Reacting to the Weberman Case


by Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

[Editor’s note: Presumably, CC readers are not interested in sitting in judgment about events they have neither the knowledge nor the authority to judge. Many of us, however, do need to learn much more about the parameters of abuse, and the possibility of witness intimidation. A high-profile trial (with others waiting in the wing) in the frum community increases our awareness of problems with death-dealing consequences. Since I have the pleasure of speaking at times with Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who possesses a rare blend of experience, professionalism and courage, I encouraged him to submit some reaction. He first offered to submit an original piece; when that proved impracticable for him, we agreed to post the essay he published on his own blog. Here is Part One -YA]

Dear Readers:

Many of you have asked tough questions regarding my advocacy on behalf of Weberman’s victim and I would like to thank those of you who took the time to write and ask them. From my vantage point, questions are a quintessential sign of respect; it means you considered the issues to be worthy of your time and thoughts.

Here are some of the questions posed by our readers on our website ( and on twitter (@yakovhorowitz) where a running account of the trial in real time is being posted:

1) Why can’t these things be dealt with internally, and why don’t we work this out in Bais Din?

2) Why should the bar be set lower with abuse cases than with other matters in halacha, where two witnesses and a Din Torah are required to incriminate someone?

3) How can anyone possibly figure things out when there is an accusation?

4) What is this “raglayim l’davar” that so many people mention?

5) So many of the people who bring accusations of abuse have abandoned religion or engage in antisocial/harmful behavior such as drug use. How can we believe them?

6) Don’t we have an obligation to judge others favorably (dan l’kaf zechus)?

7) Why should we trust a 17-year-old’s word over a respected 50-year-old rabbi? Especially when there is no physical evidence only a he-said-she-said? How do we know she is not lying?

8) Why the rush to judgment? Don’t we believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty?

9) Why didn’t you give Weberman the courtesy of listening to his side before you jumped on the side of the girl?

(Please feel free to continue to post questions, comments and complaints at the footer of these columns as it will help us frame and clarify our discussions. I respectfully request that you include your real name and city where you live unless there are personal matters listed in your comment. Our community will be a healthier place when we become more comfortable dissenting respectfully and listing our names when we post our thoughts.)

There are no quick and easy answers to these questions, so forgive me for taking the long route. I believe this issue is so critical that it deserves the time and effort necessary to answer in a fully developed manner.

Gaining a deep understanding of the complex issues surrounding abuse may be one of the most important gifts you can give to your children, so please carefully work your way through each of the links and references provided.

Perhaps the best place to start would be with a brilliant and overarching chidush (novel idea) on this subject delivered by my Rebbi[1], HoRav Dovid Cohen Shlit’a, at a national conference on the subject of Abuse Reporting in Far Rockaway a few weeks ago. Rav Dovid has been the Posek[2] (halachic advisor) for Ohel Children’s Home and NEFESH for decades now and has been paskening sheilos (giving halachic rulings) of this nature throughout that time frame.

During his presentation and more so during Q&A, Rav Dovid addressed questions 1-4 in many different forms, and he framed the issue early in his shiur (lecture) with a profound one-liner, “This is not a sheila of Hilchos Arayos; it is a sheila of Rotzeach U’shmiras Nefesh!”

He explained that people mistakenly think that since a predator is engaging in a sin of an illicit relationship, it is governed by Hilchos Arayos (Hilchos is plural for Halacha, or Jewish Law. Arayos refers to immorality) as would be a forbidden union of two consenting adults. In that case, it would fall under the domain of Bais Din (Jewish Court) and the bar to punishment would include two witnesses and all other rules of Bais Din.

Child abuse, however, said Rav Dovid, has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be genuine sakanos nefashos (threat to human life) due to the havoc it wreaks on the victim’s life and due to the fact that abuse often leads directly to drug use and suicide. As such, a confirmed child molester has the status of one who presents a life-threatening risk to others – whose laws are discussed in the section titled Rotzeach U’shmiras Nefesh ([Laws Governing the status of] A Murderer and [the biblical obligation to] Guard One’s Life) . And whoever sees someone posing danger to others has an obligation to step in and protect the potential victim.

Rav Dovid stated that the only avenue to provide protection to children from predators is through the authorities who have the training, resources and capacity to investigate and prosecute offenders. But aren’t there false accusations, someone asked? To which Rav Dovid replied, that the people who are best trained to sort things out are the authorities. When a few people pointed out that there are significant flaws in the judicial process, he responded that schools have flaws too, yet we still send our children there. He explained that we either trust the system or we don’t, and we have painfully seen what happens when we try and take care of these things on our own.

