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The Halo Effect and Good Fences -- The Weberman Case and Abuse Prevention in Our Community – Part Two
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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12/4/12

Imagine entering a nearly deserted shul one morning and seeing a fellow taking a number of dollar bills from the pushka (charity) box. Would you suspect that he was stealing charity money? Well, it depends. If the person is attractive, well-dressed, and “your type,” you will probably assume he had put a large-denomination bill in the pushka and was merely taking change. However, if it was an unsavory character, you would be quite certain that he was helping himself to some of the charity funds.

The logic that drove your thinking was coined “The Halo Effect” by Edward Thorndike, former president of the American Psychological Association, in an article published in 1920, where he described it as, “A generalization from the perception of one outstanding personality trait to an overly favorable evaluation of the whole personality.”

He based his findings on a study conducted on two commanding officers who were asked to evaluate their solders in terms of physical qualities (such as neatness and bearing), intellect, leadership skills, and personal qualities (including responsibility, selflessness, and cooperation). He discovered that once a soldier was given a high rating in his physical qualities, he was far more likely to be given better grades in the all other categories.

This phenomenon extends itself to all facets of our lives including classroom grades, brand acquisition, and courtrooms, where studies have consistently shown that attractive people are given far shorter prison terms than their unsightly brothers and sisters.

It is extraordinarily important that we reflect on the raw power The Halo Effect has on our minds in light of accused child molester Nechemya Weberman’s trial. Why? Because for many years, blaring warning signs of flagrant and very serious violations of Hilchos Yichud (laws forbidding opposite gender people who are not family members secluding themselves with each other) went unheard due to the soothing white noise generated by The Halo Effect – with disastrous results.

The Williamsburg community would never have tolerated a male “outsider” conducting four-hour counseling sessions with a young lady behind a triple-locked door. But a trusted member of the kehila was given a full pass on this critical component of Hilchos Arayos (laws governing immoral activities).

Many centuries before the development of the current norms of behavioral transparency (which, for example, has made it common practice for a female nurse to accompany a male doctor who is examining a woman), our chazal (sages), in their infinite wisdom, created Hilchos Yichud, fulfilling their dictum in the opening words of Pirkei Avos (1:1), “Asu s’yog la’Torah (build a [protective] fence around the Torah).”

These laws were not developed for teens-at-risk. They were meant to protect everyone from the ferocious power that the Yetzer Ho’ra unleashes in these arenas. In fact, a governing principle of these halachos is “Ain apitropis l’arayos,” loosely translated to mean that there no exceptions whatsoever in their application regardless of the individual’s standing or piety.

Does the fact that Weberman violated Hilchos Yichud mean that he is guilty of the unspeakable crimes he is accused of? Not necessarily. But it does mean that he totally has lost his cheskas kashrus (presumption of innocence).

Since the trial began, countless people have asked, “What is to stop people from making such allegations against any of us?” The answer is responsible, Torah-true behavior, 24/7. If one lives his life in accordance with the letter and spirit of Hilchos Yichud, it is almost inconceivable that any allegation would gain traction, since the accuser will be unable to prove venue and opportunity.

As for those who don’t exercise prudence, it ought to become crystal clear to all of us that their halos have slipped far off their heads.



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1. We can be fooled     12/4/12 - 10:32 AM
Elliot Pasik - Long Beach - efpasik@aol.com

There's a Gemara like this, isn't there? - can't recall where. A stranger to town, just before Shabbos, needs a safe place for his money, and sees a man still wearing tefillin. He thinks, therefore, he's trustworthy, and gives him the money for safekeeping. After Shabbos, he asks the man for his money, and he replies, What money? Call this, the Tefillin Effect.

The other side of the coin is that in secular law, there is a concept called, Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. It is a jury instruction given by judges to juries. If you find a witness lies about one matter, you can, logically, infer the witness lied about all other matters. You're not obligated, but you may.

We're safest when we watch the actual, objective conduct, as Rabbi Horowitz writes. He was violating Hilchos Yichud.


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2. assumptions     12/4/12 - 11:11 AM
Anonymous

Hi Rabbi

aren't we making to many assumptions in this case?

who says that they were locked in one room? ( he said , she said ?)

In addition are we not to Judge each fellow Jew in the best light ?

