Houston woman in sex scandal undergoes conversion in Israel

Houston woman in sex sca

January 8, 2010 03:04
shannon orand 248.88

shannon orand 248.88. (photo credit: )

A woman from Houston who got mixed up in a sex scandal with a prominent haredi rabbi from Monsey, New York, arrived in Israel clandestinely and was converted to Judaism on Sunday in Alon Shvut by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior and a third rabbi who preferred to remain anonymous. Shannon Orand, 32, whose new Jewish name is Rachel, received massive media coverage in religious circles in America in recent weeks after it became known that Rabbi Leib Tropper, the chairman of the Rabbinic Committee of Eternal Jewish Family, had allegedly forced Orand to conduct phone sex with him and purportedly encouraged her to have sexual relations with other men. EJF has spearheaded a campaign to enforce more stringent Jewish laws governing conversions. The allegations against Tropper were based on audio tapes recorded by Orand. These tapes, which Orand said she sent to rabbis to protect herself, were leaked and made available on YouTube as well on Jewish blogs. A source close to Tropper denied the allegations. "A man is innocent until proven guilty," said the source. "All the more so when talking about a rabbi." A rabbi and members of the Jewish community in Houston, where Orand and her two children have lived for several years, told The Jerusalem Post that Orand was serious about her commitment to Judaism. They also said her children, from two previous marriages, had been enrolled in the local Jewish school. Due to the negative media reports Tropper stepped down on December 16 from his position at EJF, announcing, "I have decided to resign my position to pursue a variety of other interests." The decision by Eliyahu, Lior and the third rabbi to convert Orand after they were convinced of her sincerity is seen by some Zionist rabbis as part of a larger battle between warring camps in the Orthodox rabbinical world. The fact that these three rabbis, who in recent years have not been involved with conversions, went out of their way to help Orand is seen both as a strong stamp of approval for Orand's pure intentions as well as a clear message to the haredi rabbinic world. "This is an answer to haredi rabbis' stringent approach to conversions," said Rabbi Israel Rosen, former head of the National Conversion Courts and a serving conversion court judge, who helped facilitate Orand's conversion. "Rabbi Tropper, who has been revealed for who he is, was seen with all the gdolim [great Torah sages of the generation]. It just goes to show that interested parties can manipulate the rabbis to consolidate power," Rosen said. Eliyahu said that his decision to convert Orand was motivated by a desire to "erase the desecration and the shame as quickly as possible." "When I heard about that terrible story, how a man exploited his connections with rabbis and his position as a representative of Judaism, I decided something had to be done to rectify the situation. It is the worse type of sin to do what he did, to use the sacred to obtain his own base desires. God hates iniquity and here he is committing iniquity by using God's name. "The only reason this woman was not converted to Judaism [before] was because she refused to give in to that man's sexual demands. I feel real pain in my heart. I knew that even one minute could not be wasted to end the desecration." Eliyahu said that he contacted a member of the Houston rabbinical court, which is affiliated with the Rabbinic Committee of Eternal Jewish Family, to obtain more information on Orand. "I was told that there was no halachic reason to delay Orand's conversion," Eliyahu said. Rabbi Yehoshua Wender of Houston's Young Israel Congregation, who is also head of the conversion court, did not return a phone message left by the 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, who added that the goal of his committee is to set proper conversion standards and procedures. "Obviously, the people involved had some personal interest. "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." Eisenstein did not comment on whether the conversion was kosher. Eliyahu said that as a member of the Chief Rabbinate's government body, he was operating within the framework of the local rabbinic establishment. In recent years, Tropper spearheaded a campaign to enforce more stringent conversion standards. Backed by heavyweight rabbinical figures in America and in Israel, including Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Tropper and others forced the Rabbinical Council of America, the world's largest Orthodox rabbinic organization, to adopt stricter criteria and reduce the number of conversion courts permitted to conduct conversions in America. In Israel, periodic attacks by rabbis who identified with Tropper's goals were made on conversions performed by the National Conversion Authority under the leadership of Rabbi Haim Druckman. "Now with the recent revelations about Tropper, the EJF's criticism is put in a different light," said Eliyahu, who said he supported maintaining the highest standards when converting. Orand, who spoke with the Post from Houston, said that she fell in love with Judaism in 2005, during a trip to Israel with secular Israeli friends. "I was the only Christian in the group, so I thought I would take one day to visit sites sacred to Christianity. I went to Jerusalem and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But the location of the place did not make sense according the biblical texts. "Unlike in Judaism, where everyone knows exactly where each holy site is located, in Christianity, which is a much newer religion, there is a dispute and nobody has any idea precisely where the sites are. "Also, I saw people kissing stones in the entrance to the church. It felt sick and wrong and idolatrous," Orand said. "Then I went to the Kotel. It was Simhat Torah. I found a lot of peace and everything felt right and I cried and stayed until morning. I went back home and started learning about Judaism." She explained that she was introduced to Tropper by a mutual friend in 2006. But it was not until May 2009 that her connection with the Monsey-based rabbi was strengthened. Orand approached Tropper with a request to help her convert to Judaism and to provide her with employment at EJF. Tropper acquiesced. Gradually, Tropper began to have what Orand called in an affidavit to the conversion court in Israel "conversations that were not consistent with the EJF principles and the haredi world." She said that these conversations became more and more "graphic." But she was fearful of losing her job and ruining her chancing of completing her conversion. Also, she was receiving money from Tropper to help pay the legal costs of a custody battle with her ex-husband, who Orand said had sexually molested one of her children. She wanted to prevent her ex from receiving visitation rights. However, when news broke of her relationship with Tropper in the final stages of her court battle, she was forced to sign a settlement that would allow her ex-husband visitation rights with their son. In parallel, leaders of Houston's Jewish community reacted to the first reports of the Tropper incident by requesting that Orand remove her children from the local Jewish school. And Orand was told not to set foot on its premises. However, when media coverage of the story increased Orand and her children were permitted into the school. Meanwhile, the Houston conversion court, which was slated to convert Orand, put off its decision. Orand was afraid she would be prevented from converting. A friend got Orand in contact with Eliyahu, who expressed willingness to help. During the conversion process Lior, Eliyahu and the third rabbi asked Orand if she was not totally disenchanted by the prospect of conversion after her negative experiences. "I told them that 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," Orand said.

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