Our Sages taught: An incident occurred where there were two priests who were running and ascending the ramp. One of them reached the four cubits before his colleague, who then took a knife and stabbed him in the heart. […] The father of the boy came and found that he was still convulsing. He said: May my son’s death be an atonement for you. But my son is still convulsing and has not yet died, so that knife has not become ritually impure. [It should therefore be taken out before the moment of death, to prevent it from becoming impure.] This incident comes to teach you that the ritual purity of utensils was of more concern to them than the shedding of blood. And similarly, it says: “Furthermore, Menashe spilled innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (II Melachim 21:16).
Chazal hardly mince their words in censuring the religious elite of the Second Temple period. The Gemara explains later: “Bloodshed had become cheapened in their eyes.”
The tragic tale of Chaim Walder, a man who reached true Charedi stardom—a Charedi version of something between J. K. Rowling and Mister Rogers, bridging popular fiction and education, entertainment and religious ideology—but will be eternally vilified following his wretched end, has divided the Charedi public into two camps. Both agree that we are faced with a terrible problem, and both classify it in similar terms: the cheapening of bloodshed. Yet, as I will explain below, they are divided as to whose blood was shed, and who is doing the trivializing. In my opinion, a third dimension of cheapening bloodshed is also worthy of mention.
Sharpening the different sides of this debate is important to understanding the testing moral dilemmas that we must bravely face in the aftermath of the Walder tragedy
Sharpening the different aspects of the debate is important to understanding the moral dilemmas that we must bravely face in the aftermath of the Walder tragedy. After laying them out, I will add a brief note on how things could have been so different, and how it is now up to us to do better and to prevent, to whatever degree we can, future bloodshed.
A significant portion of the Charedi public, alongside several prominent rabbinic figures, has protested (and continues to protest) the frightening ease with which information and rumors about Walder’s alleged deeds were spread. Moreover, many have claimed that this malicious gossipmongering, which has been classified as lashon hara at best or malbin penei chavero (public shaming) at worst, is what led to Walder’s tragic death.
At a eulogy given at the funeral, which was attended by thousands, one close friend of the deceased blasted the journalists whose newspaper report was the opening scene of the tragic play: “As far as I’m concerned, you simply murdered him.” Similar statements were published in the name of certain leading rabbinic figures (I have not verified their accuracy): “There is no permission or even the hint of permission to murder a Jew. It is obvious that what they did is considered murder, and it is obvious that the murderer has no place in the World to Come.”
Today, the shedding of blood has become permitted and even a duty; it has become the new method of committing murder. […] Causing another to die of shame has become a full Mitzvah
Rabbi Chaim Peretz Berman, among the heads of Ponevezh Yeshiva, went still further in an address he gave on the subject, bemoaning our wretched generation in which lashon hara has become the benchmark for good behavior: “How can we say our hands did not shed this blood?” he cried in pain. “Today, the shedding of blood has become permitted and even a duty; it has become the new method of committing murder. […] Causing another to die of shame has become a full Mitzvah. [It is proper conduct to] murder as much as possible, libel as much as possible, gossip as much as possible. […] Whoever succeeds in maximal exposure is a hero, and the entire world will rejoice in seeing the other writhe in his pain.”
These ways, Rabbi Berman argued before his audience, have penetrated our camp: “They mixed among the Goyim and learned from their ways. […] We will tolerate cruelty, endure abuses, contain bloodshed.” His conclusion is that we must flee such ways and their followers as from wildfires and ensure that we should not be influenced by the evil of our surroundings.
This, then, is one prism through which to view the concept of “bloodshed has become cheapened.” If we were more careful about bloodshed, Chaim Walder would not have committed the most terrible act of all. We need to ensure, to the degree we can, that such incidents should not recur, first and foremost by reinforcing the prohibition against lashon hara and avoiding the evils of its modern manifestations.
If we were more careful about bloodshed, Chaim Walder would not have committed the most terrible act of all
While I strongly identify with the need to sharpen and strengthen our instincts when it comes to avoiding lashon hara, especially in our times when destructive rumors can be spread with the click of a mouse and at the speed of light—I will briefly return to this later—I believe this is a deeply misguided emphasis when it comes to our present case.
The prohibition on lashon hara must not itself become a means of protecting evildoers and empowering evil, and diligence in halacha—mistaken diligence, in this case, though the question of the Torah approach to investigative reporting requires separate treatment—must not become a double-edged sword that enables predators to further harm victims. When it does, it is obvious that such diligence stops being halachic observance and turns into the exact opposite. As Sefer Charedim notes (explaining the juxtaposition of the Torah prohibition “You shall not stand upon your fellow’s blood” to the prohibition against lashon hara): “To teach that if you heard about somebody who wants to injure his fellow, it is forbidden to refrain from telling; rather, you should tell him, so that he should guard his soul.”
