27 Jan 2011

Brooklyn rabbinical court orders sect members to report crimes to community council not to outsiders

New York Daily News - December 10, 2010

Rabbinical court to Lubavitchers: Quit yer snitchin' about cops, crime to outsiders

BY Simone Weichselbaum | Daily News staff writer

A Brooklyn rabbinical court has a new commandment for the thousands of religious Jews under its jurisdiction: Thou shall not snitch.

The Beth Din of Crown Heights has ordered an estimated 10,000 members of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect not to gripe about cops or blab about crimes to outsiders.

"No one shall bring to any media outlet information about any resident that could, if publicized, lead to an investigation or intensified prosecution by any law enforcement agency," reads an edict issued last week.

The five-point order also bans talking to reporters about police or posting on websites critical of cops.

The court ruled that only the nonprofit Crown Heights Jewish Community Council can conduct "police relations" on behalf of Lubavitchers.

The rules appear to be so broadly written that they could be interpreted as ordering victims of police abuse not to talk to other investigators or federal authorities.

Zaky Tamir, chairman of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, insisted yesterday the edict is meant only to stop people from going around leaders on issues that affect the entire neighborhood.

"No one should represent themselves as speaking on behalf of Crown Heights as a whole," said Tamir, a criminal defense lawyer.

Tamir said the edict arose after an ongoing beef between rival civilian patrol groups in the neighborhood spilled into the public arena.

Last month, a Daily News story that evolved from the battle revealed that a Hasidic man fled to Israel after he was accused of beating the son of a cop.

The ruling said relations between the community and cops have been damaged "by people who have pursued a personal agenda."

NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said the department doesn't have a position on rabbinical court opinions, but there are a number of ways to report police conduct.

"The Police Department encourages the public to use any one of various vehicles to available to it to file complaints against police, including the independent Civilian Complain Review Board," he said.

The ultra-Orthodox Lubavitchers live under strict rules governing almost every facet of their lives. Some said the new edict goes too far. Anyone in the insular community who runs afoul of the rules faces intense pressure to conform.

"We have rights as a U.S. citizen to complain about the police," said Brooklyn college student Yosef Bergovoy, 23.

Bergovoy groused to a television station last month after cops gave him a ticket for standing on the sidewalk.

One of the foremost charities in the neighborhood, the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council offers helps with everything from food stamps to housing to passports.

It is under the umbrella of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of New York's largest social service agencies.

This article was found at:



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Investigation of famous Israeli rabbi for sex abuse reveals power of charismatic clerics over vulnerable young people

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  1. Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jews rally behind accused in child abuse case

    by Zoë Blackler, The Guardian UK May 16, 2012

    New York - Until last year, Nechemya Weberman was a therapist in Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn. From the apartment building he owns in Williamsburg, he counselled teenage girls from ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Girls, who through improper dress, flirtations with boys or a curiosity in life beyond the confines of their sects, were risking disrepute. In the antiquated world of the ultra-Orthodox, the stigma of immodesty can wreck a girl's marriage prospects and her future in the community.

    In 2007, two worried parents sent their 12-year-old daughter for counselling with Weberman, at the insistence of her school. For three years, the girl consulted him, seeing him often several times a week. The girl had been questioning her religious teachers, and her parents hoped that Weberman, who had raised his own pious, god-fearing children, would lead her back to the right path.

    Later this summer, a jury in Brooklyn – home to the largest Orthodox population outside Israel – will be asked to decide exactly what took place during those many counselling sessions. Whether Weberman repeatedly sexually abused the young girl as she alleges, or whether, as the defence claims, he is the object of misplaced revenge.

    Whatever facts emerge at trial and whatever the jury decides, most in this insular community have already reached a verdict. The majority are siding with the accused. On Wednesday night, several thousand members of Weberman's Satmar Hasidic sect are expected to attend a rally on his behalf. His supporters, with the full backing of the senior rabbis, are stepping up their efforts to fight the prosecution.

    That the Weberman case is going to trial at all is notable in itself. The Guardian has detailed how most sex abuse claims are handled inside the community, either brushed aside or resolved in the shadow religious courts, or by the silencing of victims through bribing or intimidation. Those cases that do reach the criminal justice system tend to end in plea deals negotiated out of public view, in line with the Brooklyn district attorney's contentious secrecy policy.