On a personal note, during his presentation, he shared with us that he himself is surprised that he has not gone mad from the pain of all of the abuse cases he has listened to over the past 30 years. I humbly second the motion.

As to the broader matter of reporting children in danger to the authorities; … In 1997 when Project YES was founded, I asked the legendary Rabbi Moshe Sherer zt”l (after his passing, I penned This Tribute to him) to help us answer the challenging halachic questions we were dealing with in Project YES. He asked HoRav Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a to serve as our rabbinic advisor and we leaned heavily on his broad shoulders during that time. Over the years, Rav Shmuel consistently told us to call the authorities whenever a child was in danger.

The halachic reasoning which drove the psak that authorities need to be called when there is danger to life, extended itself to other areas as well. In 1998, we got a similar, unanimous ruling from a body of our leading Roshei Yeshiva, to report Frum Drug Dealers to the police. It is important to note that our great rebbi, HoRav Avrohom Pam zt”l, who was the most extraordinarily gentle and kind person we knew, spoke first and told me, “Er is a rotzeiach (he is a murderer),” saying that not only can, but we must report the dealer to the police.

There has been a great deal of churn in the media about the Agudah’s position on “raglayim l’davar” (loosely translated as “legs to stand on”), where some say one ought to consult a rabbi if he/she is not sure if the suspicions are legitimate. But there is unanimous agreement among all our gedolim shlit”a that one must immediately go to the police if there is credible evidence!

Over the past few years, I have had the honor of presenting at Agudath Israel Rabbinic Meetings, most recently at the 2011 National Convention and the 2011 MidWest Convention in the presence of our leading gedolim shilt”a including HoRav Shmuel Kaminetsky shilt”a, HoRav Avrohom Chaim Levine shlit”a, and HoRav Ahron Feldman shlit”a, and they each made that point numerous times.

To sum up this segment; the clear, unequivocal and ongoing p’sak, hadracha and shimush (ruling, guidance and mentorship) I received over a period of fifteen years was to do everything in my power to keep children safe from spiritual and life-threatening danger. It was a sacred and overwhelming obligation that was placed on me by Rabbi Sherer zt”l and the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah when we started Project Y.E.S. in 1997 and I try my very best to be their faithful shliach (messenger).

I am humbled and honored to be worthy of their continued trust as evidenced by their full-throated chizuk and haskama (support and approbation) for the Project YES Safety Book we published with Artscroll last August and which has help make over 18,000 Jewish homes safer so far.

That hadracha and shimush compels me to support a victim who comes forward with credible evidence. And there is way more than credible evidence that Something is Terribly, Terribly Wrong here.

To Be Continued…

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2 years 11 months ago

Do you know how many innocent people are in jail for many many many years with our court system? Do you know how many people get vindicated with DNA (Which in this case “weberm” can never be accomplished) How are you so sure that this girl Was truthful in this particular case, that really would never ever could be proven otherwise Because there are no DNA?

2 years 11 months ago

…It just upsets me when people blame all this stuff on molestation. The victim chose this derech. Her siblings chose this derech too. I’m not saying she wasn’t molested. But everybody knew the victim’s family as the only ones not obeying school rules. Of course this could have been handled better. As you mentioned, every school and mosed have their faults. The victim’s family live far from a satmar kind of lifestyle. So don’t blame satmar all the way. Yes, I grew up in Satmar, and had my fair share of issues with them. Looking back now however, there are… Read more »

Just a Girl
2 years 11 months ago

Thank you Leah for reclarifying. I guess I am coming from a very extreme standpoint on this, because of my experiences that I forget how clueless people are and how many children go through abuse that might have been prevented.

2 years 11 months ago

“The problem, though, is that in some cases, people find themselves in communities where child safety is not valued, undermined or even opposed.”
“In my opinion, that’s when it’s time to order a moving truck.”

Rabbi Horowitz,
With all due respect, I think this viewpoint shows a profound lack of understanding of how the Chasidish world works. Chasidish parents want to keep their children safe just like anyone else and the way they want to do that is by following the words of the Holy Torah. However, in the Chasidish world, the Torah does not value personal autonomy and in fact… Read more »

Yakov Horowitz
2 years 11 months ago

I fully agree with Leah that it is a parent’s responsibility to keep your kids safe.

This means (among other things) taking the time to really understand the entire gamut of child safety matters.

This Project YES free video is a good place to start.