Rabbi while I commend your work , there is also a need to know with whom your doing your work with , and just like R Moshe would not combine his efforts with unscruplious characters , so should you watch out for that , as we learn tov ltzadik vdov lschanu ...oh ... so please rabbi go on with your great work .but be prutent who your partners are


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3. Camp policy     12/4/12 - 11:16 AM
Dovid Teitelbaum - sdeichemed@gmail.com

At our first staff meeting with the staff we tell them all as follows. Don't ever be caught alone with a boy. Not because we don't trust you, but if a child does accuse you of misbehavior we will need to side with the child even if we don't believe him. The reason is that you violated a camp policy. We are asking you not to put yourself in such a situation.

It might be a sad reality of the times that we are hyper-sensitive, but we have no choice but to adapt. I assume today most camps do the same.


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4.     12/4/12 - 11:33 AM
Chaim Saperstsein - Monsey

When Aristotle was found cavorting with a harlot, his students were aghast. "Teacher", they asked. "How can you do such a thing?"

Aristotle answered, "Think of me not as Aristotle the philosopher. Right now think of me as Aristotle the human being".

The implication is that even a lofty thinker may have a need to be human once in a while.

With Nechemia Weberman, it seems, he is trying to say the opposite.

When caught locking himself up with a girl, he is saying: "Think of me not as Nechemia the human. Think of me as Nechemia the Malach".

As if the "lofty" Nechemia is so saintly, so far removed from "lowly" human tendencies, and their baser instincts, he could possibly spend 12 hours a week in seclusion with a young lady and keep his hands to himself.

Hilchos Yichud is for "the rest of us".

As I said before - 12 hours a week is not therapy. It is a relationship.


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5. To Anonymous     12/4/12 - 11:48 AM
Chaim Saperstsein

Hi,

The first step in searching for the truth is to not dispute the undisputed.

While you are correct that the "triple lock" MAY be a "he said - she said" the fact that he violated the laws of Yichud are not disputed.

Even his own attorney, admitted that they drove alone for hours - while he (the attorney) was under the false impression that it is Muttar under Hilchos Yichud. He was informed in open court that it is not Muttar.

Additionally, If one is in a room, where they are positive they will not be interrupted (which is the case when one is giving therapy), then it no different than taking a walk in the woods in a secluded area - which is Assur.... even if you are outdoors!!

(by the way, as opposed to popular misconception, having the front door unlocked when having a babysitter DOES cause a serious problem with Yichud, if the babysitter knows that you are not going to walk in any minute)

So, the salient point - that Weberman is DEFINITELY, UDISPUTEDLY an Avaryon in Hilchos Arayos and therefore loses his Chezkas Kashrus in this area - is absolutely, 100% INDISPUTABLE.


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6.     12/4/12 - 4:51 PM
BORUCH

YOU ARE A REAL HERO!!WE WANT THAT JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!!!! WE WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY ABUSE ANYMORE FROM ANYBODY!!!!!!


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7. Hilchos Yichud only Protects us so far     12/4/12 - 5:18 PM
Benignuman

Compliance with Hilchos Yichud would have prevented the tragedy in this case, but it wouldn't prevent any case where the accused and the accuser are of the same gender.


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8.     12/4/12 - 10:51 PM
Anonymous

I understand how the laws of Yichud need to be adhered to at all times. I am wondering about confidentiality. When a male therapist sees a female client how do they ensure the client's privacy without violating hilchos Yichud?


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9. "Cheskas Kashrus"     12/5/12 - 12:32 AM
Anonymous

"But it does mean that he totally has lost his cheskas kashrus (presumption of innocence)"

I am not siding with Weberman, but I don't think that because someone commits a violation of "Isser Yiched" he/she automatically loses the presumption of innocence, we all commit sins every now and then, according to you none of us have a "Cheskas Kashrus".


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10.     12/5/12 - 11:03 AM
Chaim Saperstsein - Monsey

Lest anybody think that Weberman just "did not think" about his day-trip with the victim was Yichud, and lest you still think that this is just a "he said-she said", let me tell you the story behind this day-trip, and you will see the ugly truth behind the controlling powers that the community holds on the individual.

It is enough to dispel any question as to his guilt.

Here is the story, as testified by the mother in open court:

When Weberman told them about the trip, the victim tried to get out of it.

