Wearing masks, the men broke into her bedroom after dark to confiscate the evidence. They are not the law or the mafia, and she is neither a criminal nor a rat. Baila Gluck was just a 15-year-old girl, and it was just a cell phone, but to the Vaad Hatznius—the self-appointed arbiters of right and wrong in the Satmar Orthodox Jewish community—Baila might as well have been holding a time bomb.
The Satmars, who live in two extremely insular enclaves in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in upstate New York, know and fear Vaad Hatznius, which means “modesty committee,” but most people have never heard of the group and its practices, which can include intimidation, threats and even “arrests”—for example, of a girl who attends a party with boys, or a religious man who shaves his beard. While its members have no official permission from the state to engage in law enforcement, Jews who live under the Vaad’s law say beatings, harassment and stolen property are all too common.
“Many within in the community call it the Taliban as a joke,” said Deborah Feldman, who grew up in Satmar Williamsburg and is the author of Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots.
“They answer to no one. They can get away with whatever they want,” Feldman said.
But this week the Vaad is answering to the New York court system, at least indirectly, through the trial of Nechemya Weberman, 54, a counselor charged with 60 counts of child molestation for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl who was under his care for nearly three years. Weberman took the stand this week and vehemently denied the allegations, saying he “never, ever” raped or assaulted the girl. The accuser, now 18, previously testified that, among other things, Weberman locked her in a room and made her re-enact pornographic movies.