Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Two thousand years ago, Juvenal, the satirist of the corrupt Roman legal system asked, “quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” who will watch the watchers?  This question is timeless.

Nechemaya Weberman, faces multiple felony indictments for sexually assaulting a girl between the time she was twelve and fifteen. Weberman found his niche in the subterranean world of Williamsburg’s watchers, the Vaad Hatznius (Modesty Committee). Some people insist he was once a decent honest fellow. If so, he may have learned to be devious by watching the business shenanigans of his peers. I am told he worked for David Niederman’s United Jewish Organizations (UJO). He could have learned a lot about skullduggery working for him.

Weberman entered a new stage in his career when he became one of the watchers over five years ago. Yosef Duvid Kraus is considered the head of the Williamsburg Vaad. Weberman was one of its important activists. His neighbors say he is a successful businessman who voluntarily gives up his time to promote modesty. It is not clear if his business succeeded on its own or is a front for laundering his profits from the Vaad and is maintained by hired managers.

You may ask, how can promoting modesty be so profitable? Your question would betray your naiveté. You are imagining an old-fashioned Vaad, which finds out about sexual misconduct, warns the offender, and if that fails, escalates to harassment, public humiliations or even violence. But we have entered a bold new world in which the Vaad extorts money in the guise of helping the family of an offender protect its reputation.

According to our tradition, a “good reputation is better than precious oil” (tov shem mishemen tov). These days a good reputation greases all transactions. Reputations determine whether kids are admitted to schools or expelled. Marriage matches are made or broken on reputation. When marriages fail, reputation can affect the financial terms and custody arrangements. At every stage, reputation matters.

Here is how the new scam works. One guy from the Vaad shows up and says to Mr. or Mrs. Ploni Almoni, “We are sorry to have to tell you, your teenager was hanging out with the wrong element on the edges of Williamsburg. Her school found out, and they will expel her.” The “wrong element” might be one of the cliques of rogue hasidic teenagers who gather in coed groups and talk to each other. Sometimes a little more happens, and in rare cases, a lot more.

Now the parents are in panic. They can see their daughter’s reputation and marriage prospects falling over the cliff and dragging down the family with them. The parents simmer in anxiety while they wait for the next blow. But, as we say, “the remedy exists before the affliction.” During a follow-up visit the Vaad suggests therapy. “Simple, send your daughter to a therapist, the school will hold off on expulsion, and she will be straightened out.”

However, they are not talking about a licensed professional but a “torah therapist” selected by the Vaad. The fee is around $250 $150 for a one hour session, there are 1-2 sessions a week, and the therapy lasts for 10-20 weeks or more. There is no insurance coverage and fees are not negotiable. Nevertheless, desperate parents cough up the money. The bite depends on the Vaad’s mood and their estimates of the vulnerability and financial situation of the family. I have heard figures in the range of $10,000 to $30,000. A good name is precious It is also very expensive when you buy it from the Vaad.

Variants of this scam can be deployed against anyone, boy, girl, adult philanderer, etc. Other variants of this scam are applied to couples in marital and custody disputes. Sometimes it involves services other than therapy. The common denominator to all these scams is a threat to reputation followed by financial extortion disguised as the purchase of services.

Weberman was definitely involved in such scams, sometimes by making referrals to  another torah therapist and sometimes by taking money from both sides in a martial dispute. He was the therapist of the girl he allegedly raped. It is widely known in the abuse advocacy community that Yaakov Yagen, a torah therapist, also used the office on Classon Avenue where Weberman allegedly assaulted this girl. Yagen, who started in the therapy business with Weberman later set up an an  office in Monsey, NY,  where he saw people referred by Weberman and others.

There is a lot of tension between the brothers Zalman Leib (headquartered in Williamsburg) and Aaron (based in Kiryas Joel) each of whom claims to be the only true Satmar Rebbe. The competing factions regularly sabatoge each other and sometimes come to blows. However, Weberman’s Zaali aligned Vaad and the KJ Aaroni Vaad cooperate when it comes to the bite.

Let’s return to Juvenal’s question, quis custodiet ipsos custodies, who will watch the watchers? Jew’s asked the same question about negius (conflicts of interest) during the Roman Era. When it came to sexual propriety, Jews concluded aiyn apitropos l’aroyos, (you cannot be your own guardian). Men are not supposed to be alone behind locked doors with unrelated females who have reached puberty, even if all parties involved are considered upright and G-d fearing. Williamsburg’s hasidic community has gone far beyond the requirements of Jewish law in restricting interactions between the sexes. It is a thoroughly sexually segregated community.

