Monday, December 31, 2012

Orthodox Jewish inmate wins court victory against state that denied him free religious food 

An Orthodox Jew who was jailed for murder has won the right to be served kosher meals in prison.

A federal appeals court ruled that Max Moussazadeh, who was sentenced in connection with a fatal shooting in Texas, U.S. in 1993, should not be denied free kosher meals because to do so would infringe upon his 'sincere religious beliefs'.

Moussazadeh, now 35, who initially sued in 2005 after the state denied his request for a kosher meal plan, had said at the time he feared he would be 'punished by God' for not practising his religion correctly.

 A lower, district court dismissed the inmate's case and ruled that his commitment to a kosher diet was insincere, according to the Houston Chronicle.

That judgement has now been reversed by the ruling of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which said that the state of Texas was infringing upon the prisoner's beliefs by failing to provide him with food in keeping with his religion.

Moussazadeh's argument was based around the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act, which prevents the government from restricting the religious rights of an institutionalised person, the report said.

The inmate, who was jailed after acting as a lookout while three accomplices shot a man to death during a Houston robbery in 1993, was transferred to a facility in the Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon, Texas, in 2007, which had established a 'kosher kitchen' to cater to Jewish prisoners.

But he was then moved to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, which offers basic kosher products for inmates to purchase but does not provide free kosher meals.

 Lawyers representing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had argued that Moussazadeh sometimes chose to queue for a regular meal while he was a prisoner at the Stringfellow Unit, even when he had the option for a kosher meal.

Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped to represent Moussazadeh in his legal battle, has described the decision as a 'great victory' for human rights and religious liberty.

'Even prisoners retain their human rights, and the state cannot sacrifice those rights on the altar of bureaucratic convenience,' Mr Goodrich said.

A kosher diet is based on Jewish teachings and forbids certain foods including pork, some seafood, and mixing of dairy and meat products.

In order to remain kosher, a meal must be prepared in containers that are untainted by non-kosher food.

The prison system in Texas provides inmates with a choice between pork-free, meat-free and regular trays at most units - none of which would be regarded as kosher.



Sunday, December 30, 2012

Last rabbi in N.J. corruption case is sentenced 

The last of a group of rabbis arrested in New Jersey's largest-ever corruption sting was sentenced Thursday, in a case that sent shockwaves through Orthodox Jewish enclaves from the Jersey Shore to Brooklyn.

Lavel Schwartz was one of five rabbis and more than 40 people arrested in July 2009 in a massive money-laundering and political corruption sting that included Jewish leaders, New Jersey politicians and a man convicted of trafficking in human organs.

Schwartz was sentenced Thursday in federal court in Trenton to 12 months and one day in prison.

The 61-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., resident pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy last May, admitting he conspired to launder illegal proceeds through purported religious charities run by his brother, Rabbi Mordchai Fish.

Fish, who was arrested in the same sting, was sentenced in July to nearly four years in federal prison after pleading guilty.

Prosecutors say Fish and Schwartz laundered money for Solomon Dwek, a disgraced real estate and admitted Ponzi schemer who became a government informant in 2006 after his arrest on a $50 million bank fraud. Dwek told Fish, Schwartz and others in the sting that the money he needed laundered was proceeds from the sale of illegal handbags or assets he needed to hide from bankruptcy proceedings.

Fish and Schwartz would take Dwek's checks and deposit them with a religious charity Fish controlled, then give Dwek back cash minus a 10 percent commission, according to court papers.

Schwartz admitted to engaging in ten transactions with Dwek, converting between $200,000 and $400,000 in checks into a similar amount of cash, minus the 10 percent fee.

Dwek is now serving a six-year prison term for the bank fraud charge that lead to his becoming a government cooperator.

About three-quarters of the defendants arrested in 2009 have pleaded guilty or been convicted.



Saturday, December 29, 2012

Matisyahu Moved Out Of Hasidic Neighbourhood After Lifestyle And Image Change 

Jewish rap-reggae star Matisyahu moved out of his New York apartment after abandoning his Hasidic faith because he couldn't face his disapproving neighbours.

The King Without a Crown rapper, who was previously known for his long hair, bushy beard, and traditional Jewish attire, entered a new phase of his life last year (11) and distanced himself from the religion's strict practices.

He tells Cnn.com, "I began to realise that there were a lot of things within that lifestyle that were actually holding me back, that were sort of weighing heavy down on me and keeping me from tasting a certain freedom of expression.

"In Judaism there are a lot of rules - everything from which fingernail you cut first to which side you sleep on in bed, to the way you get dressed in the morning, to actual ideas, like ideas about being chosen people or ideas about female/male and how to interact with people from the opposite sex.

"All those things that I tried to mould myself into never really jibed... and once I let go of that... I began to taste this freedom in my life that I had been missing."

During that time, the 33 year old, real name Matthew Miller, had been living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a neighbourhood with a large Hasidic population, but, after making the lifestyle change, he moved away to avoid those critical of his rebirth.

He explains, "I didn't want to confront the people over there. I think that most Hasidic people that I know, that I am actually friends with or that are acquaintances, all say that they think I seem like a happier person now than I was then, and they respect my decision.

"There were times, late at night or whatever, where I would go online... (and read what people were saying about me), but it always came back to bite me in the a** because you read those comments that are just mean and it hurts."



Friday, December 28, 2012

Nechemya Weberman's Unique Band of Relatives 

You think your family has issues? Consider the Weberman clan.

Nechemya Weberman was convicted December 10 for child sexual abuse in a landmark case that underlined the massive support he enjoyed in the Satmar Hasidic community. But it turns out that he is just one high-profile member of a sprawling brood, whose diverse activities have made them one of that community's more notable families.

Besides the newly minted felon, the extended Weberman family includes an anti-Zionist who broke bread with Holocaust deniers in Tehran six years ago; an immigration attorney who got the Satmar rebbe into America after World War II, and a Yippie "garbologist," famous for sorting through the trash of Bob Dylan, among other things.

From the Satmars' perspective, the singular bad apple in the barrel may be neither the anti-Zionist nor the convicted child abuser. It is the garbologist, Alan Jules Weberman, a secular left-wing activist better known as A.J. Weberman, who has recently put up a website to trash his Hasidic relatives and the entire Satmar community.

Long before he took on his Hasidic relatives, A.J. Weberman's associations with trashing were of a different nature. He dove into Dylan's garbage during the course of a years-long obsessive pursuit of the composer and singer in the early 1970s. The garbage diving was just part of his fanatic and often eccentric research into Dylan's life and the supposed hidden messages in his lyrics. Rolling Stone magazine referred to Weberman in June 2007 as "the king of all Dylan nuts."

And that is but one of his claims to fame. A.J. Weberman, who is Nechemya Weberman's second cousin, was also an early member of the Youth International Party, a group of left-wing activists whose founders included prominent 1960s agitators Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. Paradoxically, he is also a close associate of Jewish Defense Organization founder Mordechai Levy, whose fringe group is a spin-off of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane's militant right-wing Jewish Defense League.



Living Like a Hasid, Thinking Like a Heretic 

Journalist Pearl Gabel documents Jewish men living double lives.

Pearl Gabel is driving around Hasidic Williamsburg, her SUV gliding through this Brooklyn shtetl. The 35,000 religious Jews here live much the way their ancestors did in Eastern Europe, adhering to a strict code that instructs them to eat, dress, speak, marry, and pray in certain manners, and advises them to shun all alien ideas.

The community's secrets -- its conflicts, its imperfections -- are generally swept quickly behind closed doors.

