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No More Room Under the Carpet

While Weberman is behind bars, many are still unnamed and continue to destroy the souls of young boys and girls because of a conspiracy of silence surrounding rabbinical sexual misconduct.

The case was horrific. A 17-year-old girl from the Satmar community in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn testified that she was forced by her school to attend “counseling sessions” from age 12 to 15 because she wore stockings that were too thin and asked too many questions about God. Instead of religious mentoring, three times a week she found herself behind a thrice-locked door with a bed, face to face with a fifty-ish, overweight, unlicensed “counselor,” a father of ten who forced her to watch pornographic movies and perform sexual acts.

The defendant, Nechemya Weberman, had risen from the humble post of driver for the Satmar Rebbe to the go-to expert to whom rebellious young girls were forcibly sent. According the victim’s mother, Weberman charged her $150 an hour, and demanded thousands of dollars up front.

At one point, when he insisted on taking her young daughter on a 12-hour, unchaperoned excursion upstate, the victim’s mother finally protested. His response? An angry demand for a written apology, and a threat to stop the sessions, which would have resulted in the girl’s expulsion from school.

“What could I do? I wrote it… [Now] I feel like I want to kill myself. How could I have been so blind?” she said.

Satmar in America has rallied around Weberman, holding a fund-raiser for his legal defense, and allegedly dispatching members of the community to alternately bribe and harass the victim and her family. These efforts are said to have included an offer of half a million dollars in exchange for the girl and her new husband leaving the country, throwing her nieces out of school, and revoking her husband’s restaurant hechsher (kosher certificate), putting him out of business.

With incredible bravery and tenacity, the victim refused to give up, going on to endure a grueling 15-hour, three-day cross-examination by Weberman’s high-powered legal firm, something prosecutors said they had never, ever seen done to any victim of sexual assault.

Weberman supporters say he was convicted without any DNA evidence, i.e., no Monica Lewinsky blue dress. It was his word against hers.

Obviously, however, the jury believed her, convicting him on all 59 counts, including sustained sex abuse of a child and endangering the welfare of a child. He faces a maximum of 117 years in prison.

Sadly, Weberman’s is not an isolated case. People like him are all over the religious world at every level, possessing the perfect opportunity to exploit their lofty, respected status as spiritual leaders to put themselves beyond suspicion, assured that victims will be too intimidated to come forward.

What is remarkable about the Weberman case is that the victim and her family pursued the case and that the victim received support from the religious community, mostly outside of Satmar, who held public protests against those besmirching her name.

These included Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum himself, one of two Satmar rebbes, who was widely quoted as saying to an overflow crowd of men on a Saturday night Melave Malka: “I was in Williamsburg this Shabbat and saw an entire community saddened by what is going on. It’s a dreadful situation… A Jewish daughter has descended so low, terrible. ‘Is our sister to be like a whore?’ …When they go down, they go down to the ground.”

I was also encouraged by the statement issued about the case by the Rabbinical Council of America, which stated that the RCA “decries any invocation of Jewish law or communal interests as tools in silencing victims or witnesses from reporting abuse or from receiving therapeutic and community support and strongly condemns those members of the Jewish community who use such tactics.”

But while Weberman is behind bars, many are still unnamed and continue to destroy the souls of young boys and girls because of a conspiracy of silence surrounding rabbinical sexual misconduct even in such respected modern Orthodox institutions as Yeshiva University.

The Forward recently published a shocking exposé describing a decades-long cover-up by the YU administration of rabbinical misconduct by two rabbis (both of them now living and working in Israel). Since the article was published, 11 more victims have come forward.

Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel, who was not at YU when the alleged abuse took place, has been vociferous in his condemnation of such a cover-up: “The actions described represent heinous and inexcusable acts that are antithetical both to Torah values and to everything that Yeshiva University stands for. They have no place here – or anywhere at all.”

The statement goes on to publish a hotline for victims, as well as his own personal phone and email contact information. I find that admirable. But the fact remains that in the past YU ignored victims’ claims and allowed the perpetrators to get off.

