A respected spiritual counselor in New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is set to go on trial this month over charges that he sexually molested a young girl. According to a report from the Associated Press, the accused, 53-year-old Nechemya Weberman, is being embraced by his Hasidic community in Brooklyn, while his accuser and her family have become outcasts.
According to the report, Weberman had a reputation for helping people who were grappling with spiritual and theological doubts, though he never had any formal training. The alleged victim, now 17, was just 12 when her family sent her to Weberman for counseling. Unfortunately, Weberman’s intervention did not appear to have the desired effect. According to the Associated Press, the girl began dressing immodestly by the standards of her ultra-Orthodox community, and she was eventually forced to leave school. In 2011, she reported to a guidance counselor at her new school that she had been molested by Weberman.
Since the allegations surfaced, Weberman has been defended in New York’s Hasidic press, and a recent community fundraiser brought in $50,000 for his defense and his family. The alleged victim, meanwhile, has reportedly been called a slut, and her family ostracized. Unfortunately, her experience is not unusual in Brooklyn’s tight-knit, insular ultra-Orthodox community.
“They think that anyone who turns over anyone to the outside authorities is committing a transgression to the community at large,” Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish studies at Queens College, told the Associated Press.
As we’ve reported previously, Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jews have long been encouraged to take allegations of sexual misconduct to rabbis before they make reports to secular authorities. In this case, the alleged victim’s family says they would have preferred to deal with the allegations within the community. But they told the Associated Press that victims are rarely believed and abusers aren’t punished.
In 2009, Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, instituted a program called Kol Tzedek (Voice of Justice) aimed at helping more victims in the ultra-Orthodox community come forward about abuse. But the program has become controversial because prosecutors don’t publicize the names of the accused. Hynes claims that is necessary in order to protect victims.
“As soon as we would give the name of a defendant … (rabbis and others) would engage this community in a relentless search for the victims,” Hynes told the Associated Press. “And they’re very, very good at identifying the victims. And then the victims would be intimidated and threatened, and the case would fall apart.”
While Hynes has launched a task force to deal with the issue of community intimidation, he’s recently been accused of ignoring certain sex abuse cases in order to garner political support from some powerful Hasidic rabbis.
“He doesn’t take care of victims,” Nuchem Rosenberg, a rabbi who says he became an outcast after speaking out about abuse, told the Associated Press. “He takes care of those in power, so they can all keep power.”