"I can't Go", she told her mother. "It's Yichud"

The mother said "Takeh, you have a point"

She mentioned that to Weberman.

He got so incensed with them questioning him, that he actually got the school to force the mother to write him a letter of apology

Now, consider these points.

1) She (the victim) was correct. Going on the trip with him WAS against Jewish law.

2) Weberman knew she was right, hence the defensiveness.

3) He was INCENSED that she DARED question his Psak. ("How DARE you question my authority. I am the THERAPIST!") This gives credence to her description of him as a person with a controlling "God mentality"

4) Although he was breaking black-and white laws of modesty, the school inexplicably sided with him. (So much for being a "righteous person" in a "righteous community")

5) He indeed did not give in, he FORCED her to DO What IS WRONG by taking her on the trip even though she protested.

6) He was able to intimidate the mother so thoroughly, that he actually got HER to meekly submit to apologizing - in writing - when SHE WAS RIGHT!! And HE WAS WRONG!!

Everything you need to bolster each one of her claims is right there in black and white.

1) He forced her to break the Halachos of Arayos, and do what is immodest and Hlachically prohibited.

2) He used intimidation to silence any opposition from the victim - and her family, even when he was wrong.

3) Even if you believe that he never locked the door on his office, he STILL broke the Halachos of Yichud and is a Parutz in Hilchos Arayos.


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11. Chezkas Kashrus & privacy with female clients     12/5/12 - 12:04 PM
Sherree Belsky - Lawrence

I would like to address both issues here.

It is very simple to have a private session if one chooses to have clients of the opposite gender. One can either install a door with a glass window and have the client sit with their back to the glass or leave the door a crack open and use a sound machine in the ante-room to drown out the sounds of the voices within.

As far as the Chezkas Kashrus is concerned, you have to understand the facts here and also the attitude of the man involved her. He holds himself to such a madreigah that he is one of the heads of the Modesty Squad who judges the adherence to tznius of the other members of the community!! For such a top notch scion of tznius and modesty, one who would absolutely without a shadow of a doubt know the halachas involved regarding tznius and Yichud. If such a person were to ignore those halachas and would be Oiver the issur of Yichud (and by the way also Moiser) how could he possibly be given Chezkas Kashrus?

You can't believe one word that comes out of the mouth of such a hypocrite and baal gaiva. This is a man who titled himself "Rabbi and Counselor" without any training or certification in either field! If you ask him "Are you actually a Rabbi?" what can be his answer? If you ask him "Are you actually a therapist?" what can be his answer? "Do you have training or certification for either title?" Again what can be his answer? Can he supply proof that he is entitled to either?

Any Rabbi who has smicha has a letter or certificate to prove it. Any therapist has either a license or a certificate to prove it. Any teacher who can use the title Rabbi has some employment record to prove it or is known in the community that he is a Rebbe in such and such a Yeshiva. Only one of the above has the right to "counsel" anyone and furthermore if he isn't either a Rabbi with smicha or at the very least a Rebbe of students, what right did he have to be on the Mod Squad? He had the principal force the parents to pay him $12,800 up front, or they would not allow the child to attend school. That is a year's tuition, and yet he is neither a trained, licensed or certified counselor or Rabbi! That I would say is gazlanus!

Sheker, sheker tirchak! The mother of the victim was appalled when he said he was taking her daughter on a "day" trip in the car, which by the way according to his defense lawyer, he borrowed from her husband!!! She pointed out to him that it was YICHUD. The school principal forced her to write a letter of apology to him!!! The mother told this Baal Gaiva that he may NOT take her daughter out on an all day field trip because that would be YICHUD and HE made her apologize for saying that!

Do you still question whether or not HE has Chezkas Kashrus?


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12.     12/5/12 - 2:21 PM
israel - monsey

so on what do you base your allegations on N"V


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13. #12     12/5/12 - 3:21 PM
Sherree Belsky - Lawrence

On the truth!!


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14.     12/5/12 - 6:29 PM
Anonymous

To those who ask about keeping a door closed and confidentiality of a patient .... In this case, I remind you that Weberman is UNLICENSED. He is a common man who is talking to a random girl.

There is no HIPAA in effect. The school knows which students he is seeing and therefore there was no confidentiality.

His sessions should have been in an open room no different than a male principal would have done with a female student.