The trial of deeply respected rabbinical leader Mordechai Elon on sexual abuse allegations leaves many of us, myself included, conflicted. While in our hearts we would like to see Rav Elon – once one of the most beloved and respected teachers and leaders of modern Orthodoxy in Israel – completely exonerated, on the other hand, his victory would discredit the important and groundbreaking Takana panel set up to hear charges of abuse from victims of sexual assault and which acted in good faith to protect the victims by banning Elon from teaching.

Such an outcome would be a tragedy that would set back the progress made in giving victims a voice, and the community a responsibility to act quickly and resolutely to prevent such tragedies in the future.

What is undeniably a good thing over which we may all rejoice is that the entire topic of rabbinical sexual abuse has come out of the closet, much the way similar abuses by priests is no longer a dirty little secret.

I hope and pray that Weberman will sit behind bars for many, many years and that the appeal process and some highly-paid legal team (his supporters are supposedly trying to raise a million-dollar defense fund and to hire Alan Dershowitz) will not get him off. I hope his punishment will serve as an encouragement for more victims to come forward, and as a deterrent to those in the religious world who have motive, opportunity and the feeling that their pious act and high-up friends will shield them from the law if they choose to unleash their sexual desires, thereby destroying the lives and souls of the young people in their care.

I hope it will empower really pious religious leaders to strongly and publicly support victims, and convince parents and educators to listen, and act. Most of all, I hope it will help to eradicate the wall of silence that has the religious world bending to intimidation from within and from without about sexual predators in its midst.

As the brave victim of Nechemya Weberman who brought down Satmar’s veil of secrecy was quoted as saying: “I am doing this so that no other young person will suffer what I did.”

God willing, may that be true.

This was first published in the Jerusalem Post on 28 December 2012.

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19 comments on “No More Room Under the Carpet”

  1. piracetam

    Secondly, I know for a fact that one of weberman’s character witnesses were physically intimate with him, whether it was consensual or forced I can’t attest to, but she was certainly a minor at the time either way. The sad truth is that she is still under his grip, which trust me is way stronger than any of you can imagine, and therefore she will do anything to protect him. (Yes, including perjury). There are many other victims like myself, I know because we speak on a daily basis, which will not come out against him in effort to protect their identity. Either because they are now living happy lives and refuse to disrupt it for anyone else’s personal gain or because their statute of limitation is over so they can’t take legal action anyway. Why put yourself through the torture the other victim who did confront him endured, if legally it won’t hold any grounds. I also know for a fact that there are testimonies from MARRIED WOMAN who had consensual relations with this pig. Yes everyone you saw right “An Aishes Ish”. However, this information is not actionable since the both participants were more than willing, and overage. Of course from a legal standpoint these facts are irrelevant since being a sick perverted animal, isn’t a felony.

  2. piracetam

    While Weberman is behind bars, many are still unnamed and continue to destroy the souls of young boys and girls because of a conspiracy of silence surrounding rabbinical sexual misconduct.

  3. piracetam

    When hundreds of victims of sexual abuse agreed in 2007 to settle their claims against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles for $660 million, they did so with the understanding that confidential church files that contained the full story of what officials knew, and when they knew it, would become public.

