The stunning 103-year prison term imposed on Brooklyn ‘therapist’ Nechemya Weberman for sexually abusing a girl has unleashed fierce debate, with many members of his ultra-Orthodox community saying the harsh sentence is unfair especially compared with punishment meted out to other notorious criminals.
Critics claim the long sentence will deter future abuse victims from coming forward — but victims’ advocates and prosecutors insist seeing justice done will only encourage others to report crimes to secular authorities.
Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, rabbi, and prominent member of the Satmar ultra-Orthodox community, was hit with the lengthy sentence on January 22. He was found guilty in December of 59 counts related to the abuse of the Orthodox girl over a period of three years from the age of 12.
“The community looks at a 100-year-sentence and says, ‘Whoa, murderers don’t get anywhere near 100 years,’” said Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, a public relations firm that caters to many ultra-Orthodox clients.
Just last month, Friedlander had welcomed the guilty verdict returned against Weberman. Writing in the Forward at the time he said that the community ought to see Weberman’s case as an opportunity to confront abuse once and for all.
But he said that the 103-year sentence has led even “fair-minded” community members to wonder whether the system “is stacked against us.”
Within hours of sentencing, blog comment threads and Twitter feeds filled with people comparing Weberman’s sentence to that imposed on Levi Aron, who kidnapped and murdered 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn in 2011. Levi was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison after agreeing to a plea bargain deal.