Ami Magazine’s Coverage of Nechemya Weberman

I have had rather limited exposure to Ami Magazine, so I have no real opinion of it overall. In addition, while interviews with both (Weberman opponent) DA Charles Hynes and Weberman’s attorney, George Farkas, have been published by Ami in rececnt weeks, I only read the Farkas interview, so I might not be the best person to comment on Ami’s coverage of Nechemya Weberman and his trial. That said, here goes:

In Praise of the Coverage

Ami Magazine has received some criticism for its coverage of the Weberman trial. As I disclaimed, I have only seen a portion of their coverage, yet I feel that any criticism of Ami for its pro-Weberman slant (which, as I said, I have not confirmed to be true) should be somewhat restrained.

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse hope for awareness. Ami may be incredibly unhelpful to the case against Nechemya Weberman. But by devoting pages to the subject of child sexual abuse – unlike other Charedi media outlets like the Yated and – they are at least bringing the issue of abuse to the parents and educators of young children.

The phrase “You can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public,” is attributed to Scott Adams. It might similarly be a challenge to underestimate the ignorance of much of the populace, particularly the Orthodox Jewish populace, when it comes to sexual crimes.

I’m not saying Ami’s coverage was good, but I think devoting pages to the Weberman trial is better than the alternative.

Critiquing the Coverage

With the same caveat I offered earlier, I’d like to critique a few more-or-less random points from the Ami article.

  • According to Farkas, “the jury was missing all the key information” because the judge held back certain evidence. While I have no doubt that the judge prevented certain evidence from being presented, I’m inclined to think that he had reasons for doing so.
  • Farkas claims to be convinced of Weberman’s innocence, pointing out that the entire case depended on the claims of one person. I think it’s also reasonable to remember that A. the entire defense depended on the claims of one person; and B. there is reason to believe that Weberman molested many people, not just the one.
  • Farkas stated “I am fully familiar with the case of the four people who were arrested for intimidating and trying to bribe the witness. I am convinced that if it is true, that it was a little punk who set it all up, and the circumstances are completely reprehensible.” I thought this statement indicated a rather strong pro-Satmar bias. Reportedly, the bribe was for half a million dollars and was offered shortly after a communal fundraiser (which, granted, cannot be taken to mean that if fundraiser funds were used for bribery, those who contributed them knew they’d be so used). Is it really so hard to believe the claims that the perpetrators and intimidators were “punks” who did represent the community? Really?

Some Thoughts on Orthodox Jewish All-Stars

Jew in the City (i.e. Allison Josephs) has a new video up in which – not surprisingly, as this seems to be her modus operandi – she attempts to clarify inaccurate perceptions about Orthodox Judaism. This particular video focuses on the professions that Orthodox Jews can have. Alex Clare, Joe Lieberman, boxer Dmitriy Salita and others star in this video which points out that the range of professions available to Orthodox Jews is higher than many people might think.

I might be inclined to nitpick at the basic thesis – that Jews can enjoy any trade they desire – but Josephs does say explicitly “we can’t do every last job out there.”

Is the video useful? Well, I’d like to think that it is. To those engaging in outreach, the video is clearly beneficial. It can be used to demonstrate that Orthodox Judaism does not have extremely rigid professional boundaries, which must help the sales pitch for Orthodox Judaism.

In terms of educating Orthodox Jews about Orthodox Judaism (which I assume is at least a secondary goal of Jew in the City), I don’t think it’s quite so simple. Some of the jobs featured are incredibly challenging for someone who is committed to Orthodox law (professional athlete comes to mind). Is it good for our children to grow up believing that every career path is open to them? Will this keep young Orthodox Jews from straying? Or will it simply serve to frustrate them when faced when they are faced with challenges in the workplace?

I don’t know. I’m inclined to think that the video is a good thing. Career choices are generally made by relatively mature people who have the ability to assess the requirements of a job. Dimitriy Salita and Alex Clare are showing that jobs in “unconventionally Orthodox” industries can be performed, not there are no challenges involved.

