The Hasidic Definition of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Which Is Not Understood By Reporters

Ask the Hasid on the street, “I know you say Nechemya Weberman is innocent, but what if he is guilty?” Without hesitation she or he will say, “Then let him rot in jail.” They really mean it. But they will never publicly participate in the criminal justice system to attain that goal. In fact, even after they are convinced of guilt, as many are in Weberman’s case, they will continue to participate in the charade of protests, fundraisers for legal appeals, and pious lamentations about the tragedy of a harsh sentence imposed on a Jew. They will even claim that secular juries are so prejudiced against Hasidim that there is no such thing as a fair trial for Hasid.  Even when they think a verdict is correct they consider it an accident of justice. They will privately rejoice in this accident of secular justice but will go right on trashing secular authorities. This is hardly surprising,  contemporary Hasidism is based upon rejecting most of secular society, especially its culture and criminal justice system.

Even when Hasidim say, “Let him rot in jail,” they aren’t thinking about a sentence of ten years, let alone twenty, thirty, forty or 103 years. I hear people saying, “Sure he is guilty, but why can’t they give him just a few years in jail?” They forget that Weberman could have pleaded guilty and gotten a five-year sentence. They are ignoring that fact that a long sentence is typical for these sorts of charges after conviction at a trial. They are even ignoring the fact that if all his hundreds of victims had come forward his likely sentence of 103 years would translate into just a year per victim  or just a week for each act of molestation.

The thing that does convince Hasidim of the guilt of one of their own is a complaint by another of their own shared privately by someone who has honored the code of omerta. In Weberman’s case there are about ten other women, inside the community, who have talked about their abuse by Weberman. I am pretty sure there are many others I do not know about. These women shared their stories with Mrs. Pearl Engelman, Mrs. Judy (Henchy) Genut, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz. But these informed sources who passed on the reports also don’t count because they have also broken the code and gone public. At least six of these victims also went to the District Attorney and reported on their abuse but were unwilling to testify during the trial because they knew what would happen to them if they did. Oh, did I forget to mention, that most of these women also reported the abuse to prominent rabbis and dayonim (rabbinical judges)?  These rabbis believed the accounts and privately shared them with other rabbis and communal movers and shakers (askanim). But almost all of them will fall into line and sign public proclamations that Rabbi Weberman is a good man, a victim of a blood libel who needs to be rescued from his terrible fate.

Officially, Satmar will go on proclaiming his innocence till the day he dies. But the lies they tell the world aren’t necessarily believed inside the community. “Six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon” is not a kosher algorithm. Inside Satmar, it is more like three degrees that separate one Hasid from another. It is a small inbred community with connections arising from shared neighborhoods, schools, shuls, mikvaot, commercial connections, and above all marriage connections. When you have large families and marriage between the ages of 17 and 20, everyone ends up being family to everyone else.

Lashon Horah (gossip) is a sin, but it is a hard sin to resist, especially in a very status-conscious community where people judge each other by demanding standards and are constantly evaluating each other for many reasons, including prospective marriage matches. Scolds denounce  lashon horah, but it marches right on. Chattering away during prayer services is chastised, but the hum of gossip is the background music track  in most shuls. Nuchem Rosenberg rants about licentious activities in men’s mikvaot (ritual immersion facilities) but lashon horah is the much more common violation. By now, Nechemyah Weberman has been tried and judged on the gossip circuit and his reputation is mud. At this point there are a lot of people, perhaps even a majority, who are convinced of his guilt. But don’t expect many of them to ever go public and say it to the outside world. Rest assured, if by some miracle he manages to get out of jail, hardly anyone will trust him again. The marriage prospects of his children are now in the toilet. Sure they will find someone, especially if he managed to stash away enough cash, but they will be inferior matches, way below those he could have gotten even if convicted in court but not on the gossip circuit.

This is nicely illustrated in a series of posts in Circus Tent by Hasidic blogger, Hershel Tzig. After a long studied silence he finally blurts out,

So… you wanna know what I think about the Weberman trial, eh? One thing’s for sure, a fair trial he’ll never get, even if it is being judged in court! And I could care less what Yankee (sic) Horowitz says. All the supporters of the victim already decided that he’s guilty, just because. The press is calling him a “monster-Rabbi.” The allegations are already fact. So what chance does he REALLY have. In my very humble opinion it’s only a question of how much time he’ll get.