Until this December, when a State Supreme Court jury convicted Nechemya Weberman, a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidic community, of sexually abusing a young girl while working as her therapist. The trial left much of the community feeling exposed before the press, not only revealing the existence of crime within a seemingly pious polity of perfection, but also uncovering schisms within a group that has worked arduously to present a united front.

Gabel covered the trial for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Daily News, photographing Weberman, as well as the conflict between his supporters and detractors.

But the fractures, which were new to many, did not surprise Gabel, who had spent the past seven years documenting Hasidic communities. More specifically, she spent hundreds of hours interviewing men in their 20s and 30s who consider themselves Hasidic heretics.

"Many are in agony over the situation that they're in," said Shulem Deen, the founder of the web site Hasidic Rebel and one of Gabel's subjects. Sins can range from the mundane -- reading a Hardy Boys novel -- to the profane -- feeling up goyim in bathrooms and soliciting prostitutes on dark streets. The consequences for such transgressions range from a verbal lashing from the rebbe to ex-communication.

Shulem Deen, raised in a Hasidic family, left his community and founded the blog Hasidic Rebel. (Pearl Gabel)

Gabel began the project, in part, out of anger: "I was angry that they didn't like me," said Gabel, who is Jewish. "I'm a reporter. I can get through to everybody. But man, I have never come up against such a brick wall as with Hasidic people."

Finally, in 2005, she approached a young black-hatted man sitting on the Brooklyn waterfront. He shocked her by responding to her questions. A relationship began.

"People live very happy lives here," she said on a recent Sunday, her car moving past Schreiber Fruits, past Oneg Heimishe Bakery, past Yaffa Wigs.

But a life without experimentation is not for everyone. "Human nature is human nature," said Gabel, "even if for your whole life you were raised without certain stimulations, and with this code of conduct, there's still that urge for other things."



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lipa Goes To College 

He is a singer, an entertainer, a performer, a composer, a lyricist and perhaps the most revolutionary force to ever hit the Jewish music world. But for the last two years, Lipa Schmeltzer has donned another guise, trading his microphones for textbooks and the concert stage for the classroom, as the colorful artist has headed to school in pursuit of a college degree.

Schmeltzer’s dream of obtaining a higher education began approximately two years ago as he drove past the local community college and began to contemplate the possibility of earning a college degree. Stopping off at the registrar’s office, Schmeltzer inquired as to the enrollment requirements and was told he needed a high school diploma.

“I never got an education other than biblical stuff,” reported Schmeltzer. “I called up someone in New Square and he got me a paper saying I had graduated high school.”

Not surprisingly, the registrar at Rockland Community College, a two-year school which is part of the State University of New York system, informed Schmeltzer that the paper he was holding was of little value. As English is actually Schmeltzer’s second language, he spent eighteen months working towards his high school equivalency diploma, taking classes at the Rockland County Board of Cooperative Educational Services as well as studying with private tutor Chaim Glovinsky in order to pass the series of five tests which would award him a General Equivalency Diploma and allow him to enroll in college.

Now completing his first full semester at RCC, the 34-year-old Schmeltzer is a firm believer in the value of proper schooling.

“I never had the opportunity to get an education,” explained the superstar. “It’s not fair what is going on in many communities today. People are getting married yet they have no way of supporting themselves and one day they wake up and realize they can’t manage. Even if someone disagrees with the idea of going to college there are still programs which can provide a college degree so that they can make something of themselves and support their families.”

Schmeltzer, who is pursuing a dual associate’s degree in performing arts and liberal arts, a two year process, took twelve credits in his first semester and hopes to take a full 18 credit course load for the upcoming spring semester. Among the courses Schmeltzer plans to complete in his first full year in college are acting, dance, musical theater, English, psychology and pluralism and diversity.

Both Schmeltzer’s classmates and the faculty at the college laud his exuberance, his talent and his determination.

“Lipa is kind, enthusiastic and nice to everyone,” said classmate Neidin Loughran. “Everyone in our acting class respects him, his beliefs, his decision to enroll in college at his age and his passion for performing.”

“Lipa has never boasted about his career but he is a superstar to us,” added department chairperson, Patricia Maloney-Titland, who was also Schmeltzer’s professor this past semester. “His manner, his work ethic, his creativity, everyone enjoys what he brings to the table. Lipa clearly inspires people and if anyone can be the messenger to remind us that we all need to find common ground to unite us, he is going to be that guy.”

In fact, Schmeltzer views his time at RCC as an opportunity not only for his personal growth but that of other Jewish students as well. Rabbi Dov Oliver, director of the RCC Hillel, which also doubles as a Chabad House, had nothing but praise for the college’s most well known musical personality.

“From his first days at RCC, Lipa has been here offering to do whatever he could,” reported Rabbi Oliver. “He has helped me put tefillin on kids and he brought his entire family for our annual Shabbat dinner. He made kiddush, sang zemiros, did badchanus and literally made his way to every single table in the room, making everyone feel good. Once, at our weekly parsha shmooze, Lipa spoke about his life, how unlikely it was that he would have ended up in college, explaining that you never have to accept your circumstances as the end game, you can control your own destiny and work towards what you believe. He made a very powerful impression on the students.”



Brooklyn hasid indicted for throwing bleach in rabbi’s face 

A Brooklyn fishmonger was indicted for throwing a cup of bleach in the face of a Chasidic rabbi who advocates for victims of sexual abuse in the haredi Orthodox community.

Meilech Schnitzler, 36, of Williamsburg, a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, was indicted Wednesday on two counts of attempted assault, two counts of assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He could face up to 15 years in prison.

Schnitzler on Dec. 11 threw a cup of bleach in the face of Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, also of Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood.

Rosenberg, 62, was treated for burns on his face, around his eyes and in his left eye. The rabbi runs a website and blog for sex-abuse victims, as well as a telephone hot line.

Rosenberg reportedly had recognized his assailant. He had accused Schnitzler's father on his blog of being a sexual predator.

The incident came a day after Satmar Hasidic leader and convicted child molester Nechemya Weberman, was convicted on  59 counts of sexual abuse of a now-18-year-old woman when she was between the ages of 12 and 15 and went to Weberman for counseling. Rosenberg supported and assisted the victim throughout the judicial process.



Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Vizhnitz Rebbe: Don't report for IDF draft 

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hager, has called on yeshiva students not to report to IDF recruitment centers upon receiving their initial draft orders inviting them to begin the IDF screening process. The rabbi said he himself would take responsibility for the mutiny.
The Hasidic leader, who heads one of Israel's largest haredi communities, joined Lithuanian Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who released a similar order a few months ago.
"I heard about a number of alarming incidents happening there (at the induction centers), and I instruct everyone: Do not report - not to your initial draft order, not to the second one and not to the third one," the Rebbe said to his disciples in a speech he gave Saturday in Bnei Brak. "I have a responsibility for all of Israel, not just the Viznitzer hasidim, and I say publish these words as my own."

To those afraid of the repercussions of breaking the law, he said: "Any young man who refuses to report should tell them that the Vizhnitzer Rebbe told him to do so. I take full responsibility, and if they want they are welcome to come and arrest me. I am not afraid of jail, and if it is required we will go singing and dancing. This is a horrible edict (to enlist haredi students) and we must stand as a strong wall against it."
The Rebbe, who heads one of Israel's largest Hasidic sects, echoed in his words those of another important haredi leader, Lithuanian Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who also called on his students not to report for the IDF screening process and generally not to cooperate with IDF officials. A similar call was also published by the Ponevezh Yeshiva.