As Josephs says, “what makes this group extraordinary…is that they’ve stayed true to their Jewish heritage [while thriving professionally] even though it wasn’t easy.” And I guess you could argue that even if this video isn’t necessarily the best career pamphlet for an Orthodox Jew, it can serve as a reminder that if you really put your mind to it, you can enjoy most professions without infringing on your religious obligations.

(The full list of those featured is: Senator Joe Lieberman, Jamie Geller, Rochelle Shoretz, Alex Clare, The Maccabeats, Faye Kellerman, Mendy Pellin, Miriam Rosenbaum, Dmitriy Salita and Tamir Goodman.)

Update: I should point out, I guess, that while I quibbled about whether the video is “useful,” it’s certainly successful in its goal of clarifying incorrect perceptions about Orthodox Judaism. Simply put, the careers put together by the All Stars featured have been compatible with Jewish law.

2nd Update: Josephs writes here that “the video was publicizing the message that WE ARE NORMAL” and that a ba’al teshuva appreciated the video because “it filled him with hope that maybe just maybe people would understand why he chose the life he chose.” In these regards it is certainly very useful.

The Slifkin Ban and the Ban on Chassidus

Rabbi Slifkin

I happened to be reading some of the – always interesting – documents about the ban on R. Natan Slifkin’s books (available here) recently and had an interesting thought. R. Slifkin recounts in significant detail how he was given warning about the ban on his books but when he tried to meet with the ban’s signatories they all refused to grant him an audience. (I had likely read this before, but I guess I had forgotten it.)

Now, this seems like a strong reaction. Many would find it appropriate to personally meet with an author prior to banning his book, but at the very least one would think that if the author desired an audience with the proponents of his ban, he would receive it.

Within a day, however, I thought about a somewhat similar occurrence from over 200 years ago. Not being all that familiar with the story, I did a google search. This yielded a few interesting results. As the Daas Torah blog wrote in 2008, Wikipedia states the following:

According to Chabad tradition, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horodoker were sent to the Vilna Gaon by the Maggid of Mezeritch and the Gaon refused to meet with them.

Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer of Vilna

As might be expected for a story which is both chassidic and over 200 years old, there are various versions and interpretations to the story. (The first telling of the story that I recall didn’t mention the Maggid of Mezeritch. Also, at least one version – perhaps the predominant one – has the Vilna Gaon not just refusing an audience with the Baal HaTanya but fleeing town. This is mentioned in one of the comments to that post.)

But whatever the specifics, this story seems to provide a parallel to that of R. Slifkin. For one thing, they are both stories of the establishment banning the upstart without giving the upstart a chance to argue his case. (The Vilna Gaon – besides being the Vilna Gaon – had 25 years on the Baal HaTanya.) Additionally, they are both bans which are clearly ignored. Hasidism flourished unrestrained by the Gaon’s ban, and R. Slifkin has many, many supporters in the Orthodox world.

I feel quite confident that the ban’s signatories did not harbor the same feelings toward Chasidim as did the Vilna Gaon. (For example, one of them served on the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah alongside Chasidic rabbis.) I’m not sure what to make of this, though.

Can we assume that those who signed the ban simply put little significance in refusing to meet with somebody, i.e. that they thought it possible that the anti-Slifkin and anti-Chasidic attitudes were questionable but STILL ban-worthy? Did they feel that they were more qualified as judges of R. Slifkin than the Gaon was as a judge of Hasidism?

I don’t know that we can draw any conclusions from here, I just found the similarities between the two stories interesting.

The second thing I found out was that somebody (almost certainly a Chasid) removed the paragraph quoted above from the Vilna Gaon’s Wikipedia article. It’s still in the archive history but is not part of the current article on the Vilna Gaon.

Chanukah message from 1913 Pittsburgh

Chanukah Menorah

This Chanukah message appeared in the Jewish Criterion of Pittsburgh, PA on December 19, 1913. (Parenthetically, the Federal Reserve System was created with the signing of the Federal Reserve Act within a week of the publishing of this holiday message.)


