Sex Abuse and Lawlessness in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community
Here we are at the end of Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and let’s just say that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as a whole is not going to receive any justice awards soon, though two brave individuals should.
First, there is the specter in Brooklyn of a sweetheart plea deal for the criminal who threw bleach on the face of the bravest advocate of sex abuse survivors in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Second, at the end of last month, there was a veritable celebration in honor of the prison release of the criminal who tried to bribe a young woman and her boyfriend with $500,000 to drop charges against ultra-Orthodox molester Rabbi Nechemya Weberman.
The Sweetheart Plea Deal for a Vicious Assault
Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes repeatedly let down the victims of child sex abuse in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. He actually lost his job because of it. The man who replaced him, Ken Thompson, ran on a platform of protecting the children who were abandoned by the Hynes administration. He started off strong by dropping the charges against Sam Kellner, who was unfairly charged with extortion when in fact he was trying to obtain justice for his son, who was sexually abused. He made many points then. Earlier this week, he backtracked.
The fight to protect victims of abuse in religious communities is difficult and daunting, and those inside the community can pay the steepest price. One of those men in the ultra-Orthodox universe is Rabbi Nuchum Rosenberg, who has persistently ministered to the abused in his community, forced the issue into the public square through a call-in show and blog, and proudly stood in support of legislative reform in Albany for them. His dogged persistence has created a wedge in the community for justice, and survivors sorely in need of support have started to speak up.
Tempers were running high December of 2012 following the trial and guilty verdict of sick molester and esteemed counselor Rabbi Nechemya Weberman.
Rosenberg had been a victim of violence before, but the day after the Weberman verdict, Meilech Schnitzler approached Rosenberg and threw bleach in his face. But for the quick action of a person who threw a cup of water on Rosenberg’s face, he might be blind today.
In a move that has sent chills through the ultra-Orthodox survivor community, Thompson cut a deal with Schnitzler that will hardly deter future violence against the survivors’ advocates. Instead of serving the years in prison the crime should have earned, Schnitzler confessed to throwing the bleach on Rosenberg and received nothing but unsupervised probation. To quote Rosenberg, “Probation in our circles is a joke.”
The Grand Celebration for the Man Convicted of Bribery in the Weberman Child Sex Abuse Case
As I discussed at the end of 2012 here,the day that Weberman was convicted was a very good day for survivors in this community. It was the first public conviction of a well-known and respected counselor, and it was high time the survivors were vindicated by the legal system—even if shunned by their own community.
The next very good day occurred when he was sentenced to over 100 years in prison. Even though the total number of years was eventually reduced, he is still facing life in prison for his sick, sadistic years of abuse of the Orthodox girl who was entrusted to him for counseling. She was only 12 when he started preying on her.
Sadly, the community guaranteed that the legal process was sullied from beginning to end. In the midst of the trial, Abraham Rubin approached the victim’s boyfriend and offered the couple $500,000 if she would drop the charges and leave the country, so that Weberman could go free. Rubin was convicted for trying to subvert the justice system but served mere months for his crime.
He was released late last month from Rikers Island, and how did the Satmar community greet him? Like a returning hero. There was dancing in the streets, music, and a party in a large wedding hall. Ads were even placed in Der Blatt, which is a community weekly, praising Rubin. They were honoring this man who had subverted the legal system for a child predator: “The son of the Satmar Rebbe declared Rubin a tzadik (righteous man) and declared, ‘I would be happy to exchange places with Rubin in the world to come.’”
The Silver Lining: Weberman Still Rots in Jail
Against the backdrop of the lawlessness on display above, I would remind good people that Weberman will be in jail for the rest of his life. Justice John G. Ingram of New York’s Kings County Supreme Court sentenced Weberman with the statement: “The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done.”
Michael Lesher and Amy Neustein have rightly suggested that federal prosecutors should press charges against those who perpetrate violence based on religious identity, even if it involves fellow believers threatening each other. Their point is well taken, though the problem is so much more complex than finding a legal basis to hold bad people accountable.
It takes courageous visionaries to stand up to the shared “wisdom” on child sex abuse in a religious community, and to press the rule of law against anarchical, instinctual protection of the religious organization’s image and cohesion. Rabbi Rosenberg is one of those people, and, let us hope that in the future, instead of senselessly lashing out at him, good people will join his decent and worthy cause.
Weberman’s victim gave an impassioned and memorable victims impact statement at the sentencing hearing, saying, “I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror and see a person I didn’t recognize. I saw a girl who didn’t want to live in her own skin. A girl whose innocence was shattered at the age of 12.”
She and Rabbi Rosenberg are heroes.