  • How then did a member of a Vaad Hatznius end up alone with a twelve-year-old girl?
  • Why wasn’t a female therapist seeing this teen girl?
  • Why isn’t the Vaad HaTznius chastising Weberman for violating their norms even if they believe he is innocent of the criminal charges?

When all the details become known, I believe. this will be much more than a story of sex abuse. It will be the sad story of a community that has descended into hypocrisy, corruption and tyranny, all in the name of torah and tznius.

ACTION ANNOUNCEMENT- CALL THE POLICE WITH INFORMATION ABOUT NECHEMYA WEBERMAN. If you have information that can help this investigation call the Brooklyn Police Department, Sex Crimes Unit at (718) 230-4418. Call even if the incidents happened so long ago that they are no longer punishable and even if the incidents happened outside Brooklyn or even the United States. The information you share may help the department successfully prosecute Weberman.

If a pedophile escapes prosecution he can go on to molest dozens or even hundreds of other children. Some of the victims have committed suicide or died of drug overdoses because they couldn’t cope with the anguish. “Do not stand by on the blood of your neighbor.”

DO NOT WAIT TO CALL. DO NOT COUNT ON SOMEONE ELSE DOING THE CALL FOR YOU. YOUR CALL MAY SAVE A LIFE! MAKE THAT CALL!

WARNING: Beware of unlicensed therapists.

Update- Since this post was written the case has finally gone to trial. For trial coverage go here

Update- See also: She Knew She Was In Trouble When Weberman Closed the Door

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21 thoughts on “Who Will Watch the Watchers?

  1. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

    John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902)

  2. Great article, Yerachmiel. The amount of things money is taken for, and the amount of money that is taken, is absolutely disgusting.
    Take, for example, KosherPhones. For about 70-80 $ a month per phone, your cell phone (which also has to look like its from the stone age) will have a hechsher, simaliar to a package of meat, except the meat has a specific, and hopefully reliable Rav, while the phone says ‘Vaad Harabbonim”. Of course, this crazy rip offs’ (they convieniently forgot the Dinim of Ona’ah, which would definitly Assur this) choice of advertisement is a full page ad in the Yated, in which 80% is Shmuel Kamenetzky’s face and a banner headline “The Worst Mishap to Befall our Youth In History”. Underneath, there are the signatures of pretty much every ‘Gadol’ in America and Israel, of whom some don’t even know what a text message is, but they could sign on a paper saying its Assur on all costs. But here’s the catch: The dirty sleazeball, who was going to make a huge profit due to extremely low overhead costs and becoming the world’s only ‘kosher’ cellphone, pried each of these ‘Gedoilim” until he got their signatures. Not one mention in the ad of the price or the ridiculous amount of money the scammer would make.
    If this doesn’t convince you, the despicable Vos Iz Neias ban should.

  3. Nothing new. This happened near the end of Bayis Rishon, where there were a pair of false ‘neviim’ whom each would refer women for ‘treatment’ by telling the women their ‘prophecy’, that the women should be with the other ‘prophet’ in order to fulfill the will of G-d.

    • Not all Chasidim are bad. There are plenty of people in every sect of every religion and culture who are bad. Pedophilia isn’t a problem based on if you are Jewish or Chasidish or Shephardi or Christian or black or white or if you live in a good neighborhood or not. It’s a human problem. And we are all humans. You can’t really point fingers at anyone because this may be happening right under your nose. You just have to remember that it can happen to anyone and take precautionary measures to make sure it doesn’t happen to you and your own.

  4. Your investigative piece of journalism is spot on! I personally know of 2 girls from Satmar’s Bais Rochel Girl’s School (UTA). The girls were about 14, and starting sliding, meaning they were having contact with boys. The school expelled each of them. The parents begged and cried to the school to take them back, and UTA agreed on one condition – they would have to be seen by Yakov Yagen at the rate of $250 per hour at least twice a week. YY is an unlicensed, UNTRAINED, extremely charismatic handsome young man. He saw the girls alone in the famous room with a bed in Classon Ave. These poor parents doled out the money twice a week and guess what the therapy consisted of? To my personal knowledge, he set them up to watch videos! (No, they were not inspirational videos, they were watching Titanic etc….) After talking to them for a while he then left them watching videos to fill in the hour. I write this not because I have info re molestation or worse, but because the racket at UTA must be exposed. Ripping off desperate parents, who keep quiet because they will do anything to keep the kids in school, is truly criminal. Just think of the double jeopardy – at a time when these kids would have benefitted from real therapy – not only are they not getting any therapy, they are watching mind numbing junk! All with the full consent of UTA’s Vaad Hatznius! It begs the question: Was the Vaad Hatznius, who controlled YY, getting a kick-back?

    • Motty,

      Your story also begs the question, is UTA getting a kickback?

      Worse even then watching junk, these kids are getting the message that people don’t really care about standards, just about money?