Could it be that the emphasis on lashon hara, which is not always underscored when it comes to internal Charedi issues (and there are many), is related to the fact that Walder represented an entire society, forced into defense against an assault by Haaretz and Rav Shmuel Eliyahu’s beis din? The question brings us to the second camp.
The second camp houses many who choose to emphasize the terrible suffering and distress of abuse victims. Based on the many testimonies that have accumulated, whose credibility we do not have reason to doubt (I concede the case could have been handled better, but this is not the current discussion), their number is far from few. Anybody who is acquainted with sexual abuse in its multiple manifestations knows how terrible the injuries can be, including even fatalities. Not for nothing does the Pasuk suggest (though not the simple reading) that rape is akin to murder.
While writing this piece, I received the devastating news that a young abuse victim—a concrete connection with Walder remains unclear—took her own life after hearing of his suicide. Tragically, she is not the first to follow this path. No words can do justice to such horrors.
Anybody who has encountered sexual abuse knows how terrible the injuries can be, including not a few fatalities. Not for nothing does the Pasuk suggest that rape is akin to murder
The victims’ cries—Walder’s, alongside victims in general—are deafening. Is it right that an official eulogy published in Yated Neeman (the official organ of the Charedi-Litvish sector) should mention Walder’s exceptional educational works and refer to him as “Rabbi Chaim Walder zt”l,” while demonstrably ignoring all we know (and all we don’t yet know) about his actions? Is it appropriate to declare, as Rabbi Nosson Zochovsky said in his eulogy, that Walder “knew what duties between man and fellow were,” and glorify him as somebody possessing “the correct worldview and pure fear of Heaven”? Such words are not merely deeply inconsiderate. In the face of victims, future as well as present, who are in the most sensitive and vulnerable condition we can even imagine, then are dangerous—not to mention the profound Chillul Hashem they have caused.
We can only assume—I certainly want to assume—that the editor’s motives were pure of heart. He wished to respect the bereaved family, whose grief surely knows no bounds. He wanted to ensure the “cleanliness” of the Charedi public space, which should not be polluted by mentions of just horrific actions and their consequences. He felt it proper to honor a figure that had for many years published a weekly column at Yated Neeman and functioned as its ideological mouthpiece. But with respect, these considerations cannot justify the disregard for victims’ safety and dignity and the respect paid to their assaulter.
Let us just imagine a parallel situation, in which somebody of similar standing stands accused of mass (actual) murder, testimonies and all. Would the alleged serial killer be given the same respect, accolades, and all? Of course not. And having mentioned the example, let’s extend it: Would the prohibition of lashon hara apply to him? Yes, it seems that bloodshed—bloodshed of a very specific type—has been cheapened.
This guideline implies a cruel silencing of victims, who now have rabbinic support for the decree of silence that predators invariably place upon them.
The harsh sentiment is amplified in the face of an educational guideline sent to parents and schools—in the name of certain rabbinic figures, though it is hard to believe the accuracy of the source—according to which we must speak with children “only about bein adam le’chavero”—about the injustice done to Walder. There are details, too: “[We must] cry out over how dangerous it is to publicly shame somebody and tell them that he was slandered […] to the point that he killed himself.” This guideline implies a cruel silencing of victims, who now have rabbinic support for the gag order predators invariably place upon them. Sensitive souls might even hear a trace of “blaming the victim.” According to the secretary of the Beis Din that heard the testimonies, among the victims are women who have been silenced for twenty years. Now, they are being accused of murder.
[D]oes basic sensitivity to victims, those in the past and those (Heaven forbid) in the future, alongside the acute need to extirpate evil from our midst, not require that we condemn evil and console those who were harmed?
Sensitivity to victims cannot dictate everything we do in society. Certainly, there are other important values including tzeniyus and morality, a public square devoid of vulgarity, and the prohibition against lashon hara. Still, does basic sensitivity to victims, those in the past and those (Heaven forbid) in the future, alongside the acute need to extirpate evil from our midst, not require that we condemn evil and console those who were harmed? Does this messaging and its exclusive emphasis on those who “publicized the matter and violated a Torah prohibition” not also hold bloodshed cheap? Does it not ignore the crucial role of public disclosure in deterring the next predator from realizing his evil scheme?
This second camp, which is not at all small, has not received the same kind of public rabbinic support as the first camp. It is unfortunate that those rabbis who identify with the camp, some of them strongly, have generally refrained from speaking their mind and providing a moral compass that is deeply missing. Indeed, bloodshed has been cheapened.