The problem, though, is that in some cases, people find themselves in communities where child safety is not valued, undermined or even opposed. Like a culture that makes a parent write an apology letter for questioning a flagrant violation of yichud and tzniyus.

The parents then feel that they have no choice.

But keeping your kids in a… Read more »

Joe Hill
2 years 11 months ago

So once anyone is accused, he can never be exonerated even after a Not Guilty verdict? Even if truly innocent, he must always walk around with a Human Branding permanently burnt on his forehead?

Shades of Gray
2 years 11 months ago

“I don’t think the Weberman victims parents are guilty of being bad parents, but I do think they bear responsibility”

The question is what the community which is known for tzniyus and the school were thinking; according to the NY Post report of the trial, the school forced her to pick him , and the mother protested in one story:

“When Weberman announced he was taking the teen on a daylong drive, her mother protested, citing “Yichud,” the religious rules that prevent unmarried men and women from being alone together.
But again, the school stepped in and ordered the family… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago


>as it turned out, the kid is not religious anyway, so that might not have been a bad choice for the victim….

She wears a sheitel.

Bob Miller
2 years 11 months ago

If all relevant authorities inside and outside our communities (the latter include police and courts) came down really hard on predators, fewer predators would dare to attack kids. Instead, we often see twisted excuses for inaction and even grossly wrong action.

2 years 11 months ago

Just a Girl – you are brave to tell this painful story, and I am so sorry and sad to hear about what you went through. I hope the rest of your life is filled with only good things.
But perhaps because of your hurt you didn’t completely understand my message. I said clearly that there are many cases of abuse that can’t be prevented by wonderful parents, myself included. I gave the example of sending your kid to school, and a teacher gets them alone and abuses them – how could the parents have known that teacher was… Read more »

Just a Girl
2 years 11 months ago

First of all I would like to thank whoever wrote this page.It’s honest and beautifully written. Thank you.
Everything you said is the exact reason how so many children are getting abused. I hope you said what you did because of a lack of knowledge not of sensitivty. Everybody thinks that a ‘weberman’ has no access to their child. I can’t even describe to you the pain I feel upon reading that. You are condeming all parents of abused children. You can’t imagine the grief, self-blame and blinding pain that parents of abused children go through. I want to clarify… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago

Pretty sick. I’d sooner send my kid to public school.
as it turned out, the kid is not religious anyway, so that might not have been a bad choice for the victim….

2 years 11 months ago

Leah, according to reports today from the courtroom, the mother was forced to send her child to Weberman, forced to pay enormous sums for his “therapy” and even forced to apologize to him when she expressed disapproval at something he did! If she didn’t cooperate, she risked expulsion. The hold that these community institutions have on their members is incomprehensible.

2 years 11 months ago

You all missed my point. I didn’t say that I don’t believe abuse can happen. I didn’t even say “it can’t happen to me/my family.” I well believe that sometimes a trusted adult does bad things, and a parent can’t prevent it. I send my kids to school; so what if a teacher gets a kid alone and molests them? That can and does happen. What I said is, A Weberman type WOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ACCESS to my child. If I took my child to a therapist, it would be a WOMAN (and as you well know, women are… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago

Perhaps you don’t understand the dynamics within Satmar-type communities.

1)Girl gets into trouble, is suspected of misbehavior.

2)School, which does not recognize parental autonomy, seek their input, or believe in giving people the right to make their own decisons, tells parent that the girl must be seen by Mr X, who is the head of the Va’ad Hatznius and is the only one who can pronounce her cured.

3)Parents have the choice of doing as they are told or have their other kids expelled from school and their shidduchim chances greatly diminished.

And why does school believe that Mr X is the only person… Read more »

L. Oberstein
2 years 11 months ago

Leah, all parents of children who are molested by teachers, etc. don’t believe it could happen to their family. That is the problem, not the solution. They get away with it because no one believes the child and she or he is told to be quiet because it will shter shiduchim for her and her siblings.

2 years 11 months ago

Rabbi Horowitz,
I don’t know what really happened.
If it is true, the girl’s parents deserve plenty of blame. Why did they leave a 12 year old girl alone with an unrelated man who was unlicensed? It is not like she went to a real doctor’s office for real treatment and there was a receptionist there. They sent a child ALONE to a man, and an unlicensed one with no office staff.
I don’t think most of the frum community is in denial that abuse happens. I think, like me, they just don’t believe these sorts of abuse could happen to… Read more »

Barry Dolinger
2 years 11 months ago


You’re making a fundamental mistake about how the criminal justice system works, so allow me to explain (I’m an attorney in RI and Mass.). A guilty verdict means that the jury decided the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The other option is not a verdict of “innocent” but rather “not guilty.” All that this would mean is that there was not enough evidence presented at trial (keep in mind that not all evidence makes it into trial for a variety of reasons)to convict the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt; such a verdict would not… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago

“Rabbi Horowitz:

What will be your reaction if Mr. Weberman is acquitted in court?