  4. Diego

    A few comments/questions:1) It is unaifr, in my opinion, to criticize YU for its (mis)handling of the allegations 30 years ago. Back then, we both Orthodox Jewry and society in general had no idea how rampant this was, and that outwardly decent and honorable people are capable of such crimes. It was normal and acceptable back then to dismiss isolated accusations of this nature. I am 100% sure that if allegations were made against a YU staff member today, the administration would take it seriously.2) Do you have any thoughts as to why we are producing so many molesting rabbis? Two rabbis with whom I was directly involved in my youth have been convicted of molestation, and two others have been publicly accused. Besides the need to expose and indict abusers, is there a way our educational system can address the problem at its core by doing something to stop youngsters from growing into molesting rabbis?3) For whatever it’s worth, after the original Forward article was published, there was a follow-up article in which at least person who identified himself by name corroborated the allegations. So they’re not all anonymous.4) In your view, even assuming the allegations are correct and several decades ago the men in question committed horrible acts either criminal or creepy should they be allowed to continue teaching Torah and/or working in Jewish communal service? Or do these offenses disqualify them for life?5) Knowing what we know now, I can’t help but feel uneasy every time I open a sefer. If distinguished rabbis of today can have this ugly side to them, isn’t it possible that gedolim of yesteryear had similar issues? Perhaps some of the leading poskim and mechabrim whose sefarim we use were also secretly abusers? And if they were, does that matter? Am I wrong for harboring such discomfitting thoughts? The reports over the last decade or so are obviously very disillusioning for many of us, and we need to somehow to regain confidence in rabbinic leadership both past and present.

  5. Gladiadores

    Most victims who cohsoe not to come forward when they can prosecute do not, in fact, cohsoe at all. They are children. They are either too traumatized by what they have endured and too focused on survival to tell anyone or simply too little to make any well-informed, well-reasoned, meaningful choice of their own and their parents make that choice for them. Blaming the victim is bad enough. But blaming the child-victim ?I am the mother of a boy who was molested over a number of years by his assistant principal, along with dozens of other boys in his cheder. As soon as we found out, we went straight to the police and our son’s molester was prosecuted by the State. My son testified on videotape (we are not in the US) and my husband testified at trial. Almost NO ONE ELSE allowed their children to come forward and NO ONE joined us as witnesses at trial. My son was the only complainant of record. His molester was acquitted.While I have plenty to say about the other victims’ parents, I most assuredly don’t hold their young children responsible for their parents’ irresponsible choices. And in fact, I pity them because one day they will hopefully reach a place where they are ready to make their own choice to speak out against this serial molester and warn others about him and they will have no legal recourse since the statute of limitations will have expired. Speaking out is not about revenge; it’s about shining a light on a very dark and ugly corner and exposing the filth hiding there so others know to be careful. Which is, in fact, well within the bounds of hilchos lashon hara l’toeles.If you’re really interested in meaningful improvement of the situation, instead of telling survivors to shut up, push for extending the statute of limitations so that by the time child-victims are emotionally ready to prosecute, there is still judicial recourse. In the meantime, I for one hope that when my son’s friends are older and hopefully have healed from their trauma (and their anger at their parents) regardless of whether they are within or without the statute of limitations, which is far too short, they will CHOOSE to speak out and warn others about the sick and dangerous man who molested dozens in their cheder and who is currently free to continue his pursuits unfettered. You don’t have to believe them. You just have to protect the children on the possibility that it might be true.

  6. Ildiko Laszlo

    I am DISGUSTED that the Rabbis & communities have defended this man and have not apologed to this girl and her family. Have they no moral compass? Shame on them – they do not deserve to walk the streets with their heads held up. It is typical that they would never admit that they did anything wrong. This is such an “extremist” community. It is 2013 – time to get with the real world.

  7. Glenda Rogers

    Dear Naomi, I have read your books and your emails and you are to be commended for shedding light on these purported religious men who abuse young girls and women. I was a Detective (Sex Crimes & Child Abuse) before my retirement and when I read about these women and girls who are sexually abused by religious men, it brings back memories of when I worked; except those perpetrators of sex crimes were dirtbags not Rabbis.
    Keep writing and I’ll (G-d Be Willing) keep reading! Hopefully with your shedding light on this abysmal abuse of power against women, people will be more aware of this happening by our “respected” leaders!

  8. Lily Steiner

    Jews were never intended to live such isolated lives as the Harraidi, Satmar and other such communities live. How can we possibly be a light unto the nations if we do not live in the real world, and Chabad has certainly shown you can live in the real world and remain true to Torah teaching. This molestation is such a shundah, I am shocked that the Rabbis and communities that defended this man are not now apologizing to the girl and righteously admitting they were wrong. It shames the whole Jewish religion even more than the depravity of the one man, that now sits in jail.