Inside Hasidic Modesty Patrols 

One of the most striking ironies of the Nechemya Weberman trial, which ended with his conviction on 59 counts of sexual abuse, was the revelation that the unlicensed therapist was a member of the Va'ad Hatznius, or modesty patrol, the self-appointed arbiters of right and wrong in the Satmar community.

Until recently, the Va'ad Hatznius was little known outside the Hasidic community, but its actions have reverberated through the community for years. Although they ostensibly monitor the moral behavior of both sexes (men and women are both warned not to read English books, watch television or surf the internet), most of their energies are directed towards ensuring that women and girls dress and behave modestly.

Their reasoning is clear: When a female wears revealing clothing or chats with the opposite sex, it could entice the men, and lead to dire consequences. In other words, the goal of their injunctions is to inhibit the sexual impulses of the male population.

Where did the tradition of the Va'ad Hatznius originate? And what do the Hasidim themselves think of it? The term V'ad Hatznius doesn't appear in the Bible or in the Talmud, but Maimonides does write, in Hilchos Yom Tov 6:21, that "the Beit Din [rabbinical court] must appoint officers during the festivals to patrol the gardens and orchards and along the rivers to prevent men and women from gathering there to eat and drink, lest they fall into sin."

The Jewish communities of eastern Europe didn't use the term Va'ad Hatznius either but religious leaders did issue rulings, forbidding women from publicly wearing fashionable clothing and jewelry, said Dr. David Fishman, professor of Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. The rulings were announced after prayer services in the synagogue or through posters hung on the synagogue door. In larger cities, posters were hung in a number of places.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

‘Lost tribe’ of Indian Jews return to Israel 

Nearly 50 members of the Indian community believed to be descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel have arrived in the Jewish state, completing their immigration.

The members are linking up with family members, who have already settled in Israel.

The Indians said that they are the descendants of the 10 tribes who lived in the kingdom of Israel in Biblical times and who were dispersed, after the invasion of the Assyrians in 721 BC, according to the Bible, news.com.au reports.

Nachshon Gangte, 47, waiting for an older sister he has not seen for 12 years, said that after thousands of years of exile, he has finally returned home.

The people were welcomed at the airport by dozens of family members, amid a festive atmosphere.

The Bnei Menashe are members of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe who live in the northeastern Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur near the border with Myanmar (Burma), the report said.

Their oral history tells of a centuries-long exodus through Persia, Afghanistan, Tibet and China, all the while adhering to certain Jewish religious practices, like circumcision, it added.

According to the report, in India, they were converted to Christianity by 19th-century missionaries and, in reading the Bible, recognised stories from their own traditions that convinced them they actually belonged to the Jewish faith.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Satmar offers Israelis cash for not voting 

The anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic sect intends to pay every Israeli who promises not to vote, regardless of his or her religious affiliation.

According to sources involved in the move, each person submitting their identity card and driver's license on Election Day will receive $100 in cash.

Last week, it was reported that one of the Satmar rebbes, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, would land in Israel two days before the January 22 elections with $25,000 for institutions influencing their students not to vote.

Following the report, the Hiddush association for religious freedom and equality sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and to Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, chairman of the Central Election Committee, demanding that they look into the legitimacy of the grants offered by the rebbe.

Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev argued that the move was an alleged election bribe, adding that "Satmar Hasidim have a right to boycott the elections, but they must not offer a bribe to others. They must be informed that the Israeli law also applies to them."



Sunday, December 23, 2012


Israeli-born author Tuvia Tenenbom has called for the dismissal of Volkhard Knigge, the head of the Buchenwald concentration camp memorial in Weimar, Germany, after alleging that Knigge told him that Jews should have settled in Uganda instead of establishing the State of Israel.

Tenenbom, the director of the Jewish Theater of New York, described Knigge’s anti-Israel remarks in an interview on Sunday with the regional daily paper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

Tenenbom wrote a 2011 book on his observation of modern anti-Semitism in Germany. The book, I Sleep in Hitler’s Room: An American Jew Visits Germany, describes his experiences with diverse forms of anti-Semitism in Germany and includes an interview with Knigge and Daniel Gaede, an educator at Buchenwald.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

Suspicious device rendered safe in Glendale 

The bomb squad investigated a suspicious device found Friday in front of a Jewish center in Glendale.

Just after 3 p.m., firefighters were called to the 1200 block of North Pacific Avenue. While on that call, they spotted a suspicious device in front of the Jewish center and reported it.

The device was described as small with protruding wires. The bomb squad later rendered it safe.

Several nearby businesses and apartments were evacuated as a precaution.



Friday, December 21, 2012

Hasidic Jews go 'Gangnam Style' 

We know you're sick of "Gangnam Style" and the thousands of re-mixes, videos and whatnot you can find on YouTube, but we promise you that you've never seen it quite like this.

At a recent Hasidic wedding, the DJ played a Yiddish remix of "Gangnam Style" and, as you can well imagine, it is awesome. So awesome that we dare you not to have a smile on your face the whole time watching this video. Try, it's impossible.



Thursday, December 20, 2012

Man held in bomb hoax against Jewish temple, LAPD squad car 

Los Angeles police have arrested a man they believe made phony bomb threats against a Jewish temple in Koreatown on Tuesday, as well as an LAPD patrol car parked nearby, police said.

The suspect was identified as Wan Ryung Song, a.k.a Patrick Song, a 46-year-old naturalized citizen who is a native of South Korea. Police say they believe Song also vandalized the Wilshire Boulevard Temple with graffiti of a Swastika and anti-Semitic comments on Dec. 6.

Song has been charged with four counts of making a bomb threat, one count of vandalism at a house of worship, one count of a hate crime.

The hoax calls were made over six hours Tuesday morning from what LAPD investigators believe was the same pay phone near Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

The first phone call was received by police about 2 a.m. and targeted the temple, which was immediately searched before authorities determined there was no explosive device.

Then, shortly before 8 a.m., two calls in close succession came in saying there was some kind of device in or around a patrol car parked on Harvard Street between the temple and Our Lady of Angeles Church.

LAPD officials said the squad car was unoccupied and had been parked in the area to deter crime.

But the LAPD dispatched its bomb squad, which spent several hours examining the patrol car. Two robots searched in and around the vehicle, at one point breaking out a back window and blowing the lock off the trunk to look inside.

A specialized lift truck called a "bat cat" also hoisted the cruiser into the air so one of the robots could examine its underside.

Several streets along Wilshire Boulevard near South Hobart Boulevard and 6th Street were closed for hours as the bomb squad investigated.
Security officials told police that they had seen a suspicious man hiding behind a parked patrol car, according to authorities. LAPD investigators determined that Song made calls from a nearby pay phone at the Hyun Dae Health Spa, in the 3600 block of Wilshire Boulevard, and confirmed that he was a registered member of the spa.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lawyer Says Ritual Circumcision Is Protected Activity 

A lawyer for Orthodox Jewish groups asked a federal judge on Tuesday to throw out a New York City regulation requiring parents to sign a consent form before their infant sons undergo a form of Jewish ritual circumcision in which the circumciser uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision.

The lawyer, Shay Dvoretzky, said the practice, which is prevalent in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community, is a constitutionally protected religious activity. He said that requiring ritual circumcisers, known collectively as mohelim, to be involved in conveying the city's perspective on the procedure would infringe upon their rights of free speech.

"That lies at the heart of First Amendment protection," Mr. Dvoretzky said.

But a lawyer for the city argued that the regulation was necessary and that the practice most likely caused 11 herpes infections in infants between 2004 and 2011. Two of the infected babies died; at least two others suffered brain damage.

