I first posted this article a year ago on 9/20/12 in anticipation of the trial of Rabbi (sic) Nechemya Weberman. This version was lightly copy edited and includes links not in the original article, and an epilogue.
She was a bad girl. Was it because she talked to boys, or she was dressing too fashionably, or she asked too many questions? That didn’t matter. She was bad and the vaad hatznius (modesty committee) of Williamsburg was willing to fix her, for a hefty fee, of course. The alternative was being stuck with a reputation as a nebbish (loser), an oiysvorf (outcast), and a shiksa (gentile). Once you you acquired that reputation, no decent family would let you marry their son.
Her family’s last hope was a “Torah therapist” who could change her into a good girl. She didn’t know what to expect. But she assumed he would counsel her with words of torah. He would be a rabbi with a reputation for being zealous about Torah and tznius (modesty). That of course meant he would scrupulously observe all the halachos (rules) and minhagim (customs) governing relations between men and women. She was only twelve, just a bat mitzvah, and thus liable for violating any of the halachos applying to a grown woman.
She knew the rules. Din yichud, the rule of seclusion, prohibits an unrelated man and woman from being alone in a closed room. She grew up with those rules. She knew how to avoid violations of yichud. You had to leave a door open if it didn’t have a window. A full door would only be closed if you both knew that someone else could pass through the room unannounced. Then there was tznius, the covering of one’s body from neckline to elbow to below the knee. There was also negiah, the rule against contact with the other sex. On the streets she saw gentile men and women touching each other. But Hasidim didn’t do that. Hasidim even avoided casually talking with the opposite sex. Hasidim were tznuah, shomerei negiah and medakdek (particularly careful) about yichud.
She was driven to an apartment building on Classon Avenue. She went into a small apartment with just a living room/dining room and a small bedroom off to the side. The torah therapy was going to happen in the bedroom. It had a bed, some chairs and a video player. Then the door was closed and bolted down with three locks. It was just her and the “torah therapist” in a closed room.
I am trying to imagine the shock. She probably wanted to be somewhere else. She was probably scared. She was probably anxious, very anxious. She knew this was her last chance to avoid being thrown out of school. She couldn’t complain and she couldn’t argue. She had no one to back her and only the torah therapist in front of her.
I wonder if she asked herself, “Is this my punishment for being a bad girl? Did they send me to this closed room because bad girls aren’t protected by din yichud? Can vaad hatznius (modesty committee) rabbis do anything they want with bad girls?
They abandoned her the moment the door closed. Even if nothing else happened during that first visit she now knew she wasn’t going to be protected by din yichud. She was on her own against someone who made his own rules, someone who could fix her reputation or destroy it.
In a different world all these girls would have known the cardinal rule: “If he makes me uncomfortable, get away, call for help, and tell my parents.” Perhaps a few complained and no one listened to them. Maybe others didn’t listen because they feared the vaad or were being paid by the vaad. Perhaps, others were so prejudiced against these girls that they ignored their complaints. Perhaps, most frightening of all, these girls just surrendered. Weberman had them where he wanted them and he proceeded to shred the shulchan aruch (Code of Jewish Law) as he violated their innocence.
When Weberman got arrested his defenders started screaming pidyon shvuyim (redeem the captive), 20 rabbis signed a call on his behalf and organized a big fundraiser for him. But he is not the captive, it was those girls who were captured. They were the ones who should have been rescued.
When Shechem raped Dinah, her brothers, Shimon and Levy, took their revenge and massacred a whole city. When Yaakov Avinu (our patriarch, Jacob) reproached them, they replied (Bereshis/Genesis 34:31), “הַכְזוֹנָה, יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת-אֲחוֹתֵנוּ, Will our sister be turned into a whore?” This is the answer you expect from tznius kanoim (modesty zealots).
That wasn’t the answer in Williamsburg because Weberman had friends in high places. Weberman was the molester but the girls were pimped to him by the Satmar and Pupa’s girls schools and the Williamsburg vaad hatznius. They sold these Jewish girls into znus (sexual misconduct). I believe they did it for their share of his exorbitant “torah therapy” fee of $150 a session. Otherwise, I cannot fathom how they could send girls to an apartment without asking more questions. But bribes blind the eyes of judges, and money quiets a questioning heart and a troubled conscience.