    As media attention on the issue intensifies, the Weberman case has acquired a much bigger significance, beyond the question of individual guilt or innocence. It will offer a rare insight into the increasingly bitter divide inside the community – between the majority that wants to continue the cover-up and the growing number speaking up. It will also illustrate the level of anger those who make abuse complaints face from members of their own community.

    Last Friday, the Yiddish paper Der Blatt ran a front page story announcing "Libel 75", Wednesday night's rally in the Continental Hall in Williamsburg. The piece called on the entire community to defend Nechemya Weberman from "a despicable, false libel" and rescue him from 75 years in jail. "The community will come out", it declared, to help raise $500,000 for Weberman's legal costs. Posters about Libel 75 have also been plastered across Williamsburg.

    If Weberman, now 53, is found guilty, he is unlikely to face 75 years in prison time. The charges against him, however, are severe. The indictment, which runs to 23 pages, includes 87 counts of sexual abuse. Of the 16 felony charges, the most serious alone, course of sexual conduct against a child in the first degree, carries a mandatory prison term of five to 25 years. Although not part of the prosecution, Weberman is also tainted by his lack of qualifications as he is not a trained psychotherapist.

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    Weberman's defence attorney George Farkas, who is billed to appear at Wednesday's rally, says Weberman is the real victim. A year before the allegations emerged, the girl - still underage - had an older boyfriend. Her father, concerned that the pair had embarked on a sexual relationship, secretly video taped them alone and the boyfriend was brought before a judge. Farkas says that although his client advised against the scheme, the girl blames him and wants revenge. She is being manipulated, Farkas says, by "nefarious, vicious people" out to bring Weberman down.

    Or as Der Blatt phrased it in more emotive terms: "As parents who have benefited from this devoted askan [community volunteer] and educator, the person we turned to first to rescue ours and others children when they started sliding [becoming non observant], we call on you: do not allow this askan to be, god forbid, sent to prison for life for his holy work rescuing Jewish children."

    But Judy Genut, a friend of the girl's mother, dismisses Weberman's version of events, even though she acknowledges that most in the community support him. "They can't believe that somebody dressed according to the tradition, who acts and talks and walks like a person who has the fear of God in him, would actually do what he accused of. It's mind boggling." The girl's mother had two sisters who "went off the path", Genut says, so when the story first spread, people dismissed it as the niece being "slutty" too. "The family didn't gather sympathy because of what the aunts did."

    'What's on trial is the idea that he can be protected and supported by the rabbis'

    Although the Libel 75 campaign is unprecedented in scale, Weberman is not the first recipient of a rabbinic fundraising effort. In March 2009, Rabbi Israel Weingarten was convicted in Brooklyn's federal court of raping his daughter from age nine to 18. Following a reportedly bizarre and harrowing trial (in which Weingarten attempted to defend himself at one point cross-examining the daughter) the jury found him guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. This past February, the blog Failed Messiah reported that a rabbinic delegation had visited Weingarten in jail. They took with them a proclamation of innocence, signed by a bevy of senior rabbis that blamed his incarceration on a "travesty of justice" and a "sinister plot" and that pledged to raise the money needed to win back his freedom.

    The instinct to rescue a fellow Jew from prison is hard wired in the Orthodox psyche, says community activist Isaac Shonfeld, an observant Jew from Brooklyn. The fundraising tradition has a name, Pidyon Shvuyim, and dates back to life in eastern Europe when Jews were frequently held to ransom on trumped-up charges by their anti-semitic governments. It isn't just that fear of jail trumps considerations of guilt or innocence, Shonfeld says. But also that many in the community, despite the evidence, still believe Weingarten over his daughter. In a strictly hierarchical, patriarchal, deeply religious society, it's unsurprising: Rabbi Weingarten is a male in late middle age, a scholar of the torah; his accuser was a young woman who is no longer Orthodox; and secular courts are regarded as inherently untrustworthy.

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    Nechemya Weberman's supporters have worked tirelessly to orchestrate the Libel 75 campaign and win the backing of two competing sets of rabbis, says Pearl Engelman, a Satmar Hasid from Williamsburg, whose own son Joel is an abuse survivor. "For the two factions in Satmar to unite on something like this is extremely unusual."

