Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thoughts on Nechemya Weberman.

The recent hype surrounding the Nechemya Weberman trial brought to light a term that I had certainly never come across in my conversion studies: Mesirah, the Rabbinic prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to non-Jewish authorities that will likely result in excessive punishment. A brief overview of Jewish history puts this ban in its proper context; if another Jew stole from you, would you report it to a Roman or a Russian, or would you let the Rabbis handle it? In the present-day United States, with a judicial system built largely on Jewish principles, it gets more difficult to justify hushing up illegal activity, particularly when the victims are a community's most vulnerable members.

One of the many revolutionary ideas that the birth of Judaism introduced is the concept of linear time. The surrounding polytheistic cultures based their beliefs off of nature, which included time. History, they conjectured, must go in cycles, just as seasons do. This belief represented not only a limited understanding, but a limiting one; why seek to improve anything if everything will just stay the same anyway? I'd even be so bold as to argue that the progresses of cultures which stemmed from Judaism (the Christian West, the Islamic East) paid tribute to time in continuous form, especially in comparison to the stagnant state of the pagan Native Americans. Most of the modern world references Common Era and Before Common Era, a year zero designated by the birth of a Jewish man. Before then, a calendar depended on whichever part of the world you were in and ruler you were under, as emperors, pharaohs, and kings liked to hit the reset button once they came to the throne.

So why do some Jewish communities insist upon acting as though no progress has been made, as though they are still stuck in the shtetl and the next pogrom could come at any moment? On an individual or collective level, to dwell on the past to an extent that it prevents you from moving forward is a tragedy. And we absolutely must acknowledge that a society which espouses certain Jewish values and ethics, e.g. punishing murderers, protecting animals against cruelty, and awarding monetary damages for injuries sustained, is one in which we should fully participate, not shun.

The second issue I'd like to address is that of Chillul Hashem, a term that was thrown around to decry the embarrassing spotlight that had landed on Orthodox Jews. Such complaining only reminds me of Lindsay Lohan or Kanye West: Why won't the goyim let us be great? Judaism holds that major advancement in technology is a step toward the Messianic Age, but right now we are in the Age of Information. To that end, anything that can be made public will be made public, and it turns out Hashem wouldn't have it any other way. As the Talmud states, "Rabbi Yochanan ben (son of) Beroka said, 'Whoever desecrates the Name of Heaven in secret will be paid back in public.'" The much revered Rashi took it a step further and claimed that G-d delivers punishment in such a way that makes evident the desecration committed in private.

The Jews have undoubtedly been victims of persecution since the beginning of, well, time as we introduced it. But if we make "Jews are always victims" the official party line, not only do we misrepresent Judaism and G-d by refusing to take responsibility for our actions (and what, pray tell, is the point of the mitzvot except to own up to our deeds), but we act as though G-d does not exist. As a Jew, I don't believe in coincidences. I know that life is a constant dance between the gift of free will and G-d's omnipotence, and I trust that His Will is always carried out, one way or another. Nechemya Weberman had the opportunity as a Rabbi to bring more light into the world and to make G-d's presence apparent, but he instead chose to commit a heinous act. As the above passage from the Talmud makes clear, the very public trial was not a shanda but a humbling reminder that there is no hiding from G-d. May we, the Jews, the people whose continued existence defies all rational explanation and can only be attributed to the Divine Hand, always remember it.



  1. This is an excellent post! You are a gifted writer and I thoroughly enjoy your take and explanations on this subject. Great job.

  2. The publicity he got was a drop in the bucket of the suffering he deserves, if indeed he is guilty. Never should a molester be protected - never!! Using Jewish values as an excuse to protect evil is evil.

    1. I agree, Ruchi. I think if the community had made some attempt to investigate, rather than threatening and intimidating, I could guess at his guilt. But I just can't. That passage from the Talmud hit me like a bolt of lightning, and I don't understand why it isn't cited more. We have created an entire tznius culture based off of parts of Micah and Song of Solomon, so why don't we see the Divine Hand in this situation? Regardless, I don't feel that we can use disdain of Orthodox Jews as an excuse (Catholics like to use the same line). We do have more responsibility as religious people, and media coverage of our mistakes should be taken as a reminder of that. The spotlight is on us--how will we use it?

      You know I respect you immensely, so if you disagree with anything or have a different POV, please do share. :)

    2. If, indeed, he is guilty, then we can say we see the Divine hand. But we don't know for sure. It sure seems that he is. In the Bernie Madoff situation, yes - I'd say we can definitely see it. When hidden video cameras play out theft and fraud - yes.

      As far as disdain of Orthodox Jews, it really bothers me when people cry "anti-semitism" and "anti-Orthodoxy" where it isn't. It's really bad for our bottom line.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence :)

    3. You are right that there is no video proof or the like. Because she was 12 years old when she sought out his help, wouldn't she have been considered a bat mitzvah and therefore a woman? Either a woman (perhaps the Rebbetzin) should have been present, or a female figure should have been deemed capable of helping her. In fact, that should go for all communities, because some young women may prefer getting help from another female. At the end of the day, if a man secludes himself with a child or woman and no third party, I will always believe the accuser and not the accused. (And I believe that is in accordance with Torah law. I know there is a city/country technicality, but I don't feel we can expect someone of such a young age to know what to do, especially if she was raised to revere all Rabbis and was never warned about sex abuse.)


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