  9. Naomi R

    Shavuah tov and thank you Naomi for your courage in exposing the heinous truth. For too many years these actions have been swept under the rug and so many young lives have been destroyed. It’s good to know that there is finally some justice, but yet not enough.

  10. E Kowalsky

    Thank you Naomi for continuing to educaste your followers about this subject and your ongoing efforts to correct the abuses that are being perpertrated in the Orthodox world. While there is much to be proud of in the lives of observant Jewish families we cannot allow these abuses to continue and to go unpunished. Nevertheless, it pains me when people take this subject and use it to besmirch the memory of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach Z”L. There is no justification at this time in history after he has been gone for so many years to raise these unproven charges again. There is an old Cherem not to speak badly about the deceased, all the more so, about a person whose whole life was dedicated to helping other Jews.

    • Howard Rosenman

      Except that he did molest many many women. There is no time limit for bringing out the truth. Even the dead, no matter how good they were in some aspects of their lives, have to answer both to Ha’Shem Yitbarach and Clal Yisrael, for their heinous misdeeds.

      • E Kowalsky

        Howard, Thank you for your comment and I do not want to turn this forum into a lengthy discussion on Rabbi Carlebach. However, I cannot let your misguided comments remain unanswered as you did not carefully read what I wrote: 1 – these charges are not proven, only alleged. And, 2- Even if they are true they do not serve to bring out any truth at this time; they only serve to besmirch his memory. There are enough other cases of living people whose heineous deeds need to be exposed and their actions stopped It does not help one iota by talking about somebody whio is long dead and who cannot defend himself. That is why you are NOT ALLOWED to disparage the dead as they are defenseless to any charges once they can no longer speak. I would ask, therfore, that we concentrate on the likes of Weberman and others who areamong us and not conjure up the dead.

        • Katie H

          So the dead have become the holiest of holies? No one is allowed to criticize them in any way? Does this prohibition against besmirching their holy name include all dead people, no matter what they did, or only those whose crimes we prefer to ignore and whose reputation we prefer to preserve at all costs? I first heard these stories about that well-respected singer more than 50 years ago, when he was still alive and still strummin’ his guitar and enchanting the ladies, but back in those days women were considered to be, in the Talmud’s words, the utensils of men, so nobody would have paid any attention to a woman who complained about a great man. Yes, by all means go after the bad guys who are still alive, but don’t whitewash a man’s reputation just because he’s dead.

        • Laser

          Right, but there are living women who were abused by this “rabbi” and still bear the scars.

  11. Ike Muz

    We have to look into the root of the described situation:
    How could it happen that a mature man would counsel a young girl behind closed doors? Is it permissible by rabbis and/or by professionals in the field of counselling? If it is, it should re-examined since it is an invitation for future abuses and tragedies…

  12. Ed Hammerman

    Continue your good work by bringing such stories to the forefront of public awareness. It’s a very sad day when a religious community defends the criminal and attempts to injure the victim simply because she is female. Shame on Satmar, a movement with no real understanding of Torah.

  13. Ruth Berman

    What, in my estimation, should be punishment, since they are being beyond sinful and think they can get away with it, is castration. it puts an end to it even if they have the best lawyers to fanagle the law for them to go free.
    There is no greater sin then to murder a soul and that’s what these so-called religious pious men do.
    And we still use the tunes to another perpetrator of such crimes, who got away with it, Shlomo Carlebach

  14. Pnina some

    Law moves slowly. But thank G-d it does eventually catch up with events. I wish the young lady and family success and from now on a happy calm joyous life ahead, amongst people who are honest truthful and decent.ZNR

  15. Leonie Lachmish

    Brave girl and family! I hope they have left the extremist, fanatical so-called “community” which let her down as a young girl and continues to let her down, worse still, demonizes her, the victim, instead of the real demon who victimized her.

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