Sex, Lies, and Rabbinical Red-Tape

My childhood Rabbi stands accused of sexual abuse.  As fun as that may sound, in the two hours since the news broke, it has spread like wildfire over the internet.  Phone lines are blowing up.  I heard about it while in court, so it took a few hours for me to actually read the story.   And, here it is:  over a 40 year career in education, and 20 years as a pulpit Rabbi, one former student accuses the Rabbi of checking out his “physical development” during a one-time dorm-room visit over 30 years ago, and then sodomizing him with a toothbrush.   If guilty of the accusations, he should be jailed for the rest of his life, where he can look forward to many years of ironic retribution.   I am not soft on this issue.  I was outspoken ten years ago against a second Rabbi who physically and sexually abused scores of children over his career.  There was no doubt of his guilt. I witnessed it first-hand, and many of my friends were victims.  He spent 7 years in jail for his crimes but my calls for a more appropriate punishment were ignored.   After all, he is still very much alive and enjoying retirement in Florida.

But, there is one thing I have learned in my years as a prosecutor, lawyer, and advocate.  Sexual predators do not commit just one single crime in 40 years.   Nor,  do they typically victimize a vulnerable child on only one occasion.   I do not know if the exposure of this story will call forth more victims, more evidence, and more proof.   Frankly, I do not know if the Rabbi is innocent or guilty.  He never abused me or, to my knowledge, any of the many children in our community.  But, predators never seemed particularly attracted to me.   I’m sure it was nothing personal.

But, anyone who sexually or emotionally abuses a child should be locked away in a tiny cell, with only bread, water, a long rope, and some sort of ceiling pipe.   I hope I am making my feelings clear because of what I am compelled to say next.   Here is what no one will ever dare say publicly.  Not everyone who cries abuse was, in fact, abused.  Not everyone accused of heinous crimes is guilty.  Anyone who responds to this truism with outrage is fooling themselves.  Gasp.   Children (or otherwise screwed up grownups) might actually lie or exaggerate a claim of childhood abuse?   Of course.   And, here is a theory why:  it is much easier to blame a lifetime of failure on some ambiguous childhood “trauma” than to face the reality of one’s own limitations.

None of this suggests that every allegation of abuse should not be taken seriously and investigated without reservation or unturned stone.   Nor, do I suggest that a single allegation of abuse should be discredited for lack of evidence.   And, any tie goes to the accuser, at least when it comes to allegations of child abuse.  Better to part ways with an unproven, unsubstantiated abuser than to risk future harm to others.

But, really? One victim, one incident, over 40 years of daily interactions with thousands of students?   I want to know more.  Everyone should want to know more.  Before we stone him.  And, dare I say, before we convict him on Facebook.

There is a current faculty member of a local Yeshiva high school who should be in jail.   He is not permitted near my children because I know what he has done, and I know what he is capable of.   I cannot say, for certain, that he has committed any crime and, therefore, turning him in or outing his misconduct is not viable or appropriate.  People with more credibility than me have tried, unsuccessfully, to do something about it.    But, I often wonder how similar attitudes have led to graver consequences.  And, it raises the following conundrum:  By the time we have sufficient evidence to convict, the damage to our children has been done.  If we act prematurely, we will face certain censure for slanderous persecution.   There needs to be a balance and a process to protect children, detect evil-doers, but respect and defend the rights (and reputation) of the accused, until we are certain of the steadiness of our hands.

For now, I pray that the accusations are false – - although that will not fix the damage already inflicted.  On the other hand, if the allegations are true,  there is simply no damage sufficiently inflicted.

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About aweisbrot

Ari is a partner in the Litigation Department of an historic and renowned law firm located in New York. He has been featured on CBS Radio’s Wall Street Journal Report, quoted in legal and non-legal periodicals, and has been recognized as a “SuperLawyer” in New Jersey and a "Top Ten Lawyer to Watch" in New York. Mr. Weisbrot is a true “client’s lawyer,” representing a diverse range of clients from among the largest retailers in the United States to smaller local businesses to religious and charitable organizations. Ari was appointed by Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey to a three-year term of service on the Committee on Character. The Committee determines the fitness to practice law of each candidate for admission to the Bar of the State. Mr. Weisbrot also continues to serve on the District Ethics Committee (IIB - Bergen County), which operates under the auspices of the New Jersey State Office of Attorney Ethics. Mr. Weisbrot has been awarded an 'AV' rating for his professionalism and the quality of his legal work from Martindale-Hubbell, the premier directory of legal professionals, and has been selected by his peers as a Super Lawyer. In addition, Mr. Weisbrot has written several articles on commercial litigation, which have been published in the New Jersey Law Journal and the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel. A Former New York City prosecutor, Mr. Weisbrot is a graduate of Fordham University School of Law, where he was a member of the Urban Law Journal and a featured columnist in the Law School newspaper
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19 Responses to Sex, Lies, and Rabbinical Red-Tape

