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.

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