The case was horrific. A 17-year-old girl from the Satmar community in
Williamsburg 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 fiftyish, overweight, unlicensed father of 10 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
“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 supposedly included a 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
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
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
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: “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.”
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.”
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.
University President Richard M. Joel, who was not part of 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.”
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
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
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
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 allegedly trying to raise a million-dollar defense fund and 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
God willing, may that be true.