The first camp thus bemoans the shedding of Walder’s blood by spreaders of lashon hara. The second camp, by contrast, bemoans the shedding of the victims’ blood by those who continue to praise and glorify Walder while trampling their souls. As I hope I have clarified, my place is with the second camp. Yet, both cases do not refer to bloodshed in its literal, simple sense.
To some degree, one can glimpse a Torah hint at a comparison between rape and murder: “For when a man shall rise upon his fellow and murder him, so it is concerning this matter” (Devarim 22:26). Read in context, however, this is far from a precise analogy. On the other hand, the Pasuk states that “death and life are in the hands of the tongue” (Mishlei. 18:21)—but once again, the contemporary adage is a departure from the scriptural meaning taken in context. By contrast with these, the Walder tragedy includes a case of actual bloodshed in its most simple sense: Walder’s shedding of his own blood. Amid all the mayhem, including much bickering between the two camps, this point seems to have been somewhat overlooked.
Walder’s suicide is different from most of the terrible cases we hear about (may we hear no more such). In many suicide cases, those who take their own lives suffer from a mental illness, whether clinical depression or other conditions. Sometimes, they have even been hospitalized in psychiatric wards. This is not the case here. This is a man who took his own life, certainly out of great distress, but not out of sickness. He had other options, but he chose the worst of them all.
I recall the case, some four years ago, of a renowned Dayan in England who was found to have acted in a manner inappropriate to his position (though the acts in question were less heinous than Walder’s). As a result, he submitted his immediate resignation from all public offices—as Rabbi, Dayan, member of various rabbinic forums, noted public lecturer, and so on. Instead, he focused on rebuilding his family. I assume he also invested in repenting before Hashem. To be fair, he was not faced by a ruthless media and by massive publicity—more on this below. Yet, Chaim Walder also had this option. Tragically, he chose to deny himself the right to repent and to participate in rehabilitating the victims. His suicide twisted the knife in their wounds and opened a gaping one in our society.
Like the Perushim then, we also have a rich, varied system of values. But at its head, we must place the value of life itself. Lest we arrive, even out of concern for other important values, at a state where the shedding of blood has been trivialized
When Yated Neeman wrote of Walder’s death that he was “taken suddenly to his eternal home,” while nobody in the community is unaware of his tragic choice, this is tantamount to normalizing suicide. When we are told that he was “murdered,” as though he had no choice in the matter, this is tantamount to legitimizing suicide. Perhaps others, in moments of acute stress and anxiety, will Heaven forbid follow his example—not in taking their own lives, but in orchestrating their “murder” by those whom they blame. As a society, we cannot contain this. Suicide, when executed publicly, unapologetically, and unremorsefully—aside from there being no apology, the suicide note was presumptuous ad absurdum, as though killing oneself is a ticket to Heaven—must be severely condemned.
The background story of the Gemara mentioned at the outset—the father who was more concerned about the impurity of the knife than his murdered son—accentuates the moral deficiency of the Second Temple generation. So distorted was the Kohanim’s value system, that the question of impurity of vessels, which was the major issue separating the Perushim from the amei ha’aretz (commoners) of the time, overcame even the natural love of a father. Like the Perushim then, we also have a rich, varied system of values. At its head, we must crown the value of life itself—lest we arrive, even out of concern for other important values, at a state where bloodshed is cheapened.
At the end of the day, we find ourselves in a terrible bind. There are victims on all sides—first and foremost Walder’s actual victims, but also his family, and on some level perhaps even Walder himself. But in the numerical sense, the greatest victim is of course us. Frum society. We bleed and bemoan the loss of trust, the loss of innocence, the educational fallout, and the knowledge that when our kids speak about themselves, they will likely do so in a different language than ours.
The solution to the problem is not to adopt the norms of liberal society; this would amount to declaring bankruptcy and to re-modeling Charedi society on a new set of axioms and principles. On the other hand, we certainly need to see to the creation of a mechanism […] sparing us the next explosion
It didn’t have to be like this. After the sudden resignation of the aforementioned Dayan, an opinion piece was published in the Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper not known for its glowing support of the Orthodox establishment, which begged the question: “How can such a thing pass without a public scandal?” The question is appropriate from a secular perspective, which assumes that such matters must be debated with full exposure to the public eye. Yet, notwithstanding the explosive material, there was no public nuclear blast. The Dayan was replaced, everyone understood why, and we moved on. In our case, things of course are tragically different.
The solution to the problem is not to adopt the norms of liberal society; this would amount to declaring bankruptcy and to re-modeling Charedi society on a new set of axioms and principles. It would worsen, rather than better our lot. On the other hand, we certainly need to see to the creation of a mechanism, which can include community rabbis, city rabbis, batei din, therapists, legal experts, and whatever else is required to handle such cases and nip them in the bud, sparing us the next explosion. Such mechanisms already exist, both in the US and in Israel, and they are especially common in the religious-Zionist sector. They can certainly be made more robust and functional; there is no time like the present.
