, Rosh Yeshivah of South Fallsburg Yeshivah and a major figure in the Torah community, was supporting Rabbi Tropper. However, when a delegation of Rabbis went to speak to him personally on this matter, Rabbi Wachtfogel made it very clear that this was absolutely not the case. On the other hand, he was unable to condemn Rabbi Tropper or to sanction any other action against him in the absence of evidence.

INT: But there are letters of support that have been signed by the leading Rabbis in Israel, including Rabbi Elyashiv and Rabbi Kanievsky. These can be shown to exist.

RR: As I said, I have not seen these statements. But even if they do exist, I doubt their accuracy.

INT: Do you mean to imply that those letters are forgeries?

RR: No, not necessarily, although this too could be the case. What I mean is, I have doubts about the accuracy of what is being deduced from them.

INT: But why would they sign a statement before being certain of its veracity?

RR: I’m afraid I wasn’t clear. You have to realize that these are truly great people, completely dedicated to the public. When a request for moral support is brought to them, especially in issues of possible slander, it is right and proper to lend a hand to the victim. A statement of moral support does not have the weight of a legal document and would have no effect on any of the proceedings or hearings in a Beis Din. On the other hand, helping one who should be presumed innocent until proven guilty is a perfectly plausible and proper thing to do, as there certainly have been cases of malicious slander destroying innocent people. Someone probably asked the Rabbis to save Tropper from slander, and they merely responded. They are not making a Halachically binding act of support.

INT: I will ask a blunt question that many are asking: There are claims in the media that Tropper is being protected because he has helped important and influential Rabbis, and that this is in fact the reason for the wall of silence in the Chareidi community. Can you please comment?

RR: These allegations sound like no more than pernicious gossip. As a Rabbi in Monsey, I can only say that once there is incontrovertible evidence, appropriate measures will be taken. However, no action will be taken before there is satisfactory evidence, regardless of any scurrilous reports or media pressures.

INT: Forgive me Rabbi, but do you mind if I ask if you or your organization have ever received money from Rabbi Tropper?

RR: No, I do not mind. Neither I nor my organization have ever received money from or through Rabbi Tropper.

INT: Why was there such swift and universal condemnation of Rabbi Nosson Slifkin and his books, while in the case of Tropper, who is guilty of blatantly immoral conduct, there is painstakingly slow and careful deliberation – only silence – before taking any action?

RR: Firstly, your question assumes Tropper’s guilt. As I said, until there is due process we are not Halachically permitted to issue condemnations against an individual, or to take any other action against him …

INT: … but where was the “due process” in the case of Rabbi Slifkin? Here was a brilliant young Rabbi who wrote many scholarly books on Torah subjects, yet his books were banned and he was roundly condemned and ostracized by the entire spectrum of Rabbis in the ultra-orthodox community, merely because his views, such as the age of the universe, are not in line with their “politically correct’ way of thinking. Why was he treated differently?

RR: Before I explain the difference, I must address your comment; This is not the forum for a discussion of Slifkin’s books, but to cavalierly describe the controversy merely as a fight over “political correctness” reveals not only a crass ignorance of the books’ content, but also of the basics of Jewish philosophy.

INT: I understand your point Rabbi, but still, you must admit that there seems to be a double standard here. On the one hand is a simple scholar who feels the swift, full brunt of Rabbinic condemnation for his books, while on the other hand is a powerful well-connected Chareidi-style Rabbi who is accused of grossly unethical and immoral conduct, abusing his Rabbinic position in the most objectionable manner, yet there is only deafening silence. Why?

RR: I was not involved with the Slifkin controversy and cannot speak for the Rabbis in that case. Nevertheless, there are some obvious differences between the case of Slifkin and that of Tropper. With Slifkin, the evidence was on black and white, and irrefutable – there were published books, and nothing to deny. Also, the books contained many views whose objectionability ran much deeper than merely such questions as the age of the universe. As it was, there were some Rabbis who did not feel that the condemnation was the best approach, even in that case. Either way, the evidence was not the issue, whereas in the case of Tropper, in the face of denials, the evidence is the first issue.

INT: Rabbi, do you care to make any final comments?

RR: I would like to remark that this terrible episode has brought great pain and embarrassment to the entire Torah community. If the allegations are proven to be false, those who perpetrated the slander owe a profound apology, not only to Rabbi Tropper, but also to the entire Orthodox community.

If, however, they 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. We in the Torah community must collectively take swift measures to eradicate this abomination from our midst, and to do all in our power to search and root out any other potential charlatans before they can cause their great harm.

However, observers from outside our community must be fair-minded. They must not attempt to paint the entire community or its Rabbinic leadership with one ugly broad brush. Nor is it fair or constructive to jump to conclusions over the manner in which internal issues are dealt with by the Rabbis, especially outsiders who do not feel the pulse of the community. Those who do not reside in a community or who are not members of the Orthodox community should respect the fact that their understanding of the issues may be limited, and should be cautious before passing judgment. With attitudes of mutual respect and human sensitivity, problems can be solved and tragedies avoided.

INT: Thank you very much for your helpful insights and for granting us your precious time, Rabbi.

RR: You are welcome, and I thank you as well.

Also be sure to check out the Interview with Shannon Orand who recently completed her conversion in Israel – where she talks about the differences between the American and Israeli conversion processes and she tels us why she did what she did with Tropper.