"The health department is not looking at the religion in determining what to do about this conduct," said Michelle L. Goldberg-Cahn, a lawyer for the city. "The city is looking at the conduct."

The Orthodox groups, including Agudath Israel of America and the Central Rabbinical Congress, sued the city in October to block the regulation, which was approved by the New York City Board of Health in September but is suspended until a ruling is issued in this case. The groups say that the procedure is safe and that the city has not definitively linked infections to the practice.

Infectious disease experts, several of whom filed briefs in support of the regulation, widely agree that the oral contact, known in Hebrew as metzitzah b'peh, creates a risk of transmission of herpes that can be deadly to infants because of their underdeveloped immune systems.

On Tuesday, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of Federal District Court in Manhattan, heard oral arguments in the case, one that pits the sanctity of ancient religious rituals against the rigors of both modern medicine and secular government regulation. She said her decision would come within a few weeks.

Her sharpest inquiries were directed at Mr. Dvoretzky, the lawyer for the Orthodox groups.

She raised a hypothetical situation in which a single religious group amputates left pinkie fingers at birth, and asked Mr. Dvoretzky whether the city would have the authority to regulate the activity. He said it would depend upon whether the practice caused immediate, serious harm.

Judge Buchwald also said there was a direct comparison to consent requirements placed on physicians when they perform a circumcision.

Mr. Dvoretzky called that an "apples and oranges" comparison, because a physician would not perform a metzitzah b'peh.

"Wait a second," Judge Buchwald interrupted. "They can't perform any circumcision without consent. It's a surgery."

Mr. Dvoretzky said the city should undertake a broad education campaign, to prevent all infant herpes infections.

But Judge Buchwald said such a campaign would have little impact, because the risk of infections is medically well-known.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brooklyn's hipster Hasidim try on a new fringe 

Cholent is the Saturday food of the Jews, that re-heated, over-filling stew packed with beans and meat and beloved for Sabbath lunch because it can be cooked before sundown on Friday and kept simmering for hours on end.

For nearly a decade, however, on the fringes of New York's Orthodox Jewish society, cholent has also been the name for a subversive kind of party, one that attracts eccentric Jewish artists looking to add a dash of modernity to their committed Jewish lives.
You could say they want to have their cholent and eat it, too.

The cholent parties were founded by a diverse handful of Orthodox exiles: newly found agnostics, pot-smoking Haredim, and any other Torah-fearing faithfuls who had somehow deviated from the prescribed norm.

Call it a safe space, or a hiding spot. Nowadays, the adherents of these drop-in parties call themselves X-O's, shorthand for "ex-Orthodox." On Thursday nights, writes party founder Yitzhak Schonfeld on the website neohasid.org, the X-O's trundle up to a designated meeting place and "share news, wounds, nigunim, and fun. It's a place of open welcome, no judgment, and experimentation."

Cholent parties were originally served up for Orthodox Jews who found themselves grappling with questions of faith and adherence. "Some of them simply didn't emotionally connect with the place they grew up in, and some were actually quite religious," Schonfeld told Haaretz. The organization grew out of another group, Corporate Raiders, described on neohasid.org as "a business in the heart of Borough Park that kept its doors open to all hours for the benefit of Hasidim who still lived physically in the Haredi community but whose hearts or beliefs had moved elsewhere."

Today, Cholent gatherings are held in lower Manhattan on Thursday nights. And eight years after their founding, the picture is more diverse. "Over time, people from secular backgrounds began coming and some people who weren't even Jewish," Schonfeld explains. "Today, more secular Jews come than religious ones."

They might have stayed under the wire were it not for a new documentary, "Punk Jews," from Adon Olam Productions. The film premiered this month in Manhattan and is hoping for a wider release soon.

Directed by Jesse Zook Mann and produced by Evan Klein, the film is about New York's Jewish artists: those chosen creative who tackle faith and fantasy; chastity and creativity.

The film, the duo says, exposes an underground Jewish community of which the cholent parties are just a part. "From Hasidic punk rockers to Yiddish street performers to African-American Jewish activists, 'Punk Jews' shows an emerging movement in New York City of Jews asserting their Jewish identity, defying the norm, and doing so at any cost," they write on the film's website.

"Punk Jews" explores an emerging subculture among New York City Hasidim, a place where the subversive is encouraged and conformity is no longer king.

The title, says Zook Mann, made sense. "Punk is a rock and roll movement with a do-it-yourself philosophy. In punk rock, artists don't work with corporations or recognized institutions," he says. "They simply make their art in their backyard, in a garage, in their homes. The idea of the Jews in the film is similar and focuses on the feeling of rebellion and spiritual independence."

Artist Elke Reva-Sudin, a graphic designer who presents a series of her paintings, "Hipsters and Hasids," in the film, recognizes that cholent parties are just the tip of this iceberg.

"The phenomenon of punk Jews is much broader and more widespread than the cholent parties," says Reva-Sudin, who is also the wife of "Punk Jews" co-producer Saul Sudin. "Hipsters and Hasids" shows the similarities between the Brooklyn hipsters of who live in northern Williamsburg and the Hasidim who live in the southern part of the neighborhood.

In Williamsburg, where skinny-jean-wearing hipsters and black-hat-donning Hasidim live side-by-side, there is more that unites than divides, she says.



Monday, December 17, 2012

UK Jewry names its next chief rabbi 

Ephraim Mirvis will serve as the UK's next chief rabbi. (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be the next British chief rabbi, the United Synagogue press office announced Monday.

The appointment has been confirmed by both committees that make the selection.

Mirvis has been the rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, one of London’s flagship modern Orthodox shuls, since 1996. South African-born, he was chief rabbi of Ireland between 1984 and 1992.

In recent weeks, pressure has grown from the UK’s Jewish press to appoint Mirvis, who has been rumored to be the last candidate standing. Other candidates have included two other British rabbis, Harvey Belovski and Alan Kimche, as well as Jonathan Rosenblatt of New York and Michael Broyde of Atlanta.

The current chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is due to retire in September 2013.

Highly respected among his rabbinic colleagues, Mirvis is a good speaker and has a reputation for warmth, though he is not considered a bold thinker.

According to one United Synagogue rabbi, speaking to The Times of Israel recently, Mirvis “represents the status quo,” and will be unlikely to push for change on gender issues, grapple with internal political issues or “be the star appointment” the selection committee promised. Said this rabbi, “It’s a safe choice.”

Nevertheless, the appointment has been broadly welcomed by the community, which in the past few weeks has come to regard the announcement as inevitable.

According to Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who publicly endorsed Mirvis in May when he withdrew his own candidacy, “I have always maintained he is the right man for the job, with the right sort of character, experience and his finger on the pulse of Anglo-Jewry.

“The present appointment is a critical one confronting the various challenges facing Anglo-Jewry, both inwardly in terms of making traditional Judaism relevant to the 21st century and more broadly in terms of Israel, anti-Semitism and the various challenges we all face collectively. I believe Rabbi Mirvis can navigate these varied roles successfully, and I for one certainly feel more secure about Anglo-Jewry’s future in light of his appointment.”

Jeremy Newmark, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, called the appointment “immensely popular.”

The Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK welcomed Mirvis’ selection “as the next Orthodox chief rabbi,” highlighting the increasing reluctance of the non-Orthodox to accept the chief rabbi as the figurehead for all of British Jewry. Officially, Mirvis represents only the 60-odd shuls belonging to the Orthodox United Synagogue.