Our duty is to learn from the terrible affair. There is much to be done, but perhaps the first and primary lesson is education, which is needed on so many levels. One of them, on which this short piece has focused, is bloodshed in its variant forms. As Chazal teach us, we must be supremely cautious lest we cheapen bloodshed.
 Yoma 23a.
57 thoughts on “The Walder Affair and the Cheapening of Bloodshed”
The rabbi from the Yeshiva was deflecting ,the emphasis should be on the wickedness of the crime of child abuse and rape.
The Charedi society needs to ask itself how was the abuser Walder able to hide his evilness for so long.
The self righteous oral prancing from the Ponewicz spokesperson is a Chilul HaShem.
Yes, the question of how this was kept silent for so long – over 20 years – is certainly one of the most troubling elements of the affair.
There are two points which require review.
The first is that there is no point of comparison between this case and that of the Dayan in London. There an individual was nichshal in one case with one individual(albeit possibly on multiple occasions) and, when faced with his misdemeanor, responded with צדקה ממני.
In the current scenario, a person used his undoubted talents, skills and charisma to groom others, male and female, adults and children over periods of time in an unrelenting litany of abuse. The two are just not comparable.
The second point that requires reconsideration is that It is not we, klal Yisroel, who the greatest victims. The greatest victims are and remain those people that he abused. They are not nameless entities called ‘victim’, each a damaged human being with a damaged soul and relationships. It is their blood that we should not stand idly by.
I agree with both points. Indeed, the comparison I made was not substantive, in terms of the respective deeds, but rather in terms of how such affairs can be handled. And the primary victims are, of course, the victims themselves, but the “greatest” in numerical terms are all of us.
Did I miss the part about legal justice ( jail) that would affirm the charedi sense of proper response to a serious CRIME? I believe that 1. Victims are afraid to report abuse lest their community accuse them of tattletailing and jailing frum people.
And 2. The rabbis actually believe in cognitive dissonance: if it sounds/ feels awful, deny its possible truth. To preserve the cleanliness of the community from outside haters and to protect insiders from leaving a community of sinners, ‘leaders’ look like fools. THAT then becomes the problem they wanted to deny.
Agree with you about the fact that victims do not want to report crimes, not just because of accusations of mesira, but for a host of reasons – because of having to relive the abuse in the courts, because of the shame, and of course because it will damage the family reputation (shidduchim etc.). This is why we need a robust structure within communities to deal with such matters, otherwise we remain dependent on the secular press.
The focus in the Haredi establishment on externals at the expense of p’nimius and midot is exemplemplified by the Walder tragedy. Charisma, success, and the outer garb of a Charedi is enough to whitewash an abusers of his sins.
This is another aspect of the Walder tragedy.
This is a very powerful point. Thank you for putting it so clearly and succinctly
This may be true, but I don’t think these factors were central to the failed response. It was more a fear of having kids in schools discussing sexual crimes, alongside the concern that the public and quite unprecedented downfall of such a hugely popular educator and ideologue could be deeply damaging to Charedi society. Sadly, the response turned out to be wholly inappropriate, as well as being out of touch with reality (everybody already knew what happened and why), and its effect was to deeply undermine confidence in leadership. Yet, it remains important to understand where it came from: from a place of sensitivity to a community thrown into confusion and disarray over the most delicate issues.
“How can such a thing pass without a public scandal?” The question is appropriate from a secular perspective, which assumes that such matters must be debated with full exposure to the public eye. Yet, notwithstanding the explosive material, there was no public nuclear blast.
Interesting trade off – public disclosure will likely reduce the probability of future situations, but at the cost of communal self perception. What other trade offs should be considered?
Not dispositive but IIRC public announcements so that the people will learn from the sinner’s punishment were part of the torah’s penal code.
i heard dovid lichtenstein [ on his podcast ] comment just that , that there were certain sins that had MANDATORY public hachraza , e g the mitas beis din individual who was required to be hung . the torah somehow did not feel that it was lashon hara …
the Headlines Podcast is supposed to be on the Walder issue from a halachic perspective next week….
There might be some trade-off here, but please note that general society, in Israel or in the US, is far from clean of abuse, notwithstanding infinite openness and freedom of speech. I think a balance can be achieved between a high level of public morality, which is cardinal for Haredi life, alongside education for personal safety and a mechanism that can deal with predators.
“we certainly need to see to the creation of a mechanism … to handle such cases and nip them in the bud, sparing us the next explosion. Such mechanisms already exist, both in the US and in Israel.”
What such mechanism exists in the US?
