This week, there were two highly-publicized trials in Brooklyn, New York courtrooms involving Orthodox Jews accused of child molestation offenses.
In one case, Emanuel Yegutkin, a 33 year-old former private school principal, was convicted of sexually abusing three boys over the course of a 10-year period. In the other, respected Rabbi Nechemya Weberman, a leader of the Orthodox Jewish Satmar sect, faces 88 counts of sexual abuse against a minor.
Weberman’s accuser, an 18-year-old girl, alleges that Weberman forced her to watch pornographic movies and perform oral sex on him multiple times between 2007 and 2010. The girl’s parents, also members of the Satmar sect, were troubled by the girl’s rebellious behavior at school and sent her to Weberman, a 54 year-old father of 10, for counseling sessions at his home office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The insular Hasidic community has strict religious rules, and the sect’s religious modesty committee regularly referred children in the community to the well-respected Weberman for counseling. Earlier this week, another female counseled by Weberman testified that he never acted inappropriately during their sessions.
Yesterday, Weberman took the stand in his defense and insisted that the allegations were false and that he never touched the alleged victim inappropriately. Weberman testified that when the alleged victim told him about her 18 year-old boyfriend during one of their counseling sessions, Weberman later informed her father about the relationship. The boy was eventually arrested and charged with statutory rape. According to Weberman’s defense team, this incident prompted the alleged victim to fabricate claims of sexual abuse to seek revenge against Weberman.
Weberman is one of the first members of the Satmar community to face charges of child sexual abuse in a secular court. Earlier this week, courtroom staff confiscated the cell phones of the nearly 100 observers present in the courtroom after several individuals were caught taking photos of the alleged victim as she testified. Four Hasidic men, identified as supporters of Weberman, were arrested and face contempt charges for interfering with the proceedings.
Some have suggested that the photography disruption was an attempt to intimidate the alleged victim. In June, four other Hasidic men were charged with attempting to silence the accuser with an offer of $500,000 if she agreed to drop the case. Prosecutors claim this intimidating behavior is common in the Orthodox community as members consider it treasonous to bring charges against fellow Jews in a secular forum.
Complex cultural issues have dominated the proceedings as many feel that both Weberman and his religious community are on trial and under public scrutiny. As of yet, no verdict has been reached in Weberman’s case but we will continue to follow the trial.
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