Laura Janner-Klausner, the head rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism, which represents about one-third of British Jewry, said: “I welcome the appointment of Rabbi Mirvis as another powerful voice for British Jewry. I look forward to working closely with him as a partner on areas of common interests to the Jewish and wider community.”

Meanwhile, one of the former candidates, Broyde, said that “while being considered as a candidate was a wonderful honor, I have little doubt that Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be a spectacular chief rabbi. In him one cannot help but see many of the wonderful traits that both his immediate predecessor and current chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has, as well as many of the attributes other impressive holders of the office have shown and shared. He will accomplish much, and I am honored to help him in any way I can.”



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Youngest child slaughtered was Jewish 

Nathan Pozner

A Jewish family is among those mourning in Newtown, Connecticut. The youngest child murdered Noah Pozner turned six last month. It is believed his twin sister survived the massacre.

Noah Pozner will be laid to rest on Sunday. Nathan had an older sister, 8, also at Sandy Hook school. She survived. Twenty children were murdered.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of the Newtown’s Congregation Adath Israel has said on the synagogue’s web site : “We are saddened by the loss of our friends and neighbors in this tragedy and ask for your prayers for Noah Pozner’s family at this time.”

J-Wire has sent the following message to Rabbi Praver:

J-Wire is a Jewish online publication focusing on the Australian and New Zealand Jewish communities.
We wish whatever comfort is possible to the Pozner family and to all the other families whose lives have been shattered by this terrible and meaningless slaughter.

A long life to them and Australian and New Zealand Jewry will surely respond to your request for prayer…
President Danny Lamm of the The Executive Council of Australian Jewry  and president Stephen Goodman of the New Zealand Jewish Council have added heart-felt condolences from the Jewish communities of both countries to the Pozner family and to all others grieving at this time.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Photographer captures intimacy of ritual bath 

When Houston photographer Janice Rubin first decided to focus her lens on the mikvah, the ritual bath used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women, she was met with indifference and disdain.

"Orthodox Jews thought it was too private for pictures," she said in a telephone interview. "Reform Jews thought it was too Orthodox to be of interest to a wide audience and too related to menstruation to be interesting."

But the climate began to change in 2000 when she first exhibited her photos in an alternative gallery in Houston.

"Women, some of whom had never talked about their mikvah experiences, began telling me about them," Rubin said. "Others began looking at the ritual with new eyes. I found myself at the forefront of the movement toward greater use of the mikvah."

Orthodox women still use it to mark the end of their menses and return to intimate relations with their husbands, but Jewish women and men of all denominations are immersing in its warm waters to mark

other transformative moments in their lives.

Because Rubin did not want to breach the privacy, solitude and sanctity of the mikvah, she sought models to simulate the ritual rather than women who were actually performing it.

"I tried to find women who were at a place of transition in their lives so there would be an element of reality in the photos," said Rubin, who also educated the models about the purpose and spiritual aspects of the immersions before she photographed them. "Several said they had their own spiritual experiences during our sessions."

Interest in the exhibit, which has been touring nationally and internationally since 2002, is still strong.

After Memphian Susan Adler Thorp saw it at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, she approached fellow members of Temple Israel's museum board to consider bringing it to Memphis.

With approval from Rabbi Micah Greenstein, financial support from the Robert T. Goldsmith Fund and ArtsMemphis, the exhibit opened in October and will be on display until mid-January.

It can be viewed at Temple Israel, 1376 E. Massey from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

"Janice Rubin shows a private ritual in an artistic and sensitive way," said Thorp, a past president of the museum board. "It's been educational and emotional for me."

Rubin's 40 black-and-white photos are accompanied by text revealing testimonials from women all over America on their mikvah experiences.

After the first exhibit of the photos, Rubin asked Houston writer Leah Lax to help her find women who would speak to them in a way that was "real, not canned."

Their purpose was not to promote the mikvah but to reveal how the ritual shapes women's lives — positively and negatively.

"When I first started the project, I had a negative attitude about the mikvah being a ritual that signified women were unclean at certain times," she said. "But when I learned how it can be used for healing, I began to understand that we can use the ritual of the mikvah and other Jewish rituals as tools to infuse our lives with meaning."



Friday, December 14, 2012

Satmar sect's sick revenge as pervert's posse bullies family of teen sex-abuse victim 

Backers of convicted child molester Nechemya Weberman have wreaked vengeance upon the teenage victim's family and her sympathizers, sources told the Daily News.

Since Weberman was convicted on 59 counts of sexual abuse Monday, his supporters in the insular Satmar Hasidic sect have told customers to boycott the victim's parents' businesses, pulled advertising dollars from an Orthodox radio show and spat at an anti-molestation activist.

"It's getting serious," a law enforcement source told The News.

Meanwhile, the pervert's posse took out a two-page spread in the Williamsburg-based Satmar community's largest newspaper in an effort to raise $1 million for an appeal.

"The entire community is sitting on that defendant's bench God forbid," reads the two-page spread in the Der Yid newspaper. "In the coming weeks we must come up with a million dollars to be able to continue pursue the case to rescue the 'scapegoat' Nechemya."

Sources close to the case say the unnamed group hopes to hire famed criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, who helped get O.J. Simpson acquitted of murder.

Weberman faces a maximum of 117 years in the slammer for subjecting a young girl he was paid to counsel to three years of closed-door molestation sessions, starting in 2007 when she was 12.

The victim testified during the trial that after she filed a February 2011 criminal complaint against the prominent counselor, her father's business listing operation started bleeding clients, her nieces were kicked out of their yeshiva, and three men stormed her husband's restaurant to rip off its kosher certificate. The restaurant is now shuttered.

Women also began to shun her mother's side business selling Mary Kay cosmetics.

"Some have gone. And some have come," the mother shrugged.

After the guilty verdict, a text message began circulating in the community. Translated from Yiddish by The News, it reads:

"Please send around to at least 10 people. If you're going to (name redacted) to make your face . . . you are a part of killing the Jewish Nation and five kids are home without a father," referring to Weberman's children.

"The pressure — it's unbelievable," the victim's mother told The News on Thursday. "I can't take it anymore."

But the victim's family members aren't the only people bearing the brunt of the verdict.

Longtime anti-sex abuse blogger Nathan (Nuchem) Rosenberg filed complaint after bleach attack.

Zev Brenner, a radio personality who hosts a popular show called "Talkline" that caters to Orthodox Jews, said he already lost one sponsor, and is fighting to keep others.

His crime? He interviewed Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes about the case.

"We had the DA on and we had the victim's husband [after the verdict]," Brenner said. "One person is not happy about it and won't advertise."

Brenner said his program, which has been on the air for 31 years, tries to be impartial, but reporting on the high-profile trial has been tough, he said.

"He has a vocal group of supporters," Brenner said on the convicted perv. "People are upset."

On Tuesday, longtime anti-sex abuse blogger Nathan (Nuchem) Rosenberg filed a complaint against Meilech Schnitzler — who ultimately surrendered — for splashing bleach in his eye. The blogger accused Schnitzler's father of being a pedophile.

Rosenberg told The News he had been spat at by several people earlier that day.



Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meilech Schnitzler, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg attack case: Cops say man tossed chemical on rabbi 

New York police have arrested a man for throwing a chemical, believed to be bleach, on a rabbi who advocates for sexual abuse victims.

Meilech Schnitzler, 36, turned himself in to police Wednesday and was charged with assault, menacing, criminal mischief, and criminal possession of a weapon.

He is accused of attacking Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg in Brooklyn's tightknit Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg on Tuesday.