  1. michelle says:

    well written. but a little dangerous still. it takes courage to come forward. especally if you are the only one. and often many will still not come forward. so simply because only one victim has spoken does not mean there were not others who still refuse to speak. the shame is overwhelming. and i hope and pray that you are right.

    • aweisbrot says:

      I agree with you 100%. That is why we should ALWAYS err on the side of protecting the accuser and that is why EVERY allegation needs to be investigated to the ends of the earth.

    • Michelle, I disagree.

      The three victims of the one rabbi identified themselves; they have courage.

      The ONE alleged victim of the other rabbi, about whom this post was written, made an anonymous accusation that describes behavior so depraved, it is unfathomable that it was not repeated. Yet, no one else – not even the victims of the first rabbi – has accused this rabbi. This is not Satmar. MTA graduates have been talking about this for years. Indeed they warned each other as students at the time it was happening. Many have posted on the web, as far back as 2007, the allegations against the first rabbi.

      But this is the first anyone has said a word about the second rabbi. I, for one, am very suspicious of the allegation, and consider it highly reckless of the Forward to print his name and picture without having at least one other testimony. Now that it’s out there, let’s see if anyone else comes forward.

      Great post, AW.

  2. Francesco says:

    I agree 100%

  3. Phil says:

    “There is a current faculty member of a local Yeshiva high school who should be in jail. He is not permitted near my children because I know what he has done, and I know what he is capable of. I cannot say, for certain, that he has committed any crime and, therefore, turning him in or outing his misconduct is not viable or appropriate.”
    This is infuriating. So he is not allowed near YOUR kids, but he is allowed near mine and everyone else’s?

    • aweisbrot says:

      Phil,
      It is a fair question. For obvious reasons,I cannot fill my blog with details about a situation that goes beyond my point. But, suffice it to say, I am a trustee, attorney, and parent at many of the local yeshivot and would NEVER ever permit a dangerous or risky employee work with children. This particular man is not himself a molester, abuser, or pedophile. So, the children are safe. He happens to be an enabler of abuse, a defender of abusers, and an attacker of victims, I believe, in my opinion, he should be in jail – - or at least not be permitted to work with children. But it is a MUCH different standard. As long as he poses no risk of harm, there is little to be done.

      • Phil says:

        To me, this is an illustration of the problem. You claim that this person should not be permitted to work with children yet you do not use your forum to help prevent exactly that from happening.

  4. Tzvi Henoch says:

    How can a lawyer, who knows the importance of the concept of reputation, also in a legal sense, refer to such a damaging article with so little verification? If it is true, let the chips fall where they may. If it is false, the damage is done- to the falsely accused party, to his family, friends, and in this case, former students and congregants. Why do you say, we should always err on the side of the accuser? Our tradition is that if you want to take something from someone (eg a reputation) , you are required to have proof. By innuendo, “before we stone him”, “before we convict him on Facebook.” you have already been judge and jury. Why do we even take it for granted that it is “natural” for unsubstantiated severe accusations to be fodder for the likes of Facebook? There are Jewish concepts of lashon harah, rchilus, and motzei shem rah which in this situation are being trod upon. As you say, everyone should want to know more- BEFORE a person is destroyed. Sexual abuse is a serious and hot topic but it shouldn’t give us carte blanche to deny basic judicial principles.

    • aweisbrot says:

      I am assuming that English is not your native language. Since, your comment makes no sense. I did not refer to any individuals or any articles. No one who read my blog would have any idea who I am talking about. Also, you seem to be angrily arguing my VERY points. Thanks for the support.