What exactly was wrong with the approach of the Takana Beit Din headed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu? They kept this case under wraps until they invited Walder to appear. When he repeatedly refused, they realized that their warnings fell upon deaf ears. The only way forward was to publicize the story. I do not think the case was mishandled, unless you think that for such a “choshuver” person, a backroom deal was called for.
Thanks for this important detail
Certainly not a backroom deal. Once the affair had gone public with Ha’aretz, there could not be any hope of this happening anyway. Yet, I do not think it was right to publicize the recorded conversation. This was an unnecessary move that exposed tens of thousands to content that should not be in the public domain – certainly not in the public domain of Charedi society. Instead, the Beit Din should have issued a public statement explaining how they had received multiple testimonies etc. and how nobody should come anywhere near the perpetrator. Perhaps not everybody would believe this, but no father would have allowed his daughter anywhere near the perpetrator – which was surely the main objective.
The bais din basically has no jurisdiction to enforce any real consequences. It’s not like a Beis din has ability to send someone to jail.
How do we expect our religious communities to enforce civil laws if we don’t have a system in place for that? Then you are left to a secular forum where you open Pandora’s box filled with tons more chilul HaShem and. More humiliation for the victims as well. Many victims are abused on a much smaller scale especially by regular (mentally ill) individuals who they know-( friends, brothers, ect) and it’s not so sensationalized. There are many problems here, especially about the understanding about what Shmiras HaLashon laws apply Snd don’t apply in our day in age. The many Chofetz Chaim books are generalized and speaking to the masses of deeply religious people. These complicated issues are vague in those books and the basic motto is “ when in doubt leave it out “ . This is devastating for our society when it comes to protecting the perpetrators. We need a more current leadership in these areas — to yes acknowledge the fact that if perpetrators would be publicly shamed — that may be a toeles enough to publicly talk about it. But true yah’hadus is putting emes and honesty first and and standing up for tzedek and mishpat. Not allowing for sheker to be ruling over us because we don’t want people thinking that this religious group has problems, ect.
It’s much more of a problem to cover it up. See what happens when we allow sheker to thrive? It implodes in a huge way— creating for the biggest chilul hashem. Bloodshed among our victims.
The challenge of Walder’s demise and death is to hear the voices of the victims and to help them in any way to rebuild their lives while somehow allowing Walder’s family the emotional space to rebuild their shattered family in light of Wadler’s halachically indefensible actions. Let those who eulogize Walder and are worried about his shattered family spend as much time and effort on helping the victims in addition to listening to Hespedim that can be called Acharei Mos Kedoshim Emor.
One thing is for sure-Based upon the actions of Eichler’s in Boro Park and Feldheim, and the views of many rabbonim in the US, many families who had Wadler’s books in their homes have tossed them out without even consigning them to Sheimos and many other sefarim stores no longer carry Wadler’s books. That is a far cry from what the woke world calls cancel culture, but rather a recognition that the actions of the author rendered the books as not being worthy as an educational tool in our communities.
For my own community, I recommended taking the books off the shelves for three reasons. One is the educational concern: the books are not just regular fiction but include an educational component, and we cannot have such an individual educating our children. The second is sensitivity to victims, who would be both offended and possibly triggered by the books. The third is that is that given the associations, it’s just wrong to have the name receive a prominent place in our living rooms.
The discussion of whether or not there was lashon hara omits a very important fact: Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu convened a Beis Din which received testimonies from many victims (see https://www.inn.co.il/news/535916) and requested Chaim Walder to testify (but he refused). He then issued a psak, demanding that Walder be arrested. He pointed out that according to halacha, a person like Walder should be whipped publicly, put in cherem, and be publicly humiliated. If so, there is no issue of lashon hara.
Yes, but just to note – Rav Eliyahu never issued a Pesak Din. He claimed he was going to, while at the same time other Batei Din became involved. In any case, I agree that lashon hara is certainly not the relevant framing here.
There is a reason that rape is compared to murder. It is the total murder of the soul. Especially for children.
We now know a great deal about how the brain works and that it is inexterably connected to the body. Children learn about the world from their own small constilation of adults who take care of them.
Then they go on to teachers, friends and neighbors. The more a child knows that s/he can depend on his/her “circle of carers” the more their world is safe to explore.
When a person, especially a child, suddenly discovers that someone s/he came to trust to shield them, is actually the “monster” they needed shielding from, their brain sounds the alarm. They turn inward from the danger that is now everywhere, where everyone is suspect. To fill the void, the teen and adult victims often turn to drink, to drugs and other temporary fixes. Many leave the fold entirely in search of “the truth”.
And the very young turn inward and disappear to a place inside them that is calmer and safer. That is why we need to openly go after the murderers of souls and call the perpetrators out for who they actually are. There is no shame here. Only the perpetrators need to feel ashamed.