To our readers and friends we extend sincerest wishes for a happy and joyful Hanukkah week. May the memories of brave names, called again before us, fill our souls with renewed enthusiasm for the faith of our fathers. The kindling of the lights should awaken within every Jewish heart a deeper and more abiding love for Israel and its ideals.

Next Wednesday, the day before Christmas, the happy week will be ushered in. When the first candle will be kindled on Tuesday evening, we trust that our Jewish people will concentrate their thoughts on Mattathias and his valiant sons, without waiting for the holiday of their neigh­bors to commence celebrating. We never could see why the beautiful symbolism of the candles, commemorating the wonderful bravery of the Maccabees, was less meaningful to Jews than the signs and ceremonies of the Christmas festival. The one event is grounded in history, the other is not. The one narrates the story of unequalled heroism for a world ideal, the other records an uncertain date, at best, and which is chiefly remembered by Jews as being the time for yearly persecutions and outrages. Mindful of this, let us concentrate our thoughts on the joys within our own history, without borrowing those of our neighbors.

One of the saddest experiences of our life was in passing along East Broadway in New York, about ten years ago on Christmas Day. Window after window was decorated, often with a Christmas tree. Pre­sumably, every household had left Russia to escape persection [sic], yet how quickly had all their sorrows been forgotten. In the old country, Christ­mas Eve was a night of dread and apprehension, and in the new land it became an occasion to outdo their neighbors in celebrating. The Jew has no reason to exchange his Hanukkah gladness and candles for his neighbor’s mirth and tree. This joyful week will soon be upon us, and may its message of loyalty to Judaism enter our souls, making us better and more zealous children of Israel.

It’s a nice basic message – “cherish your own holiday.” I’d like to think that the number of Jews celebrating Christmas over Chanukah is at least somewhat lower now than it was in 1913, giving the flourishing of American Judaism and Jewish pride over the last 99 years. (If nothing else, at least the holidays don’t overlap this year.)

Lessons from the Weberman Trial

The Weberman trial has ended. The jury began its deliberations on Friday and after a weekend break ruled guilty on all counts. I think there are some things that we can learn from this trial.

The trial was, of course, a trial for Nechemya Weberman but there have been those who’ve opined that, in reality, the entire Satmar community was on trial. There’s some truth to that statement; the difference between the two trials is that the community – unlike Weberman – is not being tried by a jury.

Various mainstream news outlets have covered the trial and many of them have also spoken about the community. The court of public opinion is incredibly powerful. The Satmar community seems to be claiming that outsiders are out to get them. While this may be true in some cases, there are certainly many spectators who feel legitimate pain when they hear about – for example – children who are molested and then considered outcasts when they inform on the perpetrators. Other seemingly unsavory aspects of the community, like the va’ad hatznius, have also received negative press.

There is only so much power that individual communities have. Hundreds of years ago, when the governing powers desired to exclude Jews from society’s mainstream, they had little choice but to live in ghettos. With the advent of a more liberal society in the 18th century, there was debate within Jewry about whether leaving the ghetto was a desideratum. Today’s society – at least in America – does not merely allow a certain amount of Jewish-societal integration, it requires it. Telling the DA and the police not to do their jobs – which seemingly is what the ghettoized Chassidic communities are doing – is both politically unpopular and legitimately hard to envision as a long-term plan in today’s world.

Simply put, I think this trial demonstrates well the impossibility of a hasidic ghetto in the America of today.

R. Avi Weiss on Women Rabbis

Rabbi Avi Weiss

“I think the call for women rabbis is unhelpful, because there are roles that rabbis play that women, by Jewish law, are prohibited from doing. That’s very clear. In the same breath, there are many other roles that women can perform.” – R. Avi Weiss (source)

I came across this 1998 quote in a google search for something entirely unrelated. But I  think it’s very interesting, to say the least.