And once he violates the laws of yichud he certainly has relinquished his entitlement to be assumed innocent because he is already guilty of breaking laws.


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15. Pay attention to your kids     12/6/12 - 4:49 PM
Sherree Belsky - Lawrence

About Yagen, Years ago when I first started mentoring teens at risk, I worked with a group of girls who were talking about this "Rabbi" Yagen and how awesome he was. It seems that they would travel in groups, car pool, to hear him speak. I believe he was speaking in New Jersey at the time. They said he was so dynamic and energetic. The more I heard about him the more curious I got, why were these girls going to this "Rabbi", he wasn't connected to their school in any way, I never heard of him, and they had to go out of their way to get a ride and travel to see him. So I started asking questions about him, keep in mind this was many years ago, at least 6 or 7.

I was told he was a young Rabbi, fairly newly married, with a child, maybe in his mid to upper twenties. They thought he was so great because he took such an "interest" in all the girls. He even gave them his personal cell number and exchanged text messages with them!!! Woah, that really, really got my attention. Something wasn't quite kosher there, and I needed to find out more and I needed a way to explain to the girls how that was NOT appropriate. I asked what had he done for them? I was told, they discussed their personal issues with him and he really took an interest and advised them about their boyfriends and such. He made a girl hold from negiah, etc.

So I asked the girls, this particular group of about 2-4, I don't remember exactly how many I was talking to, what they thought HIS Rabbi would think of him mentoring and advising a group of girls. Don't they think that his Rabbi would suggest to him that at his young age and marital status he would be best off serving boys? It gave them food for thought. A few weeks later I asked them if they thought about what I had told them. I found out that he had invited one of them to come to his home for Shabbos. I asked the young lady, if his wife had extended the invitation. She said she didn't know. I asked her how did she know if he had asked his wife if it was ok with her that he invite a young girl, basically his groupie, someone not that much younger than herself to join them for their quiet Shabbos when she should have some private alone time with her husband that she doesn't get to have to herself very often. After all, didn't the girls say that he calls them on the cell phone and texts with them quite often? She said she didn't know. I asked her to text him and ask if his wife extended the invitation or if it was his idea.

She did as I asked and he didn't answer the text. I asked the girls how do they think this young wife feels that her husband is texting with a bunch of girls not much younger than herself? They shrugged shoulders at me. So I then asked them how would they feel if THEY were the wife? Do you think it would be respectful to YOU? Then their faces changed and they took on a more protective attitude. I told them that what he was doing was totally inappropriate for a Rabbi and a married man of his age and status. That if they wanted to have a Rabbi to talk to and to look up to, they should find one that is much older and with much more experience and one who is much more established like Rabbi Wallerstein. B"H, they listened and they stayed local and joined Rabbi W's sessions and met counselors and speakers there who were truly helpful to them!

After they got married I asked them again, and this was before I knew the allegations against him, if they thought what he did at the time was appropriate, and they each realized as a married Jewish woman that it was totally disrespectful to his wife and totally inappropriate for a Rabbi.

People need to wise up and most especially to listen to kids speak!!! You really need to learn to "listen to understand". Please, please pay attention to what they are saying and talking about. Please realize why I am relating this story. Had I not caught on to his duplicity, these few girls could have also been his victims and they might NOT have the happy lives they are living now. Their lives could have turned out completely differently. He was preying on the At-Risk and vulnerable population. They were easy prey, but any child can be taken in by a grown up or someone with authority.


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16. williamsburger     12/7/12 - 8:00 AM
Williamsburg er

Likvod Reb Yakov, To start I would like to congratulate you got the outstanding work you do and should you see nachas by your own....

But in the same time I would like to ask you not to short stop here.

We people here in Williamsburg live in a UNHAPPY community just to name a few. The way shiduchim work. of course it's all basshert. but the problem arises when you have kids that don't really live with the shivissi 24/7.

and then comes the webberman attitude. The moisedess leadership feel extremely comfortable in their positions the daas Baal habiyis is dirt.

bottom line; we need change and we need it fast. Before it's too late. Thanks


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17. Williamsburg er     12/7/12 - 11:37 AM
Sherree Belsky - Lawrence

I feel your pain. Change begins within. It is hard when you are fighting authority but many of you feel the same way and you have to run your home with the love of Torah and Yiddishkeit that you believe in and the way the Alter Rebbe z"tl taught your parents and grandparents.