Only at the end of this outburst does Hirshel Tzig add on, “I really don’t know if he did it or not.” I give Hirshel credit for publicly conceding he is not sure Weberman is innocent. Having finally broken his silence, his rather erudite crew of readers chimed in with seventy five comments. Quite a few trashed me as someone who only focuses on the bad in the community and associates with the  haredi hating scandal sheet Failed Messiah. I actually felt complimented to know that some of them read my blog even though one of them wrote, “Here is the way it works. I see something [and] form an opinion. If I can’t decide then I see what Lopin thinks. Whatever he says, the opposite is usually true. Thank you Mr. Lopin, the twisted pretzel.”  In this guy’s book, seeing the other side of an issue is twisting the truth.

I was even more surprised by Hirshel’s next post by a guest writer who conceded Weberman’s guilt a day after his conviction. He wrote,

 I was privy to new information about Nechemia, and it wasn’t good. Not from any self-proclaimed “child advocate,” but from a close relative of another alleged victim. Someone who is very [much] part and parcel of the establishment. He had no bones to pick, until now. Now NW is a monster to him too. Upon hearing this I decided that I could not in good faith write any words in his defense, even if it’s just [true] that the trial was skewed against him.

There you have it in a nutshell. Courts are irrelevant to the determination of guilt or innocence. People who publicize child abuse in the community should not be believed because they have an agenda. The only proof of guilt is a report by a pious loyal community insider who would never go to the police. The only time to even admit the last point is when the conviction is already on the books, so admitting it won’t hurt the molesting bastard in both the courts of law and public opinion. In all of this Hirshel is still a deviant because his blog has conceded Weberman’s guilt in public and in English. He usually writes his nastiest criticisms of his own world and his own Chabad camp in Yiddish.

I wrote this post because I am bothered by secular media coverage of this case. They miss the boat when they report that almost all of the community believes Weberman is innocent. Thy get suckered by Hasidic respondents who say, “He is innocent” or, “There is no molesting in our community.” I parodied this absurd public stance in my satire about Alan Dershowitz writing a book, Much More Chutzpah: How Satmar Hasidim Do It. But however much I criticize Satmar, I do not want to leave the world with the impression that they are utterly indifferent to the abuse of their children or stupid enough to still believe he is innocent.

While the rank and file care about their children, they are hamstrung  because they trust, or at least obey leaders who regularly cover up abuse, and because they stigmatize victims of abuse as “damaged goods” even when they believe them. They are not indifferent, but they are pathetically incompetent and incapacitated in confronting the problem even as they become more aware of its dimensions.

The secular  media are being suckered by Satmar. They are given the official line for outsiders. Those reporters smart enough to know better don’t care. If the community is dumb enough to make itself look stupid and uncaring, reporters are quite content to run with the quote. It makes for a good story. But this isn’t entirely stupid on the part of Satmar leadership. What they lose in the outside world they gain inside. The community is upset when it portrayed as uncaring. It is true that they bring it on themselves by sticking to the party line. However, if the secular reporters want to tell the true story, they will have to work harder at looking under the hood.


12 thoughts on “The Hasidic Definition of “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Which Is Not Understood By Reporters

  1. Maybe so however the net result is that abusers are not exposed and not prosecuted. I understand that the Satmar have utter contempt for the rest of us and don’t care what we think of them. If there were evidence that molesters were shunned by the Satmar the way the Amish shun those who deviate from their lifestyle and were hermetically walled off from Satmar society and from further contact with children then I might be willing to accept the premise of this story which is that the Satmar are somehow dealing appropriately with their molesters but that we lazy seculars don’t quite get it. So what if their gossip circuit condemns these people – what are the consequences to them, personally, financially, socially – aside from their own innocent children becoming unmarriageable or nearly so? It’s all perverse and to my way of seeing and thinking very depraved and morally bankrupt.

    • I agree with most of what you say. However, it is not the premise of my story that Satmar is “dealing appropriately with their molesters.” My premise is that even when they are convinced someone is guilty as all hell they lie to outsiders and claim that someone is innocent. I just want reporters to stop being suckered into believing the sound bites they broadcast. Instead they should start reporting that no one is willing to admit to outsiders what they know, that x or y is guilty. Weberman is widely seen as guilty inside the world of Satmar.

      • “Premise” perhaps is not quite the right term to have used. How, though, does one square the reportedly negative view of Weberman now taken by the Satmar version of the Twittersphere with their having closed ranks behind him earlier and having raised all sorts of money and with their having tried to buy off witnesses? The knowledge of what he did was as common among them then as it is now, isn’t that right? Sadly I think I can answer my own somewhat rhetorical question – they closed ranks not so much behind him as against the secular world which threatened to drag their little closed society into a world of hurt and negative attention via the justice system.

