For Ultra-Orthodox, Clash over Allegations

By Sharon Otterman
New York Times
May 16, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox men look on as Sara Erenthal, 30, holds a sign in support of the young woman who accused Nechemya Weberman of sexual abuse.

As thousands of supporters of a Brooklyn man accused of being a child molester attended a fund-raiser for his legal defense Wednesday night, a group of about 100 people supporting the young woman who alleged that he sexually assaulted her rallied outside.

It was a scene of anger and division over the issue of child sexual abuse that residents of the insular neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said they had never before seen. In front of the Continental catering hall on Rutledge Street, where the fund-raiser was being held, a tightly packed crowd of Hasidic men who supported the accused man, Nechemya Weberman, stood and stared down the young woman's supporters, who stood behind police barricades. "Protect victims, not abusers," their signs said.

"I'm here to support the young girl, the victim, who has been vilified and dragged through the mud," said Robert H. Hoatson, a former Catholic priest who stood with ultra-Orthodox supporters of the girl, other victims of child sexual abuse and their advocates.

At about 8 p.m., a Hasidic man from the fund-raiser rushed the protesters' barricades. The police grabbed him, put him in handcuffs and led him away.

Two women who supported Mr. Weberman said that he was a good man, and that they did not believe he was capable of sexual abuse. They called the girl a liar and got into a dispute with Pearl Engelman, a victims' advocate who was at the protest.

"How do you know he is innocent?" Mrs. Engelman asked. "Because you know him? That is proof?"

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community who report abuse cases to the police rather than allowing rabbinical authorities to handle the matters regularly face harassment, and it is not unusual for ultra-Orthodox synagogues in the New York area to take up collections for the defense of those accused.

The fund-raiser was held to support Mr. Weberman, 53, an unlicensed therapist who has been indicted on charges that he sexually assaulted a girl, starting when she was 12, during sessions intended to promote her religious practice. His trial is set to begin as early as June.


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