    "What's on trial here is not just Weberman," says Engelman, who believes the girls' account. "What's on trial is the idea that a [man like] Weberman can be protected and supported by the rabbis."

    According to several accounts, the girl's family is facing intimidation to prevent them testifying. Her father owns a Jewish phone directory, widely used in the community. He has been told that unless his daughter withdraws from the court case, advertising will cease and his business will collapse.

    The girl's new boyfriend, Hershy Deutsch, has also been threatened. Deutsch, who owns a pizza restaurant on Lee Avenue, says he was offered $500,000 to persuade the girl to recant. When he refused, he was told his kosher licence could be at risk. He says his landlord was pressured to evict him. "Giving blood money to deny a story is not going to stop the molesters molesting children," he says. Deutsch is using Facebook to mobilise a counter demonstration. He says he worries about his girlfriend, who is suffering terribly. She can't sleep, he says, haunted by memories. Deutsch says his girlfriend also turned down a bribe. "Every time she would go to a store, she would have an image of where that money came from."

    Judy Genut says she, her husband and other members of her family have also been harrassed. "A lot of people are angry that this came out because it brings us in a very bad light," she says. "Other people hear about it, and read about it and if we are the chosen ones, the moral compass of the world, then shouldn't we act morally? It's a very hard thing for us to swallow because there's so much good in our community and so many beautiful organisations.

    "So there's a lot of shame. And when people are ashamed they hide. And how do you hide? By not letting other people know that something like this is happening. Because if you don't talk about it, it's not happening, right? It hurts me so much. I mean, do we actually harbour our own perverts?"

    The Weberman case is a wake-up call for the community, she says, that nothing stays hidden anymore. "Children will learn there are people sticking up for them."

    George Farkas is adamant a jury will exonerate his client: "Weberman has a lot of support in the community because word has got out that this is a phony claim. People realise, there but for the grace of God go I. All of the evidence pointed to the fact he didn't do it. But [the DA's office] went ahead anyway. It's reprehensible. It's un-American. It's wrong."

    When Weberman was first arraigned, he pleaded not guilty, insisting his innocence. At that time, the girl and her family hoped he would take a plea deal. They would have welcomed a swift resolution. Now, the girl is determined to take the stand.

    "So there's going to be a trial," says Genut. "Things are going to come out into the open and it won't be a pretty story."


  4. Sex abuse accusations by teen stir uproar in Brooklyn Hasidic sect

    Monday, October 29, 2012,

    THE MOST high-profile sex abuse trial in years to hit Brooklyn’s insular ultra-Orthodox community is scheduled to begin this week. But hundreds of Satmar Hasids are backing the suspect, not the victim.

    Nechemya Weberman, 53, is charged with 88 counts of sexual misconduct for allegedly forcing a teenage girl to repeatedly perform sex acts on him when she was between 12 and 15.

    Weberman is a prominent Hasidic counselor, whose ancestor is credited with founding the first yeshiva in Brooklyn.

    “It’s going to be a very interesting trial,” said one of the seven attorneys who will argue Weberman’s high-stakes case. All are bound by a judge’s gag order, and declined to discuss details.

    Since coming forward last year, the woman, now 18, and her husband have allegedly been the target of a massive intimidation effort, which advocates have argued has long been an obstacle to reporting such cases in the community. More than 1,000 men showed up at a Williamsburg hall this spring to raise $500,000 for Weberman’s legal defense.

    But the couple has not wavered in their resolve, even after one man allegedly offered them $500,000 in exchange for their silence, and suggested they flee to Israel. Three other men ripped the husband’s kosher certificate from his restaurant, causing him to shutter the business.

    The incidents led to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’ filing the most serious witness intimidation indictments ever within the community, against the four men in July.

    Their trials are not expected until next year.

    The issue of witness intimidation — common in Orthodox enclaves — was highlighted earlier this year in a series of articles that led to criticism of how Hynes handles molestation cases within the community.

    Before 2009, only a handful of sex abuse cases came out of the Orthodox community, which prefers to handle matters internally through its civilian police and rabbinical courts.

    Then Hynes established a program called Kol Tzedek specifically targeting the sex abuse problem in the Hasidic community, which has resulted in over 100 cases so far, the top prosecutor has said.