  5. Kevin says:

    Good point re “Rabbi #2.” Until he has suffered painful consequences (and often not even then) a sexual abuser almost always will continue to abuse. The Forward should not have named “Rabbi #2″ on the basis of one accusation, particularly an anonymous one, because it is probably false if no other victims with similar allegations can be found after asking around.

    I’m curious whether, under NY law, the Forward has any potential liability for defamation for reporting an anonymous allegation such as this, if it is labeled as such? Sexual crimes differ from other crimes in that they usually cause feelings of shame to the victim, and the victim knows that if he or she brings charges, the intimate violation will have to be recounted in detail at a public trial. This makes an anonymous and unreported accusation of sexual abuse more credible in the public eye than an anonymous accusation of, say, robbery, and much more likely to damage the reputation of the accused.

    If the Forward were to state that “five former students told the Forward, on condition of anonymity, that they were sexually abused by Rabbi X, and Rabbi X loses his job and sues for defamation, does the Forward have to prove the truth of its report, i.e., that the allegations were made? That it reasonably and in good faith believed them credible? Or is a statement that Rabbi X had been accused anonymously of a serious crime not defamatory as a matter of law?

  6. baldaas says:

    Very fair points, but why is it acceptable to bash Weberman, and, in turn, Satmar, when a counselor of over 25 years has been accused by precisely 1 girl who had motives for revenge? What is different?

    • aweisbrot says:

      Because he was guilty.

      • baldaas says:

        Says who? It was also 1 girl’s word against someone who’d been in that field for over 25 years without anyone even hearing any rumors or whispers.

        How’s that case different to the YU rabbi?

      • aweisbrot says:

        Says a jury of his peers.

      • baldaas says:

        Oh please, a pretty young girl crying and accusing an overweight bearded man of touching her, in addition to the prosecution’s damning portrayal of the entire Satmar community, is it any wonder the jury believed her?

        However if you take an independent look at the evidence, well there just isn’t any.

        PS. Do you also think Casey Anthony is innocent? Did anyone mention jury of her peers?

      • aweisbrot says:

        Ha. You obviously dont read my blog. My Casey Anthony post got over 200,000 reads!! Yes. she was properly acquitted.

  7. baldaas says:

    I was using the Casey Anthony analogy to show that juries are not infallible and can often get it wrong. Yes there was no evidence the Casey did it, but if one’s life was at stake and they had to choose either way, I think the vast majority of people would go with guilty.

    In other words the court’s finding of ‘not-guilty’ only matters so far as she can’t be imprisoned, but it’s highly probable that she is indeed guilty.

    In the Weberman case it was really the other way around, the jury found him guilty (for reasons I outlined above + more), but on balance of probabilities (and taking into account the glaring lack of other victims) the truth lies in his court.

    Regardless, you didn’t address my main question, which asked about the difference (evidence-wise and circumstance-wise) between Weberman and Rabbi #2. After all if the rabbi’s accuser manages a Broadway performance the jury might well find the rabbi guilty. Yet the points raised in your post will not have changed.

    PS. I am not in any way affiliated with Weberman and indeed I don’t know the man from Adam, but after taking a long and hard look at the evidence (or lack thereof) I find there’s absolutely no proof of his guilt.

  8. I remember the incident.The boy left school and his personality changed radically .He tried to kill himself twice right after the incident.It doesn’t make sense that he would repeat the story word for word for 38 years.He is a very successful person now.His success alone would give him instant credibility as it pertains to Gordon.

    On the issue of accusations I have read about women making up stories about men and men being jailed for long periods of time on an accusation.Children.On one hand we must protect children and on the other we must be wise. Kids in the public schools know that all they have to do to get a teacher in trouble is say my teacher called me “stupid”.This is called verbal abuse and a teacher can be fired .Kids do make things up.We have to develop a way to know when there is a danger to a child and when there is a danger to the accused.The fact that this horrible type of abuse occurred without consequences for decades does not mean that some innocent person has to be harmed in the name of righting past wrongs. To destroy a person all you need is an accusation in print or broadcasted.I don’t like the system of naming the accused before trial but not naming the accuser. Very unfair. In Canada it is illegal.

  9. Hi there,

    Thanks so much for this article. Sexual abuse, especially that of children, is sickening. I’m glad there are people out there increasing awareness on this terrible problem.

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