Another dimension not explored in this article is the role of “Da’as Torah” (DT) in the chareidi community. If the DT power structure is to be maintained, then the system cannot absorb any shocks that might shake the foundation (albeit very shaky foundation) of the chareidi establishment. Lone voices (especially women and children) are powerless against Rabbonim and Askanim. Furthermore, even admitting the communities failure to deal with these issues points blame to its leadership, which is a serious challenge to the limits of DT. Your article acknowledges as much, as it still clings to the DT model. Your proposal is merely to widen the leadership to include professionals as well (perhaps women? you did not clarify). However, your solution is an “after the fact” proposal- it will certainly help by putting checks and balances on those in power- but it doesn’t address the core of the issue. There is a dangerous side to DT: People don’t trust their intuition, they lack healthy skepticism, they eschew professional help, they put the community before their family’s safety, and the fear of being marginalized within the community is enough to relinquish one’s parental obligation to one’s children. Of course, the DT model also contributes to unity, safety, strong political power, and thriving institutions that serve the chareidi community well. But I believe that the system will remain broken and hurt many people (not just regarding sexual abuse) as long as the negatives are a feature and not a bug.
Thanks for the comment, which addresses an issue that I didn’t explore in the present article, but which I’ve mentioned in the past. In a previous article on the Meron disaster (https://iyun.org.il/en/sedersheni/a-time-for-leadership/), I mentioned that “The problem is not whether our leaders can declare, with hand over heart, that “our hands did not shed this blood”; the problem is that there is virtually nobody from whom we can demand or expect the making of such statements. With nobody leading, it is hardly surprising to find a lack of readiness to take responsibility”. Yes, there is certainly a leadership issue, and part of the issue is the Daat Torah doctrine that some see as absolving us from personal responsibility and denying the potential for a robust civic leadership that can effective handle crucial public issues such as sexual abuse. However, this matter is far from static, and as one Yated Ne’eman editor wrote me this week, “power is no longer exclusively in the hands of the establishment and the official newspapers, and that’s a good thing.” Given the recent crises – Covid-19, Meron, and now Walder – there is a growing realization that we need to look after ourselves, and we need a kind of leadership that will empower people to do so. This is happening, and while the pace isn’t high, it certainly remains encouraging.
The main point of your article has been spoken about by Rabbi’s although, perhaps not enough. Listen to
Rav Gershon Ribner
Dec 28, 2021
Using suicide as an escape from shameful allegations
Compare this to the rape of Dinah and Jacob’s silence!
I heard that the Beis Din of R Nissim Karelitz is investigating this terrible Chillul HaShem , which is the only Halachic term that fits what Wadler was doing over so many years. Will the results of their findings be made available to the public?
Thank you for a sensitive and considered piece. Opinions in our community, perhaps reflecting wider society in general, seem to be growing ever more reactive and intransigent, and it is incumbent upon all of us to try to be humble, thoughtful and measured on this most difficult of issues.
Actually, rav Gershon edelstein retracted his original statement, and issued a more considered statement. He also excised the accusation that the press had murdered walder. He urged Victims to go direct to the police, and criticised the act of suicide, which is one of the most serious aveiros. Murder and adultery are 2 out 3 that are the most severe.
Sadly, one camp of csilim are glorifying both of these cardinal sins, and sending the message that they are permitted, calling walder a tzaddik. These are the first signs of madness, and the basis of sabbateanism, which ponovezh have helped to create.
Dear Rabbi Pfeffer,
Thank you very much for your thorough essay.
1. For a thoughtful view from a Charedi academic, see https://www.hartman.org.il/protecting-a-predator-chaim-walder-the-haredi-defense/
2. I am American Centrist Orthodox. Since the Charedi Rabbinic leadership opposes Lashon Hara, would they please communicate this to MK Moshe Gafni and other Charedi spokespeople. Unless these people exemplify pleasantness in speech, no one can take Charedi claims to oppose Lashon Hara seriously.
3. It’s good to know that reality may be imposing itself on Rav Edelstein. My question: how could he possibly have even had a thought to release the first statement?
4. To me, this whole incident shows that just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so the protection and welfare of our wives and children are too important to be left to a Rabbinate more concerned with coverup than with protection.
6. There need to be principles and standards, known to all, which govern the behavior of even the most exalted personalities. And one of them should be zero tolerance for abusers.
