Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hooligans? Or Hashkafa?

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg - courtesy Daily News
You can only cry “Wolf!” so many times before people begin to see right through you. I can still hear the outcry by defenders of Satmar and like minded Chasidim who constantly howl at my ‘broad brush strokes’ in describing the behavior of many within those groups. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard them called hooligans and not typical of Chasidim. They do not represent us.  Every society has criminal elements who defy the rules and act out on their own. Don’t blame the whole community because of the few.

I don’t think that claim is worth a nickel. This is not to say that every single Satmar Chasid is a criminal. Or even that the majority or a large minority is. In fact I will concede that the percentage of Satmar and like-minded Chasidim who do these things is very small.

But as I have consistently maintained these vigilante types do represent the mindset of anger, contempt, and disgust at those whom they believe have betrayed them. They may not act on it themselves. They may even disapprove of those who do. But their attitudes are the same. Those attitudes are the motivation of those who do act on it criminally.

This has happened once again. Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, a crusader against sex abuse, who is himself a Satmar type Chasid was attacked by one of his own. (See the video from ABC News below - courtesy VIN.) Bleach was splashed in his face which could have nearly blinded him had he not been wearing his glasses at the time. Rabbi Rosenberg was treated at a nearby hospital and has been released. He is not expected to suffer any permanent damage.

The controversial and outspoken Rabbi Rosenberg has suffered for his courage. He has been made an outcast among his people. He is “persona non grata” wherever he goes in his own community. No Satmar Shul allows him to enter. But that has not stopped him for speaking out against the abuse he has seen there and in other communities. He lives in constant fear of his life having received anonymous death threats from members of that world – if he doesn’t shut up!

Anyone who will say that this event is an isolated one and has nothing to do with the peace loving Chesed oriented Satmar Chasidim has no credibility with me. They have lost their Chezkas Kashrus - their presumption of innocence - on this issue. Defenders cannot possibly believe that these kind of incidents are rogue attempts at vigilante justice. Not after the Weberman trial where all was exposed for the world to see.

These people will stop at nothing to make sure their secret ways are not revealed. It was especially revealing that it was a witness for the defense in the Weberman trial that spoke of masked Tznius squads entering her bedroom to confiscate the ‘forbidden’ smartphone. These squads exist and roam freely. There are no sanctions to them for what they do. This is apparently standard operating procedure for them.

Although I doubt that the Satmar Rebbe would give any public approval to them, he must at least at least give the Tznius squad his tacit approval. He was also moved to ‘lament’recently the fact that a Satmar girl had become a whore (referring to the victim at the Weberman trial.)

It would of course not surprise me if he came out and condemned this action. I’m sure he does. But he is in part responsible for it. By casting Weberman as an innocent Tzadik and his victim as a whore, he should not be surprised if one of his people takes out his frustration on a man they view as a traitor… who now has once again betrayed them by standing up for the victim at that trial.

Nor is this the only vigilante type action that has taken place as a result of this trial. One fellow – in an apparent act of revenge - has claimed to be a sex abuse victim and accused a ‘victim’s advocate’ of tolerating that sex abuse in circumstances where he could have prevented it. (I am not going to dignify those accusations by mentioning names or linking to the website where he made those accusations).

It should not surprise anyone that this type of behavior goes on in a world as insular as theirs. They do not have any reference to civilized behavior that is not defined by Satmar. There is no other frame of reference for them. But even if there  were, their disdain for the outside world leads them to ignore what the civilized world thinks about it.

To them vigilante justice, threats of violence, extortion, and intimidation are all legitimate forms of maintaining their way of life. They believe that what they do is sanctioned by the Torah. Who cares what anyone else says?! …even if it is other Charedi Rabbanim! That their Chasidic Rebbe allows something like the Tznius Squad to continue unfettered - without any negative comments “proves” his approval of it - and similar actions in pursuit of maintaining their holy lifestyle and to protect their reputations.

Let me be perfectly clear about this. I do not castigate any individual Satmar Chasid for this. In general and as individuals the vast majority are all fine people… generous and kind to a fault as their Chasidus teaches them to be.

But when it comes to issues like this their attitude defaults to the ways of the past when the only way to protect themselves from religious persecution was to take matters into their own hands. They view all of this as religious persecution. Incredibly they view America as being no different from Czarist Russia in that regard. And their Rebbe does nothing and says nothing to discourage that kind of thinking.

While that community may think they are acting in God’s name by doing (or tolerating) things like these the result is one of the biggest Chilul HaShems I have ever encountered.

I have been told that Ami editor and publisher Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter who I believe is a Satmar Chasid commented recently about the guilty verdict for Nechemya Weberman. He said that it is no longer possible for a Chasid to get a fair trial in America. I would remind him that there is probably a reason for that. And it isn’t anti-Semitism.