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    In the Weberman case, as the lead member of the ardent Satmar sect’s “modesty committee,” the unlicensed counselor was allegedly helping the sixth-grade girl because she was believed to be unchaste.

    Prosecutors say there were six other women who were counseled by him as part of this “modesty committee” who complained about unwanted sexual advances. But the women would not proceed with pressing criminal charges.

    Weberman and the teenager’s father secretly videotaped her in bed with an previous boyfriend while she was still underage, which they took to the DA to file statutory rape charges against the man, both the defense and prosecution agree. The teenager threatened suicide, and the statutory rape charges were dropped.

    Weberman’s defense argues that the new claims against him are in retaliation for the videotaping and statutory rape charges.

    But Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Ingram found that argument “speculative and not supported by any facts.” He forbade any mention of the tape at trial.

    The Weberman case has stirred up strong emotions in the Hasidic community, which numbers some 250,000 people in Brooklyn. It’s the largest such group outside Israel.

    “The community felt we’re under attack because he’s supposedly a problem solver,” while the young woman had left the strictly religious lifestyle, said an acquaintance of the accuser.

    Hynes, who had previously came under fire for not releasing names of Orthodox men accused of abuse, has said intimidation of victims and their kin is rampant in that community.

    Weberman hails from a prominent lineage. One of his ancestors, Ben Zion Weberman, is credited with helping to establish the very first yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1917. “He is very well respected,” A.J. Weberman, a secular distant cousin who compiled the family history, said of the man facing trial.

    The publicity this case and similar ones have garnered is beginning to shift attitudes in the Hasidic community, insiders say.

    Awareness is on the rise, said Mark Appel, founder of the advocacy group Voice of Justice. “There is a major change happening,” he added.


  6. Photos of Accuser on Stand Disrupt Sexual Abuse Trial

    By SHARON OTTERMAN New York Times November 29, 2012

    The trial of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor accused of repeatedly molesting a girl was disrupted on Thursday afternoon when four spectators in a Brooklyn courtroom were accused of taking pictures with their cellphones of the accuser on the witness stand.

    The four men, identified by prosecutors as Joseph Fried, Yona Weisman, Abraham Zupnick and Lemon Juice, were arrested and charged with criminal contempt in the second degree, a misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to one year in jail.

    The accuser, who is now 17, has testified that she and her family had faced a pattern of intimidation from the Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, since she alleged last year that Nechemya Weberman, the unlicensed therapist her parents had sent her to for counseling, repeatedly forced her to have oral sex during their sessions together from the time she was 12 until she turned 15.

    In June, prosecutors charged four Williamsburg men with attempting to silence her by offering her a $500,000 bribe through her boyfriend to drop her participation in the case. Intimidation of sexual abuse victims in the ultra-Orthodox community is common, prosecutors say, because going to secular authorities with charges against another Jew is considered treasonous. But arrests for intimidation are rare.

    Mr. Weberman’s accuser had already been provided with increased security after onlookers said they spotted Mr. Weberman staring at her threateningly through the window of a conference room as she rested during a break in the court session on Wednesday, said Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office. The defense denies that Mr. Weberman did this.

    Then at about 2 p.m. Thursday, court officers spotted a man taking a picture of the teenager as she testified, Mr. Schmetterer said. The judge, Justice John G. Ingram, ordered the jury cleared from the 20th-floor courtroom in State Supreme Court, and the cellphones of all onlookers in the courtroom were confiscated.

    The phones of the four men arrested had photos of the teenager that had been taken in the courtroom, and one photo appeared to have already been posted to Twitter, Mr. Schmetterer said. David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court, said that Judge Ingram also admonished the men before allowing the trial to continue.

    While the district attorney’s office did not comment on motive, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, an advocate for abuse victims who was in the courtroom, said that the men arrested were Satmar Hasidim, some of whom supported Mr. Weberman. “This is intimidation,” he said. “The government should not let this slide away, because this is not an accident. It is done deliberately in an effort to keep the law system from functioning.”

    A version of this article appeared in print on November 30, 2012, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: Photos of Accuser on Stand Disrupt Sexual Abuse Trial.