Sadly yet another case , albeit this is very severe , has come before both KY and the secular world. Of course the focus of our emotions should be with all the victims including the Walder family themselves , Rl. Imagine the double edged sword of finding out their father was a Rosha and also losing someone they loved their whole lives. They will suffer their whole lives. In the end they still lose their father . How are to ever understand how many lives have been ruined by their very father’s hands? As alluded to above the, hush hush , aspect of Judaism is in large part exactly how he got away for so long. One could only wonder had the first victim reported this to parents and others involved , maybe it would’ve ended there and then. Another tragic bit of collateral damage is the lack of trust of others in
our world. Is that Rebbi acting right ? Is the menahel hiding something? Did the Rebbi hug you today after class or after hitting a home run in camp? Simple human affection between Rebbi/ Student or Principal and class becomes more distant and suspect. This is a loss of emotion and closeness that used to be quit normal not so long ago and this will change even more for the worse due to this horrible event. The Rebbonim will argue for years on this one but we all got hurt by Walder’s selfish and depraved desires.
The only person guilty of bloodshed, retzicha, in this story, is Walder himself. He killed himself. That was murder and bloodshed and he did it. Him and only him. The people that publicized Walder’s crimes didn’t kill Walder. Walder killed Walder. He should buried in a separate area of the bais hakevaros.
His suicide note did not reveal a person suffering from mental illness or a person suffering from tremendous pain. L’hepech, he was an evil person that got caught and sought one last act of revenge against his victims and those that caught him.
The problem is actually that some Hareidi and Hareidi leumi people are violating the torah, by flattery – chanifah – of sever sins – adultery, homicide, as well as the child rape. They are also flasifying by being matzdik resha.
מַצְדִּיק רָשָׁע, וּמַרְשִׁיעַ צַדִּיק– תּוֹעֲבַת ה, גַּם-שְׁנֵיהֶם. Mishlei 17 , 15
The adultery tape – was showing more thathe was a professional liar, and did not go into lurid details.
If Chareidim cannot bear to hear about procreation, and adultery, they should stop reading the Torah, and start a new religion, based on Walder’s books. Oh, they already have.
1. Thanks. Don’t forget that this is an internal-Charedi publication, which puts us in a somewhat different place from Hartman, though her comments are to the point.
2. Yes, point well made.
3. I honestly don’t know what he said and what he didn’t. But certainly, it took the different echelons of Charedi leadership some time to understand that the “traditional responses” – protecting “us” from “them” – were wholly inappropriate here.
4. Yes, we need personal (and civic) responsibility here.
6. Strong agreement.
Dear Rabbi Pfeffer,
I first heard of your publication from a Tikvah Fund podcast in which you appeared. So I thought., perhaps mistakenly, that you were open to comments from non-Charedi sources as long as they were courteous and respectful.
Ordinarily, I would be reluctant to recommend to you and your audience any material from Hartman, because your perspectives are so different. In this case, I made an exception because the main speaker is a Charedi academic who has also served as a consultant to Charedi institutions.
I found her comments extremely informative. Hopefully, you and your readers do as well.
Number 5 is missing because I hit the wrong key, “6” instead of “5””.
In all brutal honesty, do you-yes you Yehoshua Pfeffer-actually have knowledge that would stand up in court?
It is easy to say that Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu says he heard from 22 witnesses, but honestly, what is that to you and me? I don’t know enough about him to use a hechsher from him [if he has one] so why should I suddenly trust him here?
There are plenty of people who would have gladly contributed vast amounts of money to create just such a scandal in the chareidi communuty. Whose to say that didn’t happen? how hard is it to find 22 people to testify in a closed court without being interrogated? For the right price, not too hard.
Thanks for the comment. For me, and I think this is the case for most people in the Torah community, the fact that a known Beis Din – known specifically in matters of abuse, and with a strong reputation for standing up for the truth even in situations where others could not – received 22 witnesses, and after checking and researching decided it’s a done deal, places the matter beyond reasonable doubt. This does not mean that it reaches the Torah standard for executing Beis Din punishment (“stand up in court”), but this cannot be the standard for purposes of a fuctional society that needs to ensure its safety (the Ran in Derush 11 is an extreme example of this). Likewise, your standards of Kashrus are not really relevant for this discussion. Nonethtless, you have helped me to clarify an important point. I mentioned in the article that the process was somewhat mishandled by the Beis Din, and my principal reference was to leaking Walder’s voice recording to the public domain, which I thought was unnecessary and wrong (it later transpired that the move was not agreed upon by the Beis Din, but executed unilaterally by Rabbi Eliyahu). But perhaps the move was really necessary for individuals, such as yourself among others, who maintain the line that “without two kosher witnesses in a Beis Din everything remains lashon lara and we can’t believe anything”. I don’t know how large a group this mindset constitutes, but I would think that exposure to Walder’s own words ought to move even the most strident disbelievers.
So sad, but I think we need to read this:
This is just crazy. It’s true, you know. One can deny facts and all evidence. The rabbis can say the new month hasn’t started yet, even when the moon is in plain sight. If a murderer is released on some technicality, he’s no murderer.