        Regardless of that, the Weberman tumor has been excised, the wound through which he was removed seems to have healed without a scar and life goes on among the Satmar without a ripple visible (to non-Satmars) on the surface of their community life. As someone once said, still waters run deep and dirty. There’s still some very foul debris beneath the surface of Lake Satmar.

        • I agree with the problems you ascribe to Satmar. From what I have heard, over time since his arrest and especially his conviction a lot more of the negative stuff about him came out. They complain about the criminal justice system but it provoked the discussion. In fact, before his arrest he was not on the radar of the anti abuse activists in Williamsburg. In contrast, Yegutkin, Lebovits, Dascalowitz and George Finkelstein were widely known as child molesters.

  2. Constitutionally a trial requires a “jury of one’s peers”. To me that means shomer Shabaos Jews.

    • Judah,

      Welcome to America where we are all citizens. If you prefer, call it golus. As golus goes this is pretty good; Jews have full equal rights and equal responsibilities. We get to practice our religion as we wish. Jews get to participate in the political system at very high levels. A jury of peers is a jury of all Americans with no systematic exclusions. A Muslim terrorist does not get to demand that Jews are excluded from a jury. White Klansmen don’t get to exclude African Americans. Frum Jews don’t get to demand that a jury excludes anyone who is not orthodox.

      Frankly, I am appalled at your comment. It tells me that the state of Frum education is even worse than I thought and it does not seem to even include elementary citizenship.

  3. I think this post was very good, very important and worth repeating. I appreciated your taking the time to say how the world looks from the Satmar perspective, and how you show they are not idiots with no sense of reality or evidence. There is a tendency for many to follow Failed Messiah, who when he finds an injustice or stupidity throws the person or group overboard. There is nothing good that can then be said, no shades of grey, nothing positive which might outweigh the negatives. This methodology effects our perception and judgement of other cases, cases not involving evil molesters but secondary and tertiary sins,cases like Rebbetzin Shkop and Rabbi Hershel Schecter. Anger, rage are emotions that if allowed to dominate become inflated and in the end what starts out as a passion for justice ends up as a raging mob.

  4. Surely you jest. Manis Friedman, Ester Shkop et al cause incredible psychic damage to the survivors, insult on injury. it is really unimaginable, their statements, their points of view..
    Raging mob??? give me a break here, that is delusional. Go send your kids to one of these Charidi schools, or even to a lubavitch yeshiva in Australia or Paris, go ahead, just do it. Raging mob?, what a crock. and re Shechter, about whom i know far less, from the various sites, he is exactly a cohort with the other two, busha v’cherpa a shonda, Jewish educators. Totally outrageous and in many ways even more harmful than the predators, because they invalidate the pain and trauma the survivors experience. It is like the second round of betrayal. yes betrayal, first by the pedophile, and then by the expert, the Manis” of this world, the damage done by his attitude and his words are so extraordinarily injurious to a survivor. The man is not fit to deal with people. i do not care about any past good that may be attributed to him and as for Ester, she panicked, but panic does not bring out falsehoods, What she said is what she believed, in less panicked mode, she might have modulated it.

    • All three cases you cite, I mentioned only two, are hardly identical. Rabbi Friedman told the victims to get over it, the other two did no such thing.I would also deny that saying get over it and move on is more harmful than the initial predators. Someone, a chassidisher yid, once stole a $100,000 from my father. He was very angry because in those days such a sum wasn’t earned easily. After a while his friends and family pushed him to move on etc. Their telling him to get over it was not worse than the original theft, even if it was largely ineffectual, as such advice usually is.

      Your response is an example of how for some nothing positive can be said once a heretofore widely respected person does not accept your ideas how these cases ought to be treated.

      • There is a difference between “move on” in spite of the injustice” and merely “get over it” which invalidates the original complaint. From the full transcript of Manis’ talk it is clear he is trivializing abuse. Esther Shkop clearly is saying that abuse should not be talked about. Shachter is clearly ignorant about the nature of the experience of abuse.

        I agree, those of us who have suffered an injustice which can never be totally repaired must find ways to move forward. But it is easier to do it when there is some validation of our complaint.

  5. Yerachmiel, this is by far one of the best pieces you’ve ever written. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!!

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