One of the more disturbing things to watch as this case came to light has been the Satmar community's overwhelming support for Weberman, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his "defense fund" (which apparently was initially used to try and bribe the girl to drop the case and leave the country), as well as the constant harassing and bullying of the girl's family. In my mind, the girl's strength to persevere with her case under these circumstances is simply incredible - and incredibly inspiring.
The question I want to ask is this: Does having a culture of supernatural belief and metaphysical dogma make it more likely for a community to defend people like Weberman?
Well, it's certainly not required. Think of the OJ Simpson case, and how whites tended to believe he was guilty and blacks believed he was innocent. We tend to rally around people who are "like us". It's human nature. And think of the mafia and its policy of "omerta", the code of silence where people do not hand "their own" over to the police. The latter is similar to mesira, literally "handing over" a Jew to non-Jewish authorities, which in certain circumstances is prohibited in Halacha. In other words, you don't need supernatural belief to create a culture that protects its own. From an evolutionary point of view, it's probably built into us as part of our survival strategy.
But there's a difference between Satmar and the mafia. In the mafia, the idea is to protect your own even when you know they're guilty. It's a "family business" and it stays within the family. Now, the Satmar community has this mentality too (as do other insular Orthodox communities). But the difference is this: Not only does Satmar protect its own - they also believe them to be innocent. Mafia communities are not nearly so naive.
I would venture to guess that the knee-jerk "Weberman is innocent" reaction has partly to do with the dogmatic absolutism that "The Torah is from God and therefore perfect". And so it is impossible for Torah - or anyone connected and committed to it - to ever be wrong, or to ever commit such a heinous wrong. So the Satmar mentality is this: Weberman is a person who lives a "Torah life" (I know it's hard to stomach, but go with it), and in particular who holds the beliefs and stringencies of the Satmar world (which is seen in that community as the "true" Torah). Therefore anyone who challenges the "absolute truth" (and innocence) of this world is necessarily a liar and a rasha (evil person) who is against God and His Torah. So my hunch is that the community believes it is literally impossible that Weberman is guilty.
Now again, blacks defended the innocence of OJ. But that's arguably a reaction to years of victimization and unfair prosecution/persecution at the hands of whites. (That, and plain old racism, just like whites believing he was guilty.) Moreover, blacks would not take "offense" at the idea that OJ was guilty, as if it were a "sin" to say so. They would not think it would be logically "impossible" for him to be guilty. They wouldn't brand the prosecution as "anti-God".
So that's my thesis here: The belief in the Torah as God-given and "perfect" enables a mentality wherein anything or anyone connected with Torah is unassailable, thereby aiding and abetting accused sexual predators the likes of Nechemya Weberman. I say "enables", meaning even if you hold that the Torah is perfect, it doesn't necessarily follow that you'd believe people are perfect. However, the one belief enables the other, such that if you took away the magical "Torah can do no wrong" dogma, you'd undermine the magical idea that people connected with Torah can do no wrong.
Now I'd like to know: What do you think?
I also want to add that, assuming Weberman is found guilty, I hope that his case gives other victims the strength to come forward, and that it helps to prevent such horrific abuse from taking place in the future. As for the Satmar community engaging in any genuine introspection or "apologizing" to the victim and her family, I for one am not holding my breath. That's the frightening power of religious dogma. No "secular court" or evidence or truth can ever hope to prove it wrong.
UPDATE: (Dec 10, 2012) Nechemya Weberman was just found guilty on 59 counts, including sustained sexual abuse of a child, offenses which have the potential to land him in prison for decades. The defense plans to appeal the decision, and sentencing is scheduled for January 9th.
I imagine I'm supposed to be feeling happy, or at least relieved. But I find myself feeling decidedly melancholy, quiet, reflective. There is no "happy ending" to this terrible case. As I said above, I hope it results in less abuse, and I hope it gives the victim in this case (as well as other victims of abuse) a measure of solace.
UPDATE: (Jan 28, 2013) On January 22, Nechemya Weberman was sentenced to 103 years in prison.