      Naturally, when these kids become even more cynical the blame is placed on the kids and their families.

  5. It behooves us to think that because a young boy and a girl chat on the outskirts of Williamsburg, they need therapy. The facts belies us, the real people who need therapy are the ones who try to control the ever-parched mind looking for some new experience, which is normal for youngster. The problem is not with the kids, it is the adults, trying to keep their children in the Stone Age. My hope is that the children will find what the really yearn for.

  6. Shmarya Rosenberg posted an excerpt of the above article on Failed Messiah with the title “Extortion In the Name of Modesty,” (http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2011/03/extortion-in-the-name-of-modesty-345.html

    One of his commenter, the inaptly named “Der Emes.” claims that I am merely repeating rantings by Nuchem Rosenberg. I wrote the following in reply:

    Deremes,

    You attribute my story (http://wp.me/pFbfD-AI) to Nuchem Rosenberg. Believe it or not, I knew nothing about this until Weberman was arrested and I began asking around about him. As far as I know, I am the only one to report publicly about these scams in detail. I have heard accounts from people in Williamsburg, Monsey and Kiryas Joel.

    Nuchem Rosenberg has been saying for years that the Vaad was shaking down molesters for 10-20 grand. At first I found his accounts outlandish. Now I conclude he was substantively correct about their corruption and the amounts but ignored the subtlety that the shakedown was disguised as a payment for real services. Still, all in all, it really is a blackmail. Score one for Nuchem.

    Incidentally, all my claims are validated by one or more sources apart from Nuchem. I did not talk to him about details of this story which I started working on after I became aware of it in connection with Weberman’s arrest.

    BTW, contrary to Nuchem’s assertions I have not yet found any incidents where the vaad went after molesters and blackmailed them. In fact it is possible that molesters are less vulnerable because that doesn’t seem to count as a sin. But then, I don’t have any good molester contacts. Nuchem may be right about that as well.

    So, DerEmes, as you so inappropriatey name yourself, you have not succeeded in discrediting my story by linking it to Nuchem Rosenberg. However, you have encouraged me to validate Nuchem’s credibility.

    Nuchem and I thank you.

    Yerachmiel Lopin

  7. “BTW, contrary to Nuchem’s assertions I have not yet found any incidents where the vaad went after molesters and blackmailed them”

    YL i have a story to tell.
    A few years ago I was trying to get reparations from the person who molested me. I basically needed money for therapy. A chasidesha friend of mine gave me a phone number. She told me that the number belongs to a frum “therapist” in Williamsburg who might be able to advise me.
    My husband called the number and the “therapist” told him that for a fee he would “take care” of the perpertrator and we would get as much money as we needed. He hinted that that “some violence” was indicated. Needless to say we did not take him up on his offer.
    Does that answer your question?

  8. I personally was confronted by Kraus when i was 15 yrs old. When I told him to xxxx xxx, he did try to blackmail me, get money from parents etc.. I davened with him on a daily basis in payeh shul as he lived in 222 penn st. that guy is scum of the earth.

  9. its classon “avenue” not street.

    weberman was the real estate agent guy who made comision by filing up hasidim in that huge apartment building where he lives and where he runs there the bais hamedrash.

    i would like you to shed some light on the monsey vaad as well but u have no public email address as far i can see please email me thanks

  10. There was a falafel store on Broadway right by the Marcy train station owned by some really nice Israeli brothers. They used to serve hassidim, hipsters-many of them unaffiliated Jews and other neighborhood characters. The place had the hashgacha of a well respected local hassidic Ruv.

    One day I come in and the younger brother looks down, I asked him ‘whats going on?’ He told me that they had been visited by one of the Williamsburg Vaad Hatzniues. The Vaad had a problem about the location of the restaurant, it facilitated hassidim mixing with the undesirable elements. The owners were told ‘move your restaurant to the ‘Jewish part’ of the community no problem otherwise they would have an issue.’

    The owners consulted their own Rabbi who told them they did not have to move and they gave the Vaad their answer. Shortly after words the local Rav came in and pulled his hashgacha, he admitted there was not issue with the food but he was being pressured by the Vaad and he could not stand up to them or he would have problems. The owners own Rabbi took personal responsibility for the Kashrus as a result but being Safardi, not Hassidic they lost some business. They message had been sent, some customers stayed away other kept going there like myself. A couple of months afterwords the owners closed shop and I think moved the shop some were else. True story, very sad.

  11. A family member of mine in a Satmar community has bipolar. brilliant fellow, but hyper etc. and may have had an affair in the community.

    The Vaad goons visited him. Bottom Line he was fined and had to go to their “therapists”. Cost him $20,000.

    Nice work if you can get it.

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