Only one publication in the entire English language press outside the control of the ultra orthodox Jewish world has come out in defense of Nechemaya Weberman who was recently sentenced to 103 years for sexually molesting a girl from when she was 12 to 15 years old. Incredibly, it was the Jewish Daily Forward, the old vehicle of anti-religious Yiddish-speaking socialists. They published two articles by Batya Ungar-Sargon, an English literature graduate student, posing as an expert in criminal justice. In the first she attacked the trial as a bigoted attack on Satmar. In her second she attacked the 103 year sentence.
In response to her first article I submitted the following comment on the Forward’s website.
The media onslaught did not arise from any generalized dislike of the community. The community raised a half a million and then tried to use it to bribe a witness. Unfortunately this is typical Satmar behavior.Similarly, the trial revealed a pattern of extorting parents into using Weberman and paying handsomely for the dubious privilege. The trial established that this was routine practice, imposed by the school and enforced by vigilantes of the Modesty Committee. When such thuggery is normative it makes a community look bad. When a jerk on the street calls a 12-year-old rape victim, a whore, there is no story. However, their grand rabbi said it in a public event to an enthusiastic crowd. This was Rush Limbaugh on steroids in Yiddish.
Satmar has some attractive qualities. But when it comes to sex abuse they are worse than the Catholic Church or Penn State. While the Catholic Church continues to cover up abuse, at least it publicly embraces a no-tolerance policy and has reached out to victims and apologized. Penn State covered up and enabled Jerry Sandusky. But when the scandal was revealed their trustees purged all the culpable officials. PennState never offered to pay for Sandusky’s defense and never mounted a PR campaign on Sandusky’s behalf. Present day Satmar is a combination of of the worst traits of the Catholic Church and Penn State.
Since when does pluralism mean defending any aspect of a culture, even when it hideously fosters and tolerates vile abuse of children and the protection of their molesters What next? Will the Forward rise to the defense of the mafia, Mexican drug cartels, and American street gangs if the prosecution includes aspects of their culture to explain details during a trial.
Some aspects of Satmar culture were appropriately allowed as testimony. The extortion that brought the girl into Weberman’s clutches involved a unique aspect of Satmar culture. She was sent there because of modesty code violations. Weberman’s violation of rules barring seclusion suggested that, his protestations of religiosity notwithstanding, he did not abide by his sect’s religious code. This was relevant because his defense included the assertion that he would not do such things as an observant Jew. So the prosecution rightfully impugned his credibility as a witness.
Most shamefully, this article globally lumped all Hasidim together. Inside the community there is growing dissent to the tolerance for abuse. This was evident in demonstrations by victim supporters reported by your Yiddish writer, Rukhl Shaechter, last month. Another demonstration by dissident Hasidim was covered by national media but ignored by your writer. I am glad the Forward wants to make up for unvarnished hostility to ultra orthodoxy in its early years. But don’t do it at the expense of accurate reporting and abused children. Don’t swing from globally negative portraits to romanticism. Do the hard work of understanding the culture.
The old Forward did not have much use for Jewish religion but it loved the Yiddish language and aggressively promoted social justice for the poor. The new sensationalist Forward on display in these article doesn’t have much use for social justice, but just loves Satmar defenders of perverts like Nechemya Weberman.
Dear secularists, G-d forbid, if you’ll pardon the expression, these articles will make Abraham Cahan roll over in his grave. They also turn my stomach.