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Where Are Weberman’s Other Victims?

Thursday, December 20, 2012
FRUM FOLLIES by Yerachmiel Lopin reacts to Ezra Friedlander's op-ed on the Weberman Trial

Weberman’s other victims are hiding in plain sight. They are confiding in just a few others privately. They need to give voice to their anguish but are not willing to go public. However their stories are spreading all over the ultra orthodox world. For example, Ezra Friedlander, who heads a public relations firm writes in this week’s 5 Towns Jewish Times,

Last week, as the trial captured the attention of the masses, I met someone who confided to me that his daughter’s best friend was also abused by this very same perpetrator. Stunned, I asked him if anyone else knows about this. “No,” he answered. “And that’s how it should remain.”

Friedlander goes on to decry the inadequate communal response to abuse. He advocates all sorts of reforms. However, none of them involve using the civil or criminal authorities when abuse is detected. He is a PR man, so he deftly avoids saying it explicitly, but his silence about reporting sex abuse crimes is telling.

There you have it. There are divisions in the ultra orthodox community, but not about reporting abuse. Some very important halachic authorities have sanctioned reporting abuse. But for all practical purposes their halachic responsa are dead letters. Some believe in scorched earth resistance to reporting while others accept the reality that a few cases will manage to reach the court system. The latter group believes that when this happens, you cut your losses and discreetly help the perpetrator but you don’t fight the criminal justice system in the court of secular opinion. There is even a willingness to toss a few shmendriks under the bus and hand them over to the criminal justice system. To date, no prominent member of the ultra orthodox community has ever been handed over to the criminal justice system with the open support of rabbinical authorities.

Satmar believes in going down to the wire in public, embarrassing and infuriating those who favor a behind-the-scenes approach. But these are merely debates about tactics. For all of Satmar’s bluster about Weberman’s innocence they are really fighting for the principal that no Jew should be in jail and no member of their community can be allowed to cooperate with the authorities. Only the modern orthodox have explicitly endorsed proactive across-the-board recourse to the criminal justice system. Even there, practice lags behind theory.

Weberman’s other victims are out there and their stories are diffusing through the system. They are beginning to find each other and forming small informal support groups. They are telling their stories to others, discretely. Information moves quickly in the dense social networks of the Satmar community. More and more people inside Satmar are convinced that Weberman is guilty.

Weberman’s other victims now live in a twilight zone, caught between their private nightmares and official pronouncements about his innocence, between private whispers about his misdeeds and public pressure to stay silent. I asked, “Where are Weberman’s other victims?” The answer is that they are out there whispering but not saying it out loud in court or on the media. They are hostage to Satmar’s defiant tactics which imposes a code of omerta to keep Jews out jail.

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