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

From the Frum Follies archives. First posted 3/14/2013

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.


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

  1. Dear Yerachmiel

    It was a long article, I hope you’ll excuse me for not having read the thing till the end. I think I got the gist of it though.

    I am Haredi and do not believe that Weberman received the fair punishment commensurate with his crime. I to think he’s probably guilty of both prolonged sexual abuse and of initiating a disgusting intimidating coverup. Yes he deserved additional punishment for not pleading guilty and not exhibiting remorse for his crimes.

    I do not think that the American Justice system with its way out of proportionate sentences and guidelines is Moral. A life sentence should be viewed as seriously as if you were depriving this person of life. You don’t lock someone up so that they will no longer be a danger for society, that reasoning went out the window when mandatory sentencing kicked in. It is all about punishment and it is overall harsh. Use any metric you want, rate of incarceration compared to other countries, history of incarceration in this country, etc.

    More people are getting locked up for longer periods of time for less serious offenses.
    Is Rape serious? you bet. is it murder? Well if it is like murder, than what is murder like? mass murder?

    There is something about these sentences that offends my psyche. Less the case with Weberman vs say Rubashkin, but still, it is excessive. Webermans victim will likely (although not definitely) carry this abuse with her forever. But Is she alive? is she able to breathe free air? Get a job? Start a family?

    Justice has to in some way be commensurate with the crime. If it is not it is comparable to vigilante justice. It makes not difference that this is sanctioned to the highest levels of American society today. It is wrong.

    As a Jewish person I feel a moral obligation to do what I feel is right, and not to just align my sensibilities with what society thinks is right, at this moment. I know many of my brethren feel the same even if they cannot articulate it.

    This is ONE of the reasons why abuse is being swept under the rug. We just have a mistrust of the justice system. Of course there are many other reasons, both religious, cultural and historical. But another reasons is we just plain don’t trust the authorities, they are way to heavy handed and out of proportion.

    All in all I believe the 50 year sentence of Weberman did more to harm the victims of sexual abuse in the long run, than the asifah (to raise funds for Weberman) did in the short run

    • You say that the long Weberman sentence contributes to abuse being swept under the rug. I don’t buy that because abuse was being swept under the rug for the last 50 years. Until the Lebovits conviction in 2010 there was no lengthy sentences. Moreover, Both Weberman and Lebovits could have taken very reasonable plea bargains. Even if they went to trial they would have probably gotten much shorter sentences but they showed contempt for the court and chutzpah that may have angered the judge. Both had witnesses who blatantly perjured themselves on the stand. Weberman put up a witness who claimed there was no vaad hatznius in Williamsburg. Huh!

      I happen to think sentences are too long in in the US, across the board. But most Haredim have the supported the law and order nonsense for years that has filled our prisons to overflowing. What you cannot do is say that long sentences are only for goyim. If you want to say you are for sentencing reform, I am with you. But I have no sympathy for the idea that we should feel specifically sorry for Weberman or should believe that his long sentence is an important factor in why the haredi world consistently defends some of its worst menuvalim.

    • In order to proclaim something is unreasonable, you must have a point of comparison. I.e., if you have no experiance in the criminal justice system, simply making a broad statement that a sentence is unfair has no context or legitmacy.

      In my experience, I have found that sentencing structures are very fair. Where people make mistakes is in compariing crimes. No one disagrees that murder is worse than molestation. In fact, every state I’ve ever examined, agrees with that perspective. A molestation will carry a 5 year max and murder will be 25-life. The mistake is made when the perp has molested repeatedly.

      It isnt right to compare 1:1. It’s much greater than that. If a person committed 100 acts of molestation, should he effectively get a discount? If each carries a 5 year max, should we say that murder only has 25 years and therefore we should only count 5 molestations and discount 95? Does that make sense at all? Get a discount because of your repeated harmful, dangerous, anti-social, etc. conduct? In fact, it isnt 1:1, its 1:100. 1 act of murder vs 100 acts of molestation. Murder carries a significanly larger sentence, but when you stack crimes, a “lesser” crime can have a greater sentence than a more severe crime.

  2. I didnt say it was the only factor.

    Look, we (at least i) live in an historically insular community. Mistrust of authorities runs deep. Even though the attitudes towards abuse are slowly changing, there is still that fear that “they” are not here for our good. I share this feeling. If I saw abuse happening I would instinctively want to report, but would also be making a calculation about how the authorities would view it.

    In other words, since the authorities have so much power I am hesitant to trust them. Even in the case of Plea Bargains; you have to be crazy not to take a plea if the differential between a guilty plea and a guilty verdict is 47 years!

    It certainly is a factor. Also these guidelines are relatively new, for me at least there was an awakening during the Rubashkin trial that still remains.

    The fact that Haredim are not socially conscious is not really relevant. I doubt we could make much of a difference to prevailing attitudes of justice even if we felt strongly about it.

    I watched as Rubashkin exhausted every legal avenue to try to reverse or reduce his sentence. The Haredi press covers every aspect and twist in his ongoing proceedings. Not once did I see anyone argue for a change of sentencing guidelines which is the real crux of the injustice in his case.

    If we advanced our own ideas of social and criminal justice, do you think anyone would notice or care?

    • The US criminal justice system is imperfect. For that matter, beit din can also make mistakes. There is a whole mesechta harayos precisely because no system or judge is perfect. However, the alternative of no justice system is even worse. That is why bnai noach are mechuyav to have courts.

      BTW, I am not aware of a single falsely convicted Haredi molester. Not one. If anything, the problem is that most are not reported and even when they are reported, the victims are often pressured and bribed into withdrawing their charges. I am not aware of anyone who took a guilty plea who was innocent of sex abuse in the orthodox community. People who can afford decent lawyers do alright in the criminal justice system. They guys who are railroaded are the poor schmendriks who cannot afford a decent lawyer.

  3. “Innocent Convict”.

    Now that’s an oxy moron isn’t it? Obviously if they were found guilty than they can’t be innocent right?

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