Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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15 Av 5766 - August 9, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Conversion Scandal Exposed in Prague

By Binyomin Rabinowitz

It was exactly ten years ago. Yated Ne'eman was waging a hard-nosed campaign against one of the major players in the "conversion" industry, Rabbi Noach Landsberg, who was operating at several botei din, particularly the Jerusalem District Beis Din. The campaign included a series of investigative reports that uncovered his activities.

Several articles claimed that fictitious, wholesale conversions were performed under the auspices of the Jerusalem District Beis Din, in most cases where there were no genuine intentions on the part of the so-called converts, and that Rabbi Landsberg had become one of the most highly involved figures in the conversion campaign. Those articles also claimed that a considerable portion of the conversions performed at the Jerusalem beis din passed through Rabbi Landsberg, who was labeled a "macher" ("facilitator") in the fictitious conversion industry.

His name was also linked to a bribery and deception scandal following the arrest of two other machers, some of whose clients were later referred to Rabbi Landsberg, and in some cases he even worked to have conversion files that were rejected in Rabbinate botei din transferred to the special conversion courts.

Rabbi Landsberg also recommended the "conversion" of a maid from Morocco whom the Interior Ministry later deported after annulling her conversion when it was learned that she was not observant. According to another report, not satisfied with converting goyim in Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Landsberg began making "converts" in Eastern European countries where there are hardly any indigenous Jewish communities.


Rabbi Noach Landsberg got involved in the area of conversion after working at Maayan Binah, part of the Nachalat Tzvi Institutes headed by R' Shimon Yaakov, whose dubious activities were also revealed on several occasions by Yated Ne'eman. A beis din in Jerusalem even determined that he had deceived the beis din and decided not to accept any more candidates sent by Rabbi Yaakov.

Seeing his name in the headlines time after time despite his efforts to halt the reports, Rabbi Landsberg decided to file a libel suit against Yated Ne'eman and this writer at the Beis Din LeInyonei Momonos of the Jerusalem Religious Council.

The first hearing was held on 23 Nisan 5757 (April 30, 1997) with av beis din HaRav Avrohom Dov Levin, HaRav Shmuel Bibbes and HaRav Boruch Shraga presiding. After the two sides signed a shtar borerus (arbitration agreement) a long hearing ensued, during which new and scandalous facts were revealed when Rabbi Landsberg was cross-examined on the conversion industry he heads.

By the end of the first hearing it had already come to light that the plaintiff had lied and contradicted himself regarding several matters, especially a letter he had sent to Yated's editorial board listing his claims against the various articles against him.

The transcript of these proceedings now serves as a salient document in the campaign against wholesale conversion and clearly substantiates all of the accusations lodged against Rabbi Landsberg in Yated Ne'eman. In his testimony he revealed himself to be one of the figures most heavily involved in the conversion system and that many people turn to him to advance conversions.

He was given a free hand in conversion matters and, despite his original denials, Rabbi Landsberg eventually admitted being a member of the "Prague Beis Din" and took part in conversions there.

According to the ruling handed down by the Jerusalem beis din, "The reliability of the plaintiff, Rabbi Landsberg, as a shaliach beis din and a dayan presiding over conversion cases, has been called into question by the beis din after contradictions were found in several remarks made in beis din on the topic of conversion. As such a committee of expert rabbonim should be set up to evaluate the conversion candidates and to stop relying on Rabbi Landsberg and the other people issuing recommendations." The beis din noted its decision was based on opinions stated by Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita.

Despite the harsh criticism and the series of revelations, Rabbi Noach Landsberg continued his conversion activities, but maintained a lower profile. Recently-obtained documents, however, clearly show Rabbi Landsberg is still active, converting dozens of people each year in Prague. Since Prague does not have a solid kehilloh of shomer Shabbos Jews, it seems unlikely these "converts" really intend to keep Torah and mitzvas in Prague.

"In response to your request," reads an official letter Rav Yigal Krispal, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbi's Office, sent to HaRav Avrohom Abbo Turetzky of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (Merkaz HaRabbonim of Europe), "I hereby reply that the rabbis signed on the conversion certificate — Rabbi Noach Landsberg, Rabbi Eliezer Damari and Rabbi Menachem Kalcheim — are not authorized to perform conversions and their conversions are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and their activities fall under the rubric of `vegeir lo soneh.' " It should be noted that the Merkaz HaRabbonim uncovered this latest scandal.

The Vaad HaRabbonim HaOlami LeInyonei Giyur founded by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l submitted a complaint to the Chief Rabbinate against Rabbi Landsberg, who serves as the official rav of Moshav Tzefariya in Israel, since according to Israeli rabbinate regulations, rabbonim from Eretz Yisroel are forbidden to perform conversions outside the country. The Chief Rabbinate responded that the matter is being addressed and Rabbi Landsberg will soon be summoned for a hearing.

According to Vaad HaRabbonim a number of other rabbonim also regularly travel abroad, generally under the auspices of Rabbi Yosef Avior of the special conversion court at Or Etzion, which has been arranging wholesale conversions in European counties that lack an established Orthodox community.

Gedolei Yisroel shlita say that all conversion activity by such questionable figures should be completely uprooted, leaving conversion to be performed only by established, prominent botei din.


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