(The following in similar form was submitted to the Jewish Link as a response to Rabbi Goldin’s response. They declined to print it this week.)
To the Editor:
I thank my dear colleague Rabbi Goldin for his response to my concerns. I do trust, as I am sure he does, that nothing awry, unusual or illegal will be found in the operation of any other batei din. One correction that he made is indeed welcome: under the current guidelines, contrary to what I wrote, sponsoring rabbis may be part of the conversion court as well.
In that regard, I erred for the best of reasons. The complete separation of the two roles – sponsoring rabbi and dayyan – was part of the original protocols established. That made sense for the reasons I outlined last week. But they were changed – perhaps at the very beginning – because of the insistence of small town courts that they did not have the manpower (i.e., “rabbi”-power) to consistently isolate the sponsoring rabbi from the conversion court. The language was then amended to permit such affiliation. I was unaware that they were changed, so, in any event, here in Bergen County, we always adhered to the original standard. We never allowed a sponsoring rabbi to be part of the conversion court in any respect. Never. All sponsoring rabbis knew that. I just assumed other batei din did the same. Our way made sense, and still does. The safety measures that I outlined last week were in place – but in Teaneck. That the protocol in DC applied the amended standard was, in retrospect, part of the problem. I assume as well that trying to re-implement the original standard will meet with the same objections of the small town courts.
Without re-hashing what has already been written on this matter, there is one questionable situation that remains that is neither slanderous nor speculative. It is clear from Rabbi Goldin’s own account that concerns were raised about the character of our DC colleague long before the voyeurism charges were adduced. These concerns were known to a very small group in the RCA, and resulted in our colleague’s dismissal as chairman of the GPS committee. Clearly there were red flags. Which begs the question: why were the allegations sufficient to remove him as head of the GPS committee but insufficient to remove him as head of the DC Bet Din, which, in retrospect, would have been a blessing for everyone concerned?
I don’t for a moment suspect mens rea on the part of the small group that decided his fate. If anything, it seems like negligence born of compassion. But, if the new committee is investigating (among other things) what went wrong in DC, and one thing that went wrong was the failure of the leadership in both oversight and effective response to the original DC misconduct, it is indeed odd that someone from that same leadership should serve on the committee – indeed, as chairman of the committee. No person should investigate himself. The errors, such as they were, in the end reflected poorly – apparently, as the formation of the committee itself indicates – on all batei din and all rabbis.
We have suffered inordinately in the last 25 years because of the accusation that rabbinic scandals are swept under the rug, investigated privately or not investigated at all. There should be accountability for poor decisions, however well-intentioned. Retaining someone as head of a Bet Din when it was known – regardless of justification or the peculiarities of the DC system – that he was exploiting conversion candidates to work for him in his home, in his university office, for donations, et al – was an error of judgment. The RCA could have sought his dismissal or could have insisted that the Beth Din of America dismiss him. The Executive Committee could have been apprised and offered its recommendation. None of that was not done, and victims paid a steep price for that. Hindsight is usually 20/20, but hindsight is 20/400 when the lights are dimmed, the curtains are drawn, the walls are erected, and the wagons are circled.
Consequently, there are many people – rabbis and laymen who have spoken to me – who feel that an outside investigation that includes no members of the RCA is warranted in order to fully explore how such errors were made and in order to regain public trust. A movement is already under way calling for such an investigation. And if, as media report, the female victims here are considering suing (among others) the RCA for malfeasance, such an investigation will happen sooner or later. Sooner is better. That is neither slander nor speculation, nor are any insinuations or accusations being made. It just seems like elementary yashrut and common sense.
I thank Rabbi Goldin for his kind words about me. The feelings are mutual. And in navigating those treacherous waters between dueling expectations for the conversion committee, and between maintaining the status quo and the vehement demand for modifications, I wish him much success. I, too, hope the work of the committee bears positive fruit.