Some will argue that I am unfair. Perhaps they did not know the details. Perhaps Weberman misled them into believing everything was proper. If so, when they discovered how he betrayed them, they should have shifted gears into vaad style violence against Weberman and his confederates. There should have posted pashkavilim naming him and declaring tzei tamei (go away you impure one!). They should have pressed Weberman to return all his ill-gotten gains. Someone should have asked Elijah’s question of Ahab, haratzachtah v’gam yirashtah (will you murder and also inherit)? Will you have the chutzpah to get paid for sexually assaulting girls?
Instead I suspect that the vaad, her Bais Rochel school, Rabbi David Niederman, and others are sitting on their share of the extortion. In their determination to protect themselves they have become active participants in this absurd pidyon shvuyim campaign to pay for Weberman’s lawyers. After all, if he pleads guilty he might start bargaining for a shorter sentence by telling the truth about his confederates in crime.
Weberman is not a captive who needs redeeming; he is a cunning animal who should be caged. His defenders aren’t interested in redeeming a captive; they are desperate to protect their own reputations and rackets.
The captives were the girls led into his bedroom. Goyim (gentiles) didn’t capture those girls, Jews sent them there. Goyim didn’t violate those girls. It was a vaad hatznius kanoi (zealot) that abused and violated them for months and years. Yet nobody in Satmar’s administration is worrying about ransoming those girls. Nobody is crying out for their right to justice. Nobody is begging them for mechilah (forgiveness). No one is offering them reparations to pay for real therapists to heal their wounds.
Instead they are threatening and slandering the witness and those close to her. These unrepentant extortionists, rapists, and pimps should tremble before yom hadin (the day of judgement, Yom Kippur). We should do our best to bring them to justice.
EPILOGUE: Since I posted this article a year ago on 9/20/12, many more victims of Weberman came out to their families and friends. In December of 2012 a jury convicted Weberman on all 59 counts and Judge John Ingram sentenced him to 103 years. Even with the legally required downward adjustments to fifty years, and time off for good behavior, Weberman will die in jail unless he lives past a hundred.
The media coverage of Satmar was devastating to their reputation in the secular world and large portions of the orthodox world. The two feuding brothers who lead Satmar, Zalman Leib and Aaron Teitelbaum, both supported Weberman, one through a fund raiser for his trial expenses, and the other, by publicly calling the victim a whore. This led to unprecedented protest demonstrations in Hasidic Williamsburg which garnered major media coverage. The trial and verdict was covered by many important mainstream media outlets and was uniformly critical of Satmar’s culture of supporting molesters. The sole, bizarre, secular-media exception was The Forward’s Batya Ungar-Sargon (which led to the creation of a FaceBook group, Forward Watch).
At this point about half of the Satmar community is convinced of his guilt, though almost none of them will admit this to outsiders.
As of July, 2013, a half year since he was sentenced, Weberman has not filed a single motion or appeal to challenge his conviction. I am sure he would have pursued legal remedies if he had the money. But the community is not willing to contribute because they are convinced he is guilty, appealing his conviction is hopeless, and they want to avoid more bad publicity.
Nevertheless, the code of omerta lives on, with nasty attacks on the victim for being a moser (snitch). The business of her father, publishing a Jewish directory for Brooklyn, was destroyed by persuading advertisers to switch to a new alternative created just to destroy him. Just a few weeks ago, when the victim attended Rosh Hashanah services in Williamsburg where she was visiting her parents, she was loudly and publicly cursed as a snitch, forcing her to leave.
In the end, the trial was a victory for justice which protected children from one notorious molester, but the Satmar culture of protecting abusers was not dented. Nor will it be until those obstructing justice by intimidating or bribing witnesses are prosecuted and given hefty prison sentences, something which has never been done in the last twenty-four years. Hopefully, incoming Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson will reverse this pattern which amounts to prosecutorial discrimination against Jewish children.