THE BLOG
12/11/2012 04:25 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

Hasidic Sexual Abuse Is 'Less' Orthodox Not 'Ultra' Orthodox

Nechemya Weberman, a prominent member of the Satmar sect in Williamsburg, was convicted Monday of repeatedly sexually abusing a young teen he was entrusted to mentor.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NY Post, NY Daily News, CBS and others have labeled Weberman and Satmar "ultra-Orthodox," unwittingly conveying the assumption that the more Jewishly observant you are the more extreme you must be.

The descriptor "ultra-Orthodox" is reserved to convey the message that a particular group of Jews are extreme and fundamentalist but Orthodox refers to Jewish observance, not wearing fedoras, long coats and sporting bushy beards. So using the terms "ultra-Orthodox" implies that the more Judaism you observe the more extreme you become.

The term Orthodox in the Jewish sense is essentially defined as those who follow the Torah and its commandments as codified in Jewish law and transmitted through the generations. Wikipedia defines Orthodox Judaism as:

[R]eligious Judaism which adheres to the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin ("Oral Torah") and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim.

The use of the term "ultra-Orthodox" appears to be a genuine attempt at marginalizing and distinguishing the Orthodox from the ultra-Orthodox. But in an effort to distinguish extremists from moderates, the media is sending the implicit message that the moderate/extremist distinction lies with ones level of Jewish observance.

Covering up sexual abuse is antithetical to Jewish law. The more ultra pious and Jewishly observant you are the less likely you should be to engage in sexual abuse coverups.

Rabbinical authorities, such as the Hasidic Crown Heights Beis Din, have required their members to report sexual abuse to the police under Jewish legal principles that human life supersedes all else and not standing idly by your neighbors' blood. Perpetrating sexual abuse is of course a violation of Jewish modesty laws, privacy laws and explicitly forbidden.

Communities perpetuating secrecy, shame and stigma around sexual abuse aren't more Jewish then the rest of the Orthodox. If anything such cultures are less Orthodox, certainly not "ultra" or more Jewish.

For the sake of accuracy and not perpetuating the misnomer that the more religious you are the more extreme you become, Orthodox Jewish sects should be called by their real sect names, whether they are Satmar, Belz, Bobov, Ger, Karlin, Skver or any other.

Or as a whole they should be called by the term "traditional," "Haredi" or plain "Orthodox," which more accurately reflects an unbiased descriptor of religious Jews without impugning Orthodox Judaism.