Schnitzler allegedly threw a chemical on Rosenberg's face, causing his eyes and face to burn.

Rosenberg runs a website and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community, and he believes this attack was an attempt to "silence" him, according to Abe George, the rabbi's attorney.

Police would not comment on Schnitzler's motive.

But Rosenberg said earlier he knew who doused him, describing him as the son of a man he had reported on in the past as being allegedly involved in sexual abuse in the community, the lawyer said.

The assault happened a day after the conviction of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member in the conservative Satmar Hasidic community, was found guilty of sexually abusing a girl over a period of three years.

Weberman's conviction has put the spotlight on the insular Satmar Hasidic community, many of whom live in Williamsburg.

Joel Engelman, another advocate against sexual abuse among Orthodox Jews, describes himself as a survivor of such abuse. It is rare for respected members of the community to face such allegations in court, he said.

In the past, members of the community have intimidated and pressured those who have accused their leaders of sexual abuse, he said.

Rosenberg's vision is still blurry, but his attorney said he believes the rabbi will fully recover.



Orthodox Rabbis Laud Conviction Of Hasidic Nechemya Weberman On Sexual Abuse Charges 

The world's largest group of Orthodox rabbis is lauding the process that led to the conviction of a Hasidic Jewish man on Monday (Dec. 10) on sexual abuse charges, and called on all segments of the Jewish community to cooperate with police in such cases.

"The RCA strongly advocates, as a matter of Jewish law, the reporting of reasonable suspicions of child abuse to the civil authorities and full cooperation with the criminal justice system," reads a statement from the Rabbinical Council of America, which represents more than 1,000 rabbis in 14 countries.

The RCA is generally dissociated from Hasidic Jewish communities -- fervently religious groups that follow the teachings of particular rabbis in almost all aspects of daily life. Hasidic Jews distinguish themselves by their Old World clothes, and they typically have little interaction with outsiders.

Concentrated in Israel and Brooklyn, Hasidic communities such as the Satmars, to which the convicted man belongs, have frustrated police with their unwillingness to work with civil authorities on sexual abuse cases. They have invoked Jewish law to justify their insistence that the community alone handle such matters.

In its statement, released the day after the conviction of Nechemya Weberman, the RCA said it "decries any invocation of Jewish law or communal interests as tools in silencing victims or witnesses from reporting abuse or from receiving therapeutic and communal support, and strongly condemns those members of the Jewish community who use such tactics."

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, in announcing the conviction of Weberman, 54, praised the female victim, now 18, for coming forward after years of sexual abuse.

"The victim showed great courage to come forward in a very difficult time. Hopefully, this verdict will lead to the understanding for other women that they can come forward as well," said Hynes, who in past years has been accused of failing to aggressively pursue cases within Brooklyn's politically powerful Hasidic communities.

The victim was referred to Weberman, an unlicensed youth counselor, to deal with her doubts about her faith and, by Satmar standards, her immodest dress. Many in the community shunned her family after her accusations.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the RCA and founder of a group that fights sexual abuse, said Judaism, like other religious communities, has come a long way in confronting sexual abuse within itself.

"We increasingly understand that our religious texts, traditions, and values must serve as resources of strength and support for members of our faith communities, not as roadblocks to their safety and security," he said.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Joe Hynes and Brooklyn justice 

Brooklyn DA Charles "Joe" Hynes got a huge win this week on the sexual-abuse front, but let's hope he realizes that he's not done yet.

Hynes won a conviction on all 59 counts brought against unlicensed "therapist" Nechemya Weberman, with jurors agreeing that Weberman abused a 12-year-old girl during weekly counseling sessions over a three-year period.

Weberman, a Satmar Hasidic leader, faces 25 years behind bars — and he long ago forfeited any claim on mercy.

This victory represents something of a sea change in Hynes' relations with the politically influential ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. In the past, he chose not to reveal the names of accused pedophiles and sexual abusers — even after guilty verdicts were returned.

Hynes, in fact, seemed intimidated by community leaders — who, for their part, claimed such silence was necessary out of concern for victims and their families.

In truth, as court officials have noted, some Satmar members could give the Bloods and Crips lessons in intimidation.

As demonstrated in the Weberman trial.

Which is why two related cases need to be vigorously pursued to their conclusion.

In June, Abraham Rubin and three brothers — Jacob, Joseph and Hertzka Berger — were indicted for allegedly offering a $500,000 bribe to get the now-18-year-old victim to drop the case.

Their next court date is in January.

Then, late last month, three other Orthodox men — Joseph Fried, Yona Weissman and Lemon Juice — were caught taking pictures of the victim as she testified in court, in blatant violation of state law.

The judge promptly had them arrested on judicial contempt and intimidation charges.

They'll be back in court in February.

So, while it's good that Nechemya Weberman will be going away for a long time, Joe Hynes has some loose ends to tie up.

Given the culture that he's chosen to confront, that won't be easy.

Clearly, however, he's up to the task.

He proved that this week.



Weberman's sexual assault victim's mother speaks out: 'She brought justice. Now other people can come forward' 

She never told me face to face until this got out. She never told me, she never told us.

We got a call from the police station. They said come over right away. I was so shocked. I called my husband right away.

The therapist [at the new school] had called the police. That school made every girl get therapy once a week. My children told me, 'You have to believe her.' She is my youngest.

Her childhood was robbed. She was such a bubbly child.

I lost a couple of years with her. After what she went through hopefully she will pick up.

She wasn't a rebel at all. She was a shy, very smart child. She likes to know. Very bright child. She is a very good child.

The principal (at the Satmar school) could have answered my daughter's questions (about God). Not screamed apikoros (heretic). What, because she asked a question?

My husband called the teacher. He said 'You don't know the answer?'

'Listen to (my daughter) and say, 'I don't know the answer. I will get it tomorrow and find out and then tell you'.'

They (the teachers) started picking on her. Picking on her!

She would say, 'The principal hates me. I don't know why.'

A teacher came (to the house) and investigated if I had a computer with Internet. I feel tznius (modest), but not to their extent.

My daughter couldn't take the tights. She hated wearing them.

It had to be Satmar tights. It couldn't be Spandex. They would feel and touch her tights.

They started picking at her for every little thing. They drove her crazy.

She was afraid. She's not a rebel.

My faith, thank God, it is what helped me through it. I was able to survive.

I wasn't allowed in the court room nor were my kids. The prosecutor is very smart. He saw I couldn't survive hearing all of this.

It was so public. Very embarrassing.

I didn't know if I could resist jumping on (Weberman).

For most of the time I was standing outside the courtroom bursting into tears.

I couldn't stop crying. I had vases of tears filled.

She's our star. I'm at peace now.

In the past three weeks I couldn't do anything, no laundry, no cooking.

I feel thankful to Hashem (another word for God) that truth and justice came out.

Now at the same time, I have sorrow and pain for his wife and children, they are innocent.

This isn't the whole community. There are good people.

Many people are supporting my husband.

This story is breaking a world record. And my daughter is the one to break it.

She brought justice. Now other people can come forward.

She is studying criminal justice now.

I'm not looking to go now out on the street. My husband went to Daven, to pray. He saw a light flickering in the shul.

He thought it was a bulb ... then all these calls started. People thought they had been blinking the lights in the shul.

I am not scared. They can't throw me out. They can't do anything."



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Chemical Thrown at Rabbi Who Helped Abuse Victims 

An outspoken advocate for child sexual abuse victims in the Satmar Hasidic community was injured by a chemical he believed to be bleach that was thrown in his face as he walked down the street in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn, neighborhood on Tuesday.

