In light of the verdict against Nechemya Weberman, a Satmar Hasid in New York found guilty of prolonged sexual abuse of a girl who came to him for counselling, I would like to share with readers some thoughts, some of which are very personal.
Tragically, the Weberman case is not the only such case currently in the news. Several other cases of alleged abuse have been reported in the international press in the last few weeks, including one which is currently tearing Golders Green apart. This case involves a formerly highly regarded Hassidic and charismatic rabbi to whom people flocked to seek his advice. He is accused of sexually interfering with married women under his care. This is a Rav raised in the Haredi-orthodox community of NW London, whose prominent father is one of the early Hassidic leaders who settled in Golders Green long before it was a popular place for Haredim to live. His case involves the abuse of his position as a self-appointed marriage counsellor.
Such sexual abuse taking place in a Torah-driven community stands as a deep embarrassment. People ask: if the study and observance of Torah supposedly sanctifies a person, how come it fails to help these individuals? Some may answer that abusers suffer from a pathological disorder and therefore need specific help and treatment. But whatever the case, the Jewish community must learn to avoid shielding the abuser by thinking that a “quiet word in the ear” will be adequate. Immediately the professionals must be called and that means calling the police where it involves a possible criminal offence.
The failure of the two cases I’ve highlighted has been abetted by misguided individuals, including rabbis, who have failed to take the correct action. Adding to the problem are the numbers of people who, in disbelief, continue to protect the alleged abusers and rally around for their vindication. This is not a new situation. It has happened all too frequently in the past.
In the mid 1990’s a certain provincial minister went to prison for child abuse. The trial exposed a thirty year trail of a cover up. More than rumour has it that the rabbi of the town where it seemingly all began knew about his actions and sent him off for some “treatment.” It was to little avail, as he continued to abuse victims across several more communities during the next decades. It only came to light when one of his early female victims wrote to Chief Rabbi Sacks, whose reaction was found inadequate and so proceeded to inform the police. After months and months of information gathering by a special unit, the reverend was duly arrested and found guilty. I share this with you, as I was interviewed by the unit as a possible victim. I nearly had been, but was saved from his clutches by the “bell” so to speak, but that is another story. During my yeshiva years I also came across senior students with sexual predatory and abusive tendencies. Yes, I can personally vouch that the Haredi community is not immune to such problems.
The community must learn that “concealment” for the short term goal of saving grace will not gain anything in the long run when all is exposed. Just look and learn from the Catholic Church and the Jimmy Saville cases and you get the picture.
The bottom line is: there is a need for people to understand and accept that the “sexual abuser” is not just some “lust filled” person who can be somewhat disciplined and all will be fine. Rather he or she is a sick cruel predator who must be stopped through professional intervention so that society and the vulnerable are safely protected.