A member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has resigned as head of the conversion court of Bergen County, NJ following the RCA's appointment of a new conversion committee, which consists of six men and five women.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, spiritual leader of Cong. B’nai Yeshurun, the largest Orthodox synagogue in Teaneck, NJ, stepped down from the Beit Din of Bergen County he led for seven years. He is keeping his position as dayyan, or judge, on the RCA-supervised Beth Din of America, the national rabbinic court. The RCA is the major policy-making body of Orthodox rabbis.
In a statement on his personal blog he said the “main reason” he resigned was because of “the negativity associated today with conversion, and the cynicism and distrust fostered by so many…towards the rabbinate. This has nothing to do with women.”
In addition to the five male rabbis on the new conversion committee, there are five women differing professions, including a litigation attorney, educator, psychotherapist and a Yoetzet Halacha, who advises women on family purity laws. The committee was created this week by the RCA in response to the arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel of Congregation Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C. on charges of voyeurism on Oct. 14.
The committee will review the Beit Din of America's Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) conversion process, which Rabbi Freundel played a key role in creating. It will suggest safeguards against possible future abuses.
In a statement originally posted Oct. 30 on his blog, Rabbi Pruzansky expressed concerns that the new committee will "water down the standards" for conversion, and asserted that that the previous system "worked so well for us."
He said "the GPS system did not fail in DC; a person failed." The new committee reflects a larger “climate change," he wrote, adding that “detractors” of the system “are exploiting this crisis” to make changes. He noted that the composition of the new committee, with both men and women, is “bolstering the trend on the Orthodox left to create quasi-rabbinical functions for women.” He questioned whether there is a role for women to play in reviewing the conversion process, which he said is a “purely rabbinical role.”
"There are very few members of the committee who were part of the original committee, which entirely consisted of rabbis," Rabbi Pruzansky wrote in his post. "Of course, they will have to water down the standards — they’ll call it a 'revision' and an 'improvement’ – but I fear we will not be far away from the old days of quickie conversions with little commitment.”
Rabbi Pruzansky accused the RCA of bending to media pressure and promoting "the agenda of feminists." He also criticized men on the original conversion standards committee, whom he said "never liked the GPS guidelines, and do not follow them."
Rabbi Pruzansky is still a member of the RCA's executive committee, on which Rabbi Freundel served before his arrest.
Rabbi Freundel allegedly planted video cameras in the local mikvah and watched women bathe naked. Many of Rabbi Freundel’s alleged victims were female converts.
Rabbi Pruzansky did not respond to a Jewish Week request for comment. In a postscript to his blog Oct. 31, prompted by an error in The Jewish Week’s original report online and a perceived slur, he said he hasn’t spoken to The Jewish Week for 15 years because it is “typical of the sordid state of journalism today.” He described The Jewish Week as “one of the leading publications in the world of Orthodox-bashing and rabbi-bashing.”
“They should apologize,” he wrote. “But, I guess, to follow their way of reporting, both The Jewish Week’s publisher and Julius Streicher (Der Sturmer) published newspapers that dealt a lot with Jews. Same business, I suppose. That’s bad company to be in.”
[Der Sturmer was the central vehicle of the Nazi propaganda machine.]
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, honorary pre president of the RCA and chair of the new conversion committee, declined to comment on Rabbi Pruzansky’s abrupt departure. “It was a personal decision,” he said.
Rabbi Goldin said the new committee represents the largest appointment of women to an RCA committee in the organization's history.
“It is within the best interest of the community for converts to have a system that displays a standardized approach to conversion,” said the rabbi, who explained that the committee will review complaints filed by people going through the conversion process. The committee will convene for the first time next week.
“This change is here to stay,” said Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Though the committee was appointed in response to Rabbi Freundel’s abuse of power and the outrage that ensued, it has hastened a necessary turning point in the Orthodox community, she said.
“Progress happens in different ways, but this is very definitively a positive step forward for the RCA,” she said. “We asked the RCA to be transparent, and they’re being transparent. It’s a huge milestone.”
Note: This story was corrected at 4:07 p.m. on October 30 to reflect that Rabbi Pruzansky stepped down from the Beit Din of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, not the Beth Din of America. It was updated on Oct. 31 at 4 p.m.