Maybe the way to start is to put pictures of the Alter Rebbe up in the home to gain chizuk and courage from him and his memory. Maybe it begins by telling tales of how he ran Satmar and how things were different then. Maybe it begins by speaking amongst your friends about how different Satmar was then and how maybe you would all like to honor him by bringing Satmar back to its glory days.

Maybe it begins by taking a lesson from this young girl and stop being so afraid. Have more emunah and bitachon in Hashem and stand up to the bullies within. Group together with your friends and families and start doing the "right" thing to bring honor and justice back to the community. Stop doing and start living again. Start serving Hashem again instead of the Rebbe who is in battle with his brother. Who did the Alter Rebbe battle with? Even though he basically didn't agree with Chabad the two Rebbes spoke to each other and had respect for each other!

No one else can do this for any of you. It is up to you to change what happens in your own daled amos. Hatzlocha Rabba


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18.     12/7/12 - 1:24 PM
Anonymous

Dovid Teitelbaum's post about camp staff raises the question at what age would we consider it necessary to report? Should we be reporting even teenagers? Does the age of the victim play a role I.e. close in age or distant?


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19. Sheree     12/9/12 - 1:07 AM
Anonymous

It seems like you are knowledgeable and even might be a professional. I am wondering about the allegations against Yagen since I know 2 cases of marriages that were broken up due to his involvement. I am wondering if there is anything that is being done. I am not aware of any case, I only read that he shared 'some business' with Weberman. Where are you coming from. Keep up your good work. Also, you say parents should pay attention to their kids, yet kids don't always believe that their parents know better and have a know it all attitude.


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20.     12/9/12 - 3:50 AM
Williamsburg er

Thanks Sherree . but to give you an example... My son comes home every other week with drashas from his menahal and teacher about tziyonem and how it's not allowed to go to kosel or kever rochel and he goes on to the daf. so he asks me. Totty how come you do all the above? I give him this conflicting answer. that I don't learn in satmar but he has to follow the rules...

Got me? Like we don't have problems of our own. The hate that they put into these innocent kids breaks my heart.And For if you will tell me to get out of this. The answer is that it is almost impossible unless all this crumbles. but on the other hand we never taught of getting this far. so I guess. Never give up


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21. #20 Williamsburger     12/9/12 - 7:57 PM
Sherree Belsky - Lawrence

You are still the parent and though it might be a bit confusing for your child you do get to explain. "These places are mekomos kedoshim. We are Satmar, the current Rebbe believes that as long as we are in Golus we should not visit these mekomos. Other Rebbeim don't agree. It is a machlokes like any other in the Talmud. Personally I have very mixed emotions about this, since it is an opinion and not a Halacha. It is hard for me, as a Yid, to hold myself back from visiting mekomos kedoshim in my lifetime, and in actuality performing the mitzva of visiting Kever Avos and imahos and davening there. This is not up for debate between you and your Rebbe. This is a discussion between a father and son. You are in yeshiva now. As I do not have the right to tell you that your Rebbe is wrong or not to honor your Rebbe, so too does your Rebbe not have the right to tell you that your father is wrong or not to honor your father."

Kibud Av v'em is one of aseres hadibros.. I think that many of us has forgotten that and have allowed Rebbeim to be put on pedestals. Please remember that not every Rebbe is trained nor ordained. Please also remember that not every Rebbe is a good role model nor should be in front of a classroom. He will always be your child and you are his only father. He will have many Rebbeim in his lifetime and they will have many students. He is not the most important child to them and once he has left his class, he is just one of many who has passed through his life. But he will always be your son, so please don't let others be the true mechanichim of your children.

Teach them what your parents taught you and their parents before them. It is your choice what truths you want your child to know. While we were in Golus and our people had to hide their yiddishkeit bpharhesia, they still taught their children the truth of what they wanted them to know in secret. They did this with dire consequences even the threat of death. What should stop us from being mechanech our own children with the absolute truth?


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22.     12/12/12 - 3:33 PM
Anonymous

To 10:

I think you did a typo in point 3 when Weberman replied "...I am the THERAPIST...". It should be be, "I am THE RAPIST"...

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