Chosen: Crimes and Misdemeanors

By Shmarya Rosenberg

The Weekly Blotter

An 80-year-old ultra-Orthodox mother and her son were arrested and charged with stealing $10 million from at least 75 people through a Ponzi scheme. Jeanette Berney and her 52-year-old son Elliot were charged with second-degree larceny. The Berney’s alleged victims were mostly friends and family, many of whom lost their life savings. (Journal News)

The Berneys are close confidants of Rabbi Leb Tropper, the now-disgraced ultra-Orthodox rabbi who was caught on tape asking a potential convert to Judaism to have sex with several of his friends, apparently in exchange for financial assistance and a conversion to Judaism. Jeanette Berney’s husband was allegedly a partner of uber crooks Marc Rich and Pincus Green who in a highly controversial move were pardoned by President Bill Clinton in the waning hours of his presidency. (Failed Messiah)

Dr. Barry Rabinovitch, a pneumologist, who is also an assistant professor at McGill University, has been suspended from practice for four months and fined $3,000 for filming his patients for his own sexual gratification. (Montreal Gazette)

Ohel, the primarily ultra-Orthodox family and children’s social service organization, accused the New York Jewish Week of bias over a Jewish Week report that showed Ohel had violated and skirted mandatory reporting laws and that sex offenders continued to molest because of it. Ohel took out a large ad in this week’s paper blasting the Jewish Week’s coverage. But the Jewish Week responded by denying any bias and by printing even more damning information about Ohel. The ad was not posted online by the Jewish Week, but Failed Messiah was able to obtain a copy and post it. (The Jewish Week / Failed Messiah)

Also, in a signed editorial, the Jewish Week’s editor Gary Rosenblatt wrote: “Nowhere in [the Ohel ad] does Ohel deny the salient facts of our report, which described several controversial cases dealing with the agency’s actions. The central point was that the staff of Ohel, on the advice of its attorney and quality control officer, did not report to the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) a suspected case of child abuse by an Ohel client who disclosed that she thought she “may be” sexually abusing her five-year-old son. In subsequent sessions with those treating her, she disclosed that she was abusing her son. New York State law says that people designated as mandated reporters – such as social workers, psychologists and mental health professionals, like those at Ohel who dealt with the woman – are required to make a report when there is “reasonable cause” to suspect a child is being abused. Ohel did not. We stand by our story.” In the rebuttal to Ohel noted above, the Jewish Week reported that the child in question was later removed from the home by ACS after hospital workers reported the abuse Ohel had covered up.  (The Jewish Week / The Jewish Week)

Dr. Melvin D. Levine, a 71-year-old nationally known pediatrician linked to many cases of child sexual abuse, committed suicide. Levine’s death was “reported a day after a class-action sexual abuse and malpractice suit was filed against him in Boston.” (New York Times)

A leading candidate to become Israel’s new National Security Adviser told a conference in 2009 that Israeli soldiers should kill anyone, even civilians, who is in their way and whose presence or actions hinder their mission. He also said that Israeli soldiers who refuse to carry out orders or who refuse to fight should be shot in the head. When asked what should be done with a five-year-old boy who is in the way, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Yaakov Amidror responded, “He should go to jail.” (Ha’aretz)

A leading Zionist Orthodox rabbi in Israel, Shlomo Aviner, told his followers that convicted rapist, former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, was innocent because one of the three judges on the panel that found him guilty is a non-Jew and the court therefore is a “non-Jewish” court whose rulings should be ignored. (Ynet)

Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the Grand Rabbi or Rebbe of the Williamsburg faction of the Satmar hasidic movement, visited the ultra-Orthodox community of Lakewood, New Jersey. While there, he was caught on film honoring Rabbi Moshe Chaim Strulovics, a long-time backer who was convicted in 2009 in an Austrian court of defrauding poor, often illiterate non-Jewish Eastern European peasants out of their life savings in a real estate scam. Strulovics refused to give police the names of his co-conspirators because, he told cops and the court, Jewish law forbids informing on a fellow Jew. The rebbe is said to have been instrumental in brokering a deal that got Strulovics an extremely light prison sentence. (Failed Messiah)

Nechemya Weberman, a Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox rabbi affiliated with a small hasidic sect that began as a breakaway from Chabad-Lubavitch, is accused of molesting an ultra-Orthodox girl sent to him for counseling. The abuse allegedly started when the girl was 12 years old and continued until she was 16. Weberman, who is also affiliated with the Satmar hasidic movement’s main Williamsburg yeshiva, was charged with rape, endangering the welfare of a child, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct against a child, and engaging in a criminal sexual act. Since Weberman’s arrest, more alleged victims are said to have come forward. (CBS–New York)

Elior Chen, the ultra-Orthodox man dubbed the most horrific child abuser in Israel’s history, was sentenced to 24 years in prison this week. Chen, who was regarded as a rabbi until his arrest, led a small kabbalah cult. On his orders, cult members beat, burned and tortured small children to drive out “demons” that had “possessed” the children. One of his tiny victims has been in a persistent vegetative state for more than two years. Even so, Rabbi Avraham Froelich, the spokesman for Eda Haredit, the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization based in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem, defended Chen. Froelich told reporters. “Chen is a naïve and delicate soul. The evidence proves he did nothing. This is a Dreyfus plot.” Froelich said, referring to the antisemitic plot against French army captain Alfred Dreyfus, which rocked France for much of the 1890s. Dreyfus was convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island prison, but was later retried and acquitted after it became clear French government employees hid evidence that proved Dreyfus’s innocence. (Ynet)

Chen also allegedly ordered followers to blow up the Temple Mount. (Behadrei Haredim)

The Grand Rabbi or Rebbe of the Vizhnitz hasidic movement ordered his male followers to stop wearing “modern” metal framed eyeglasses and contact lenses. The Rebbe told his followers to wear old fashioned plastic framed eyeglasses instead.  (Ynet)

After learning that the Jewish Student Press Service and its online magazine New Voices are in financial trouble, the Orthodox Union responded by launching its own Jewish college student publication. New Voices is still publishing and it is unclear how the OU’s competition will impact it. (Failed Messiah)

The Antidote

Three leading moderate Zionist Orthodox rabbis issued a “manifesto” against a letter signed by dozens of Zionist Orthodox rabbis in support of a convicted rapist, former Israeli president Moshe Katsav. That letter declared Katsav is innocent and attacked the testimony of his victims. (Ynet)

Shmarya Rosenberg publishes His reporting has been cited in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Post, Forward, JTA, Village Voice and many other publications. He was named to both the Forward 50 and the Heeb 100 in 2008.

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