Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bestowing Glory upon Felons

The Satmar Rebbe of Williamsburg, Zalmen Leib Teitelbaum
I remember this case well. It took place not all that long ago.  Nechemya Weberman - an unlicensed and untrained  Chasidic  ‘therapist’ that his community in Williamsburg sent their troubled children too - was charged with repeatedly sexually abusing a young girl over a period of many years.

The Satmar community was outraged by those claims and considered them to be lies fabricated by a young OTD girl he had once treated - that had some sort of personal vendetta against him.  They proclaimed Weberman’s innocence and held a community wide fundraiser in Williamsburg. It raised  $500,000 to be used for Weberman’s defense.

Whether that money was spent on lawyers is not known. What is known is that shortly afterwards a bribe in the same amount of money was offered to Weberman’s victim/accuser. She was asked to drop the charges and to leave the country. She refused and testified. That led to Weberman’s conviction on 59 counts of sexual abuse and a massive sentence of 103 years in prison.

The group offering that bribe was caught. One member of that group, Abraham Rubin, was charged with witness tampering and obstruction of justice.  He plead guilty and was sentenced to a relatively short prison term of 4 months. Rubin was released early for good behavior at the end of March. What happened next is disturbing. From the 5Towns Jewish Times (FTJT).
Abraham Rubin (was treated) to a hero’s welcome, with hundreds of men dancing to joyous music and spirited songs in the streets of Williamsburg. On Motzaei Shabbos, Rubin was feted with a catered celebration meal at an upscale wedding hall and was received with great honor at the Williamsburg home of the Satmar Rebbe. Several large, laudatory display ads were placed in Der Blatt, a Satmar Yiddish weekly, bestowing glory upon Rubin.
How in heaven’s name does anything like this serve the cause of Yiddishkeit? How can a prominent Chasidic Rebbe give public honor to a man that was convicted of bribery after serving time in prison for it?

Well one reason is a view expressed by some – that a Chasid will never get a fair trial in the US – always presumed to be guilty until proven innocent.

I do not believe that a Chasid will never get a fair trial. But there have been some instances where that seemed to be the case. And I emphasize ‘seemed to be’.  Sholom Rubashkin got an excessive sentence as a first time offender of a white collar crime. While I do not think that Rubashkin is an innocent lamb in all this, I and many prominent American jurists felt the punishment did not fit the crime. But one case does not create a rule. If anything it is probably the exception that proves the rule.

Besides, there is no evidence supporting the assertion that his excessive sentence  had anything to do with the fact that he was a religious Jew with a long beard. It may simply be the result of a crackdown by a ‘law and order’ judge on white collar crime in the era of Enron and Bernie Madoff.

But don’t tell this to residents of Satmar. They seem to be living in a past where Jews were constantly persecuted. A past where their parent's and grandparents suffered through real prejudice and true hatred from their neighbors. The type that had serious consequences. Like pogroms. And discriminatory economic  laws. And throwing Jews in jail on the slightest pretext. Where the concept of Mesirah (the law against informing on a fellow Jew) meant something. 

They seem to treat the United States the same way, thus considering any cooperation with the authorities that would lead to an arrest of a fellow to be a form of Mesirah. If an irreligious Jew informs on a religious Jew, they are not to be trusted. No matter the evidence. No matter the crime. Even a religious Jew that informs on or testifies against another religious Jew- is shunned!

I could not disagree with them more. I simply cannot understand how, after living here for nearly 7 decades (I think it is safe to say that most Chasidim are Holocaust survivors - or their descendants)  they can see this Medina Shel Chesed that has given them so much freedom to be who they are, in the same way as they saw pre-war Europe?

But they do. Mostly because of the sheltered and isolated lifestyles they lead. Their frame of reference is entirely that of their parents, grandparents, and their leadership figures. They have a ‘Mesorah’ that Goyim are evil and out to get us.

There are no countervailing influences that teach them that most non Jews in this country are fine and decent people that would not discriminate against us… and in many cases would go out of their way to help us. If in the rare circumstance that they do find a non Jew they see as a good person, they consider it to be an exception to the rule. Unless proven otherwise they assume the worst.

Well they are entitled to see things any way they choose even if they are misguided by their willful  ignorance of the outside world. But when it affects the rest of the Jewish world, that right ends.

Because of their look, and their claim to be the most religious Jews, much of the world perceives them that way. And when the most religious among us are seen as celebrating the release of a convicted felon; treating him as some sort of hero, well that is a Chilul HaShem in my view. So what they see, and what I also see, at least if the reporting in the FTJT is accurate, is a Chassidic Rebbe celebrating the return of a felon who was convicted for trying to cover up the misdeeds of a sexual predator.  And that, my friends is very scary.

They need to consider the consequences of their actions. And how those actions impact on the rest of American Jewry.  Sadly. I don’t think they do or ever will.