The advocate, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg, who runs a Web site and telephone call-in line that publicizes claims of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, said in an interview at the hospital where he was treated that he was walking on Roebling Street just after noon when a man came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.

“He has a cup of bleach,” Rabbi Rosenberg said, adding that he recognized the man. “And then he says ‘whoops’ and throws it in my face and walks off.”

A Police Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening that there had been an “ongoing dispute” between Rabbi Rosenberg and the man who threw the unidentified substance, but that no arrest had yet been made. Rabbi Rosenberg was taken to Woodhull Medical Center with burns to his face. According to a relative who was at the hospital, he had a corneal abrasion to his left eye and chemical burns around his eye. He was released after treatment and is expected to fully recover, his relative said.

Tensions are high in the tightly knit Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg after the conviction on Monday of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent community member who was found guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing a girl who came to him for counseling. Since his arrest on those charges last year, Mr. Weberman has had the backing of the community’s rabbinical leaders, and many in the neighborhood continue to believe he is innocent.

Rabbi Rosenberg said he believed the attack against him was related to Mr. Weberman’s conviction, as well as to a claim that he made on his telephone call-in line last week claiming that another ultra-Orthodox man was also a molester. “Everyone is so crazy right now,” Rabbi Rosenberg said.

A Police Department spokesman said there appeared to be no connection to the verdict.

A law enforcement official said that the police were still determining what substance had been thrown at Rabbi Rosenberg, but confirmed that he had been burned. Detectives interviewed Rabbi Rosenberg at the hospital and said they would take his clothing for chemical analysis.

Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, has vowed in recent months to crack down against intimidation of sexual abuse victims and their supporters in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where he has said people trying to cover up cases use tactics similar to those employed by organized crime. On Monday, the district attorney warned that people acting like “thugs”  in the community would be punished.

Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, said on Tuesday that his office was investigating the attack on Rabbi Rosenberg.

Primo Santiago, the manager of Roebling Liquors, at 311 Roebling Street, said that he saw the attack take place. He said he was unlocking his store when he saw a man rushing across the street with a cup of liquid.

 “I saw the one guy throw something at the other guy’s face,” he said. Rabbi Rosenberg, 62, has been confronted before. In 2008, after he began talking publicly about ultra-Orthodox Jews who he believed were molesters, he was formally ostracized by a group of rabbis and religious judges, and barred from local synagogues.

“The public must beware, and stay away from him, and push him out of our camp,” that ban, printed in local newspapers, said in Hebrew. Rabbi Rosenberg also said he was grazed in the forehead by a bullet from a pellet gun shortly afterward.

Through it all, Rabbi Rosenberg has refused to tone down his advocacy. He has accused some top rabbis within the Satmar community of covering up abuse or being molesters themselves.

On Monday, he attended the Weberman trial and gave interviews to the news media praising the guilty verdict.

“Eventually, we are going to be a normal community, that everyone who is molested can come forward,” he said.



NY college group hopes it set dreidel spin record 

An organization of Jewish students at an upstate New York college is trying to put a new spin on a world record.

The Chabad (khah-BAHD') Center for Jewish Student Life at Binghamton University says it got enough people together Monday evening to simultaneously spin more than 749 dreidels, the four-sided top and traditional Hanukkah diversion, and break a Guinness World Record.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Counselor Found Guilty in Orthodox Abuse Trial 

A prominent ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor was found guilty Monday of sexually abusing a teenage girl over a three-year span — a rare win for prosecutors in an insular Brooklyn community they have long accused of keeping members quiet.

In a packed courtroom, the jury of four men and eight women found Nechemya Weberman, 54 years old, guilty on all 60 counts of sexual abuse and child endangerment — the most serious that he sexually assaulted the young woman over a sustained period of time from when she was 12 to 15 years old.

Weberman faces up to the 25 years in prison on the most serious charges. His lawyers have said they plan to appeal the decision.

He was sent to prison awaiting sentencing on Jan. 9.

The trial put the insular Satmar Hasidic community, an ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, under the spotlight, drawing overflow crowds that forced some to wait impatiently outside in hopes of getting a courtroom seat.

The two-week trial boiled down to the word of the victim — who is now 18 — against that of Weberman, with both taking the stand.

Prosecutors portrayed Weberman as an unlicensed counselor who served as a "power broker" who used his status in the community to gain access to young girls who were deemed problems for not following strict Satmar rules.

The young woman testified that Weberman sexually assaulted or inappropriately touched her during every session, locking the door and using his position to intimidate her

Weberman's attorney's painted a different picture, arguing that the young woman singled out their client and the Satmars because of its ultra-orthodox policies and questioned the consistency of her testimony.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Weberman testified that he "never ever" abused the girl.



After Nechemya Weberman, Hasidic Satmar sect considers sending rebel teens away 

Embarrassed by the sex abuse trial of a Hasidic counselor, leaders of Williamsburg's pious Satmar sect are considering a different way to deal with rebellious teens: shipping them out of the country for treatment.

The idea comes as the jury weighs charges against the counselor, Nechemya Weberman, who prosecutors said molested a then-12-year-old girl referred to him because she wore supposedly indecent clothing, read People magazine and questioned God's authority in a religious school class.

Without addressing the allegations against Weberman, a Satmar official told the Daily News that leaders are considering ways to avoid similar accusations by victims.

"This was a wakeup call; nobody denies that," said Gary Schlesinger, who heads a nonprofit tied to Satmar leader Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum.

"Maybe we will send them to an Israeli program or a European program, and the kid will come back a different person."

A verdict is expected this week. Meanwhile, the Satmar community — where self-styled modesty police crack down on perceived transgressions — is riven by the victim's account.

"It's a horrible embarrassment," said Pearl Engelman, 65. "We represent ourselves as the Almighty's children. We don't want to be an embarrassment to God."

Some Satmars believe that it's too late for that.

"It's an embarrassment for the community that some are standing up for the abuser," said Raizy Pollak, 19, who dropped out of the accuser's yeshiva to protest the strict rules. "We need to stand up for the victim instead of pushing her down," she added.

Supporters of the victim rallied last week, holding signs in Yiddish blasting perverts and molesters.

"Every single Jewish family is talking about this case. The grand rabbi (Teitelbaum) couldn't even ignore it," said real estate developer Joel Neuwirth, 22. "He had to address the issue."

The rebbe did just that last week — and blamed the victim.

"A Jewish daughter has descended so low," said Teitelbaum, according to a translation published by the Jewish blog, FailedMessiah.com. "There hasn't been such a disgusting saga in (the history of religious) Jewry."

Weberman was the driver for Teitelbaum's late father Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, under whose leadership the movement grew into one of the largest Hasidic groups in the world, with the majority of its 100,000 members living in Brooklyn.

Aaron Teitelbaum's statement incensed supporters of Weberman's alleged victim.

But Weberman has plenty of supporters.

"Weberman was trying to help her," said Joel Weinstock, 31, a private tutor. "The rules are set forth by the rabbis. There is no reason to change."
Outsiders see a community hoping not to draw attention to itself.

"They want to be seen as God-fearing and well-behaved," said CUNY sociologist Samuel Heilman, who specializes in Jewish studies.

"The case is over whether the girl is deviant, or is Weberman deviant," said Heilman. "It is all about deviance within the Satmar community."



Sunday, December 09, 2012

Lipa Schmeltzer "Believe in a Miracle" 


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Molest jury is ‘split’ 

The Hasidic leader on trial for molesting a young girl could actually beat the charges if the jurors are as split on his guilt as the alternates released yesterday.

