The horrifying saga of the Nechemya Weberman trial and the guilty verdict on 59 or 60 of the consolidated counts has caught the attention of the world.
If the allegations are true, as guilty verdicts tend to indicate, and as the existence of 11 other victims too fearful to step forward indicates, then what we have here is truly sickening.
We have a 12-year-old girl that did not quite meet the standards of the community around her. The school officials refused to admit her back into the school unless her parents pre-paid for therapy—to the tune of $12,900.
And then she suffers three years of horrifying abuse at the hands of the very “therapist” that the school had required her to meet with regularly. Imagine the pain of such a girl who must endure the sickest of acts—with the knowledge that no one would believe her if she told of what was being done to her.
Our schools have handed over these precious souls to monsters for abuse. And then, when they ultimately come forward, we vilify them and their families. We exclude them from our camps and our schools.
Hakezona ya’aseh es achoseini?
And this was aided and abetted by the kehilah leadership, rachmana litzlan! The kehilah leadership! Not even a brush full of the blackest of paint could put such horrors on a canvas!
Has there ever been such a parallel in our entire history?
During the reign of Nicholas the First, y’s, in Tsarist Russia, we had something close, when he initiated the heartless conscription of precious Jewish children for 25 years in the Russian army. The kehillah leadership selected the recruits. They were from the weakest of the weak, the young boys of defenseless widows. The kehillah had hired vicious people called, “khappers” who would do the vile deeds.
It was the Bubby of Yehuda Leib Katzenelson, who best related the dark history of this time, a history that finds parallel in our very own times now too:
“First I thought that the khappers could only be Plishtim or mizera Amalek. But no, my child, to my horror, to our great shame and horror, the khappers, all of the khappers were, in fact, Yidden. Yidden mit beard un payos! And that is our greatest problem. We Jews are accustomed to attacks, lies, libels, and evil decrees from anti-Semites, yes. This has happened from the dawn of time, and such is our lot in the galus. In the past, our enemies held a cross in one hand and a knife in the other and said, “Jew! Kiss the cross or feel the blade of the knife!” and Jews preferred death rather than conversion. But now there comes Yidden, fruma Yidden, who capture children and send them off to oblivion. Such a punishment was not even listed in the most horrible curses of the toychacha. Yidden spilling the blood of their brothers! And, rachmana litzlan, the rabbanim are silent!”
Her words, so poignant and so painful, describe the fate of this dear daughter of Williamsburg as well, who suffered not once but twice! Once at the hand of her tormentor and again at the hands of our community who so abandoned her.
The horrifying reality is that all this was brought about by the existence of a so-called “Vaad HaTzniyus!” Clearly, we need to do teshuvah. We need a teshuvah so profound and deep that it should shake the very mountains that surround us.
This op-ed does not mean to question the notion of an institution that watches over tzniyus within Torah communities. The need for an oversight committee to ensure that matters between the genders do not get out of hand is established both in the Talmud, the Shulchan Aruch, as well as in the codes and laws of numerous societies and nations throughout history.
What we are questioning, however, is how this particular Vaad HaTzniyus is staffed and operated. The revelations made in this trial and by various people who have been in touch with rabbanim as to their experiences are appalling.
It seems, unfortunately, that we have allowed this institution to run amok, staffed by corrupt individuals, who have lost all sense of propriety in what types of behaviors the Torah demands of us. The Weberman case reveals the tip of the iceberg in how low we have sunk in terms of corruption, extortion, and yes, violations of arayos.
If we look into the halachic sources, the officers of these organizations must be an extension of a beis din. It is sad to say that in this Vaad HaTzniyus, there is no affiliation whatsoever with the community beis din—they are gangs of self-appointed ruffians with little or no Torah training whatsoever, who use threats and intimidations to line their own pockets or to fulfill some psychological need to exert power over others. In short, the Williamsburg community must face up to what we have allowed to develop within our midst.
We have our own home-brewed mafia.
This mafia is not represented by poskim, rabbanim, or by batei dinim. Indeed, our Torah leaders are frightened to take a stand against their excesses. We need to take steps to remedy this situation, and we need to do so now.
Firstly, we must abolish the current organizations now and disenfranchise them from any power base that we can. The Vaad HaTzniyus organizations and everyone involved in them must be directly run by batei dinim and poskim. The beis din must have oversight over every individual involved in these activities and anything said and done must have the approval of qualified poskim.
Secondly, like in other areas of halacha, the beis din should have the ability to consult with trained experts in the medical, psychological, social work, and legal fields to assist and advise in their decision as to what is proper and appropriate. Violations of hilchos yichud with a 12-year-old girl is never appropriate, notwithstanding Mr. Weberman’s horrible and incorrect misrepresentation that hilchos yichud is not a Torah violation.
Thirdly, we cannot have the chillul Hashem of forcing clients, students, or others who may have stumbled to attend “therapy sessions” with non-professionals who happen to be our own family members. Therapists should only be of the same gender as the client, and must be unrelated to the one pushing the recommendation. As Torah Jews we must make every effort to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Here we have what appears to be gross and wholesale “scams.” The chilul Hashem that we have all witnessed here in the past two years is of a dimension never seen in our history.
And finally, we must end the culture of punishing those who come forward. The menahelim of the schools that refused admittance to family of those who came forward must be either removed from their positions or severely warned. They must be identified and told not to do so again. We must learn the lesson of this toeivah that happened in Klal Yisrael and make sure that it never happen again.
In the early 1850’s when the great gaon and tzaddik Rav Eliyahu Shik of Grodno found out about the kehillah’s involvement in the horrible reality of khapping yiddisher kinder, he called upon everyone to “revolt and rebel against the heads of the kehilah, to tear the kahal building to shreds.” He himself ran with an axe in his hand in front of the crowd that had gathered, each man armed with an axe. Before they were stopped they had broken the iron bolts on the door of the kahal building and freed the three young men that were held there.
Our reaction must be to immediately dissolve this Vaad HaTzniyus which forced Yiddishe girls into the hands of a monster. Their names should be recorded and never again must such people be put in charge of such grave matters of responsibility. A vaad of tzniyus must only be direct representatives of choshuvah and leading poskim well respected throughout the Torah world. And no matter who it may be, which meyuchasdika person, we must never forget the holy words of Chazal, “Ein apitropus l’arayos—no one, absolutely no one can be trusted alone in matters of arayos.” v