  7. Jury finds Nechemya Weberman, Satmar Hasidic leader, guilty of molesting teenage girl he was paid to counsel

    Weberman, guilty on 59 counts, is facing a maximum of 25 years in prison on the top count alone, prolonged sexual conduct against a child. The high-profile case cast light on the Satmar Hasidic community – and has also put pressure on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes over the way he has managed such cases in the Orthodox Jewish community.


    Guilty 59 times over.

    A Brooklyn jury found Nechemya Weberman - a prominent figure in the Satmar Hasidic community - guilty Monday of sexually abusing a rebellious young girl he was paid to counsel.

    The verdict came after an explosive two-week trial, where customs of the strict Williamsburg-based sect were aired in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

    Weberman, who was led away in handcuffs, is facing a maximum of 25 years on prison of the top count alone, prolonged sexual conduct against a child.

    The main evidence against the 54-year-old counselor was testimony from the victim, who turned 18 last week. During four brutal days of testimony and cross-examination, the striking young woman recounted how she was forced to perform oral sex and reenact porn scenes during closed-door counseling sessions that started in 2007, when she was 12.
    Her yeshiva referred her to Weberman because she flouted her sect's strict modesty rules and asked probing questions about the existence of God.

    But instead of guidance, she was molested at every opportunity.

    "I wanted to die," she testified of her torment.

    Prosecutors offered no physical evidence of the sexual activity that took place inside Weberman's home office, which the trial revealed had been a flop house for other wayward teenage girls.

    The counselor took the stand in his own defense, insisting he "never ever" inappropriately touched the teen. But he was forced to acknowledge that funds from his charity were used to pay for his kids' tuition and buy lingerie.

    The defense team claimed the victim's accusations were fueled by revenge, after Weberman teamed up with her father to film her in bed with a former boyfriend - then used the footage to get the boyfriend arrested for statutory rape.

    That case was dropped shortly before she made her complaint against Weberman.

    The high-profile case was rocked by allegations that Weberman tried to intimidate the accuser. Then during the trial, three men illegally snapped her photo while she was on the witness stand, and it ended up being posted online.

    The sordid, soap opera-like revelations in court rocked the insular Satmar Sect, which derives its practices from a strict interpretation of Judaism. The trial was also a major challenge to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who came under criticism for his handling of sex abuse cases in the Orthodox Jewish community.


  8. Counselor Gets 103 Years in Orthodox Abuse Trial

    By Pervaiz Shallwani, Wall Street Journal January 22, 2013

    A prominent ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor was sentenced to 103 years in prison in the sexual abuse of a teenage girl in the insular Brooklyn community.

    Nechemya Weberman, 54 years old, was found guilty in December on 59 counts of sexual abuse and child endangerment, the most serious that he sexually abused the young woman for three years beginning when she was 12.

    The victim, now 18, spoke for five minutes Tuesday, at times crying as she read from a prepared statement.

    “I clearly remember how I would look in the mirror,” she said. “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 told the judge.

    She described herself as “a sad girl who wanted to live a normal life, but instead was being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts again and again.”

    “I saw a girl who had no reason to live,” she said. “I would cry until my tears ran dry.”

    She hoped that her coming forward “sets a precedent” and would give strength to other victims in the community.

    Following the two-week trial that put a sharp focus on the Satmar Hasidic community, Weberman faced up to 117 years in prison.

    Weberman who maintains his innocence did not address the judge before being sentenced, simply saying “no thanks,” when given the opportunity.

    He looked towards his supporters, smiled and nodded as he was led away on handcuffs.

    His attorneys plan to appeal the verdict and sentence.

    There was no physical evidence presented at the trial, but both the victim and Weberman took the stand. Prosecutors portrayed Weberman as an unlicensed counselor who used his position in the community to gain access to young women deemed problems for violating the modesty rules of the tight-knit community.

    The victim testified that she was first taken to see Weberman in 2007 after she was caught text messaging a boy, wearing skirts that aren’t long enough and otherwise being singled out at her school. She accused Weberman by name in 2011, saying he abused her at every single session.

    Weberman’s attorneys, though, spent four days cross-examining the victim in an attempt to discredit her testimony. On the stand, Weberman said he “never ever” abused her.

    Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes — who has said prosecuting ultra-Orthodox Jewish cases can be more difficult than organized crime cases – said after the verdict that there were other victims of Weberman who had either opted not to press charges or who had passed the statute of limitations.