“I didn’t have enough evidence to nail the person. No video, no DNA,” said one of the alternates, who were excused as the jurors began deliberating.

“There wasn’t enough evidence for me. Both sides were a little shady,” said the middle-aged juror, who declined to reveal her name.

Nechmya Weberman, 54, allegedly forced himself on the girl, starting at age 12, for three years while she was being sent to him for counseling, prosecutors charge.

The two-week Brooklyn Supreme Court trial has provided a rare glimpse into the cloistered world of the Satmar sect, an ultra-Orthodox community of which both Weberman and the teen are members.

Two other alternate jurors said they would have voted to acquit Weberman of some of the 60 counts he faces.

“I still think there is enough evidence to convict — some of the charges, at least,” said a male juror in his 30s.

He would have convicted Weberman of sex abuse and child endangerment but not on the top count of sexual conduct against a child, he said.

Weberman could face 25 years on the top count alone.



Friday, December 07, 2012

Jury to start deciding the fate of the 'Vaad Father' accused of sexually abusing 12-year-old-girl 

Prosecutors say he was a feared power broker in the most insular of Orthodox Jewish sects in Brooklyn who thought he could get away with anything — including the alleged sexual abuse of a 12 year old girl.

That's the argument an impassioned assistant district attorney made to jurors today as the nearly two-week-long sex abuse trial of Hasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman drew to a close.

"What happens in the defendant's office stays in the defendant's office," prosecutor Linda Weinman said, referring to the secrecy surrounding the small room where Weberman, 54, allegedly forced himself on the girl — and where he also admittedly hosted other pretty young Satmar women.

Prosecutors argued the now 18-year-old alleged victim was terrified to report the three years of abuse because of Weberman's exalted status in the cloistered Satmar sect in Williamsburg.

"Who's going to believe a 12-year-old girl?" Weinman said in Brooklyn Supreme Court. "She was afraid. She believed he was a member of Vaad Ha'Tnius."

Weberman has denied he was ever a member of Vaad Ha'Tnius, the modesty committee that enforces Satmar rules and dress codes — and in her closing remarks, his lawyer downplayed his power among the ultra-Orthodox.

"They want you to believe Mr. Weberman is the Vaad-Father," quipped attorney Stacey Richman, who compared the prosecution of her client to the Salem witch trials and the Red Scare of the 1950s.

"If Mr. Weberman's so powerful, why can't he keep [her] in school?" Richman said, referring to the multiple schools the teen was asked to leave while receiving counseling from Weberman.

Richman also hammered away at the prosecution's lack of physical evidence.

"The only evidence in this case is the word of [the alleged victim.] That's it," Richman said, questioning why years of frequent alleged sexual abuse failed to leave any emails, witnesses or DNA.

"Three years of oral sex? That's a lot of semen!" she said.

"We've all seen 'CSI,' Richman said, referring to the TV crime lab show. "DNA lasts forever."

Richman repeated the defense argument that the teen falsely accused Weberman because she was angry he told her father she had an older boyfriend.

Judge John Ingram barred the defense from telling the jury that her father then secretly filmed the couple having sex and used the footage to have the boyfriend arrested for statutory rape, infuriating the teen.

"He listened to her. He was truly her friend. But when she found that she had been betrayed, she went wild," Richman said. "It's all about revenge."
Prosecutors scoffed at the notion that the teen had an ulterior motive for reporting Weberman.

"She said, 'I had a responsibility. I didn't want anybody else to go through what I went through,'" Weinman said, quoting the teen's testimony last week. "Those are not the words of someone seeking revenge. They are words of pain."

Richman also used the OJ defense tactic of, If it doesn't fit, you must acquit, showing photos of a faulty lock on a door the victim claims locked her inside Weberman's office
"It doesn't fit. It never fit," Richman said.

Hasidic women in wigs supporting Weberman buried their heads in their hands and prayed when prosecutors described graphic sexual acts. One prayed so loudly a court officer shushed her.

The jury will begin its deliberations tomorrow. Court will end early for the Jewish Sabbath



Profitable not-for-profits 

Satmar Hasidim — they're just like everybody else!

New Yorkers got a look inside the insular culture of ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn this week thanks to the sexual-abuse trial of a prominent Hasidic leader in Williamsburg.

Despite all the outward oddities of the man on trial — his black suit, untrimmed beard and lengthy side-curls — it turns out he's right smack in the mainstream of secular political life in New York.

He has a not-for-profit cash cow, too.

Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed counselor accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl in his care, testified Wednesday that he ripped off a charity he founded ostensibly to help poor Brooklynites.

"You used this not-for-profit for personal gain?" asked a Brooklyn prosecutor.

"Yes I did," Weberman replied, admitting that he spent donations meant for his group, B'Lev V'Nefesh, on tuition for his kids' yeshiva — and that its cash was also spent at stores like BMG Corset & Lingerie.

Creepy, sure. But par for the course in New York, where politicians routinely turn nonprofits into personal piggy banks.



Weberman teen abuse trial questions Jewish group's customs 

If Nechemya Weberman had a guilty look in his eyes, the jurors never saw it. He didn't look at them once as the prosecutor gave graphic details Thursday of the 88 counts of sexual torment he allegedly wrought upon a teenage girl he was paid to help.

If the jury finds Weberman guilty — now that lawyers have wrapped their case — the leaders of the insular Satmar Hasidic sect to which he belongs must ask themselves the same questions that dogged the Catholic Church in the wake of its own pedophilia scandals.

They must ask, did we enable him? Do our methods of reigning in rebellious young girls run counter to American law? Do we deny these girls freedoms they are entitled to, treating them as prisoners despite more than a century of hard-fought victories by women's rights activists?

Instead, it seems this Williamsburg-based sect is operating under its own rules, some of which run counter to the law.

Satmar girls who break the sect's stringent rules for modesty and behavior are sent by rabbis, teachers or their parents to "therapists" for "counseling" — more like one-on-one reeducation camps.

At the age of 12, Weberman's beautiful blond accuser dared show her girlfriends a dance video from the family's computer, a no-no for Satmars forbidden TV, radio and nonbusiness uses of the Internet.

"She lived in an insular, male-dominated society that forbade any contact with the outside world," prosecutor Linda Weinman told the jury Thursday. "Accept your fate. Never question authority."

The girl, already in the sights of the Satmar "modesty committee" — known to enter girls' rooms to seize offending cell phones and clothing — was sent by her principal, Weberman's cousin, for "therapy."

Her counselor's qualifications? He had been a worker in a pants factory, after leaving school in the 11th grade.

Oh, and he had also been a driver, albeit for the sect's then-Grand Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum.

Weberman wasn't a licensed therapist at all.

But that was considered a positive thing, since ultra-Orthodox Jews believe any Jewish person who informs police or government agencies about a fellow Jew is a loathed informant, a "moser."

Licensed therapists are required by law to report child molestation and domestic violence incidents.

As a nonlicensed therapist, Weberman could keep anything he heard within the Satmar community to himself.

Padlocking this girl even tighter in his grip, the young woman testified she would be expelled from her school if she tried to leave "therapy." Her parents were forced to pay Weberman $150 an hour for this service.

But for three years, starting in March 2007 when she was 12 years old, he grotesquely manhandled her young body, Weinman told the jury as Weberman looked into a corner of the courtroom.

"I'm not doing anything wrong," he allegedly told the girl.

She finally told a licensed therapist outside the community , who promptly reported Weberman to authorities.

Why hadn't the alleged victim reported it to the top rabbis?

"I didn't think they would believe me," she testified in court.



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