Will you say you have faith in the American legal system and you thus accept the court’s verdict and accept the now adjudicated innocence of the formerly accused? Or will you still believe in the accused’s guilt? If the latter, how do you justify accepting a guilty verdict but rejecting a not guilty verdict?”

If something is not “proven beyond a resonable doubt”, it does not mean that we do not have the CHIYUV to be choshesh. U’Shmartem MEOD L’nafshosechem. Rov works for Issur V;Heter, but Chamira Sakanta… Read more »

Bob Miller
2 years 11 months ago

Joe Hill’s confidence in our criminal justice system is touching.

Shades of Gray
2 years 11 months ago

Another part of R. Feuerman’s essay, relevant to the topic of abuse and the like:

“Another side effect that comes from denying the feelings and emotional process inherent in many stories, is that people can become split off from their emotions–allowing them to live double lives. When they are behaving and feeling frum they are one kind of person. But when they have negative and dangerous feelings, they disown them and perhaps disassociate from themselves. This allows them to sin in far worse ways, as they feel as if it is another person doing it.

Is it… Read more »

Shades of Gray
2 years 11 months ago

“We are reading now the stories of Sefer Bereishis which tell of just how difficult and complicated the creation of Am Yisrael was, that our avos struggled with human tendencies such as envy, fraternal strife, lust, vanity (the Midrashim about Yosef), and so on. ”

In ‘Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch?’ Rabbi Simcha Feuerman writes:

“Discussing the emotional lives of our Forefathers in a cavalier fashion would be inappropriate and, of course, we must tread carefully out of respect for their great characters that in many ways are beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless, some reflection on this topic is in… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago

Thanks for posting this-looking forward to part two. Tangential thought-but I’m assuming that if marijuana is legalized states-wise, there will only be an obligation to report harder-drug dealers to the authorities?

2 years 11 months ago

To the bracketed answer from YA to Question #2, the only worthy response I can come up with is: LOL.

2 years 11 months ago

Every question you ask is being dealt with in Civil Court, which is where accusations like this SHOULD be taken care of; i.e. not within the closed community. Also note that prosecutors do not take cases where there is little evidence to present. Therefore this case is more than a he said/she said situation.

Joe Hill
2 years 11 months ago

Rabbi Horowitz:

What will be your reaction if Mr. Weberman is acquitted in court?

Will you say you have faith in the American legal system and you thus accept the court’s verdict and accept the now adjudicated innocence of the formerly accused? Or will you still believe in the accused’s guilt? If the latter, how do you justify accepting a guilty verdict but rejecting a not guilty verdict?

2 years 11 months ago

IMHO the taboo against addressing this issue (which is mercifully starting to break) is part of a larger problem in Orthodox Jewish life – the tendency to portray Torah life as perfect and idyllic. Torah giants are seen as infallible, yeshivos and kollelim are presented as spiritual havens where nothing wrong can happen, and Torah and mitzvos is viewed as the self-sufficient answer and solution to everything and the only key we need to happiness, bliss and a perfect life. We have to acknowledge that even Torah communities have problems, even prodigious talmidei chachamim are humans who are… Read more »

2 years 11 months ago

L’kvod HaRav,
Why does the Satmar community either ignore, disbelieve or disown this entire case?
Why are they not concerned with getting to the truth and righting a ‘wrong’?

[YA – How about, maybe they believe him! Maybe they do not have access to any damning evidence against him. Maybe they are doing exactly what frum Jews ought to do, unless they have inside information: give him the benefit of the doubt. If all of us would do the same, it would still not diminish our need or our ability to consider all the mistakes and pitfalls surrounding… Read more »

L. Oberstein
2 years 11 months ago

I have been told by experts in dealing with addicts who come from the frum community that the vast majority are victims of sexual abuse. I was told of a young man who spoke at a Torah Umesorah convention and began by saying that in the audience was the principal who expelled him from the school due to his behavior but who never inquired as to why he was acting out. Had someone bothered to find out that he was a victim of sexual abuse by a rebbe, his life would have been different. This young man was the son… Read more »