I suppose one reason ultraOrthodox leaders have such a hatred of the popular press and blogs is because spending the day reading what's out there quickly shatters that illusion. Decades ago David ben Gurion, a"h, predicted that once Israel became a state like all others it would have the same problems as all other states, like criminals, prostitutes, drugs, etc. This was hardly an inspiring vision. Unfortunately the Orthodox community has quietly done the same thing. We are a community like all others. We have saints and we have sinners. We have inspiring leaders and twisted menuvalim. We have people who are exemplars of the values the Torah espouses and we have others who have twisted God's word into a bacon-flavoured cheese pretzel. Italians have the same thing, as do Poles, Germans, Chinese, and others. No better and no worse. We are just another ethnic group with a language, rituals and holiday costumes.
All this has recently been put on parade at the Nechemia Weberman trial. For those of you still living in a cave, Weberman is a chasid whose views are somewhere to the right of Satmar. He belongs to a spinoff group from Chabad that is now closely aligned with Satmar and the Neturei Karta because of their shared hatred of Israel. His group is so frum that calling themselves Chasidim, "pious ones" isn't enough to describe how holy they feel they are. Based on what they called their founding Rebbe they call themselves Malachim, angels!
You would think that men who call himself angels and pious ones would conduct themselves on the highest levels of sanctity and holiness. Stuff like fasting on a regular basis, being extremely careful about speaking loshon horo, eschewing violence, even the threat of it.
Not these guys. As the JTA reports upon Weberman's sentencing:
Chasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexual abuse of a teenage female patient over several years.What is not told in the article but was details in various news reports and on blogs over the last several months is the campaign of threats, intimidation and outright slander that these "angels" engaged in so as to protect one of their own. It's one thing to proclaim one's innocence and announce the intention to vigorously fight accusations but these thugs went far beyond that, defaming the victim and anyone who tried to help her and presenting the face of a cult that seems to worship hatred in place of God. The Chareidi community has a well-known "circle the wagons" mentality but this went far beyond with the perpetrator and his friends seeking to re-victimize the young woman that had already been damaged.
Weberman, 54, a member of the Satmar Chasidic community in Brooklyn, did not speak during the Jan. 22 sentencing in New York State Supreme Court. He had been sent to Rikers Island prison without bail immediately after his conviction in December.
He was found guilty on 59 counts of sexual abuse. The encounters started in 2007, when his victim was 12, and lasted until she was 15. She is now 18.
Weberman had faced up to 117 years in prison.
The girl's parents sent her for sessions to Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, at the recommendation of the child's school. The girl was referred for not meeting her sect's strict modesty guidelines regarding women's dress and asking questions about the existence of God.
The victim reportedly gave a tearful statement in court.
"I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror. I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin, a girl whose innocence was shattered, a girl who couldn't sleep at night because of the gruesome invasion that had been done to her body," she is reported as saying.
The New York Daily News reported Jan. 19 that a new investigation conducted by the paper showed that Weberman had violated at least 10 other female patients.
At Weberman's trial, prosecutors said they were aware of six additional victims -- four married women and two underage girls. The newspaper reported that it identified four additional women, who do not want to come forward out of fear of being ostracized by the community.
Weberman victims, according to the new investigation, include four married women, three of whom he counseled, and six unmarried women, all of whom were Weberman clients.
According to the paper, sources close to the women abused by Weberman said he used patterns of grooming and nurturing to lure them. He showered outcast teenagers with attention, taking them on road trips and buying them lingerie, they said. The unlicensed counselor also cited kabbalah when forcing his victims to have sex with him to convince them his acts were allowed, once telling a victim, “I learned kabbalah and we were a couple in another incarnation.”
“The intimate acts he was performing were intended as a form of repentance for sins committed in their previous lifetimes,” Rabbi Yakov Horowitz from Monsey, N.Y., in whom other victims had confided, told the Daily News.
Five others told the New York daily that they were aware of Weberman’s misconduct with clients years before he was accused of sexual abuse, and sources said the anonymous victim who put him on trial came forward after friends told her Weberman “was a known pervert.”
(To their credit the main Chareidi news blogs haven't starting Rubashkin-style ads calling for a pidyon shevuyim campaign for Weberman. Matzav and TheYeshivaWorld seem to have totally ignored the trial while VisIzNeias is simply reporting the events without attempting to run the "He can't be guilty, he's one of us!" angle)
And what's amazing is that if I ran into Weberman tomorrow with my coloured shirt and knitted kippah he'd look down at me and think "Ach, a goy".
Living in a small community as I do I don't really run into folks like Weberman. The only shtreiml-wearing guy in the neighbourhood is an Aish grad here to do kiruv and who has a good heart and happy attitude. Even during my trips to Israel I generally don't find myself in those kinds of neighbourhoods. In short, I can sit back and pretend that frum Jews are normal folks because those that around me generally are. I hate being reminded that there are huge numbers of dysfunctional freaks running around out there who just don't get the bigger picture but think that Judaism is entirely defined by rituals and 18th century costumes.
After all, one can say that Weberman was a bastard. We can't guarantee there are no evil people masquerading as frum Jews out there. But the way his henchmen and the Satmar community mobilized and saw destroying the victim as a religious duty, that shows to me that this kind of Judaism has gone completely off the rails.
After all the swaying, shouting and praying, after all the lulav waving it's all about the clothes you wear and the rebbe you swear allegiance to. At least for these guys.