Without debating the balance and fairness of the Modern orthodox approach, and admitting it’s terrible biases against an uncompromising halachic life, it’s typical in the MO community to assume / gossip that the chareidi world is rife with child sexual abuse and that chareidi leadership ostensibly sanctions it all. Young questioning MOers take these stories of chareidi child sexual abuse and the covering up by leadership as a legitimate excuse not to lead a halachic lifestyle: the rabbis look the other way, they protect their own power: it looks exactly like secular political cronyism: bill Clinton and Donald trump; no crime is ever committed by the powerful who have powerful friends. The biggest sin is in the sanctioning and legitimizing afterwards. It’s proof to Jews that the Torah is crooked.
My point is that there is more at stake here than people think.
My point about kashrus was simply that we don’t accept every “Rabbi” at face value.
The “we” is all Chareidim, including yourself, as just btw, I personally have looser kashrus stringencies than most Chareidim.
I, like most people, have never heard of Rabbi Eliyahu before, and have no business taking HIS word at face value.
If, as it seems from your reply, you do indeed know and accept his credentials, than you definitely can accept it.
In all due honesty, I must say that I still do not consider the case proven by Torah standards.
Even secular courts which demand much lower levels of proof have requirements for validating voice recordings.
I will quote from the first thing that came up on a google search:
However, even if the recording is the type of evidence that is admissible, you still may not be able to introduce the tape in court due to a lack of predicate. Predicate refers to the foundation that you must establish to ensure the evidence is reliable. For example, until you establish that the voice on the tape actually belongs to the person you are claiming it does, the recorded conversation is hearsay and will not be admitted.
Predicate rules are usually set out in a state’s rules of evidence and will vary, but generally you must be able to:
Demonstrate that the voice on the tape actually belongs to the person you are claiming, not someone impersonating them;
Show that the recording device you used was capable of making an accurate recording;
Prove that the recording is a true and accurate representation of the conversation. This is usually an issue when the recording cuts in and out because of, for example, wind blowing through the microphone, which could cause the conversation to lose much of its context; and
Verify that the recording has not been tampered or altered in any way.
Thus, as to the best of my knowledge these requirements have not been fulfilled, Chaim Walder has not lost his natural Chezkas Kashrus. Unless someone makes it relevant in this world [like by suing his estate] it will likely remain that way.
Which is not a bad thing. His terrible fate-justified or not-will surely serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone considering the deeds he is accused of.
It doesn’t hurt to add that there is plenty of room to deny that the allegations have been proven.
I will attach here this article about Rabbi Tau Shlit”a
It’s a travesty that R. Tau’s position is mentioned here without commenting that he of course retracted his position (like everybody else), and that even the most apologetic of Charedi pundits didn’t go as far as his totally outrageous statements. And to Ben Cohen, interesting that you eat R. Tau’s hechsher (he even gets a shlita) but not R. Eliyahu’s, one can only wonder why.
I don’t eat either hechsher, as I don’t recognize either one.
However, if EITHER one would say that he just discovered an infestation in bananas for instance, we would all hold off eating bananas until further notice.
So if Rabbi Tau writes that it is wrong to condemn someone, we should also hold off until further notice.
If Rabbi Tau retracted, please provide a source/link.
I’m afraid that the best of intentions to work at safeguarding the most vulnerable are simply not going to yield any actual results so long as you and others continue to prioritize the Haredi “klal” as you have. For all the verbiage and vortlach you seem to think that “debate in the public eye” is at best pasht nisht, at worse some sort of hukot hagoyim.
It is hard for me to imagine that those with intellectual integrity believe that self-monitoring by any group is key to success in perverted criminal matters. Who in the world would have confidence in the results of any investigation of the recent spy-ware scandal if the Israeli Police would alone conduct the investigation? You think that the doings of a Meshi Zahav or Walder–going on for DECADES do not ALREADY indicate a bankruptcy beyond internal repair? (And if you wish to point out the horror-show of an Epstein, et al as just as bad–I would agree, and merely add what everyone here knows–ayn apotropos le’aryot).
The hilul hashem of a Litzman in (by his own admission) aiding and abetting a pedophile to escape justice is a stain on all of Ger which indicates something terribly, horribly wrong with them. And the ways that evil doers of the ilk of Walder CONTINUED for years is a stain akin to the blood of Hevel.
The wake-up of the MO world (to the extent that it has occurred) came about just because people went OUTSIDE the hallowed halls of NCSY and MTA to the PROPER authorities. History is clear that whether one is dealing with a secular kibbutz or a haredi yeshiva–only moving outside of the closed circle in which abuse takes place (and is allowed to take place) will yield change and safeguard our children. With all due respect, to think otherwise seems to be at best incredibly naive and at worst part and parcel of just the very circling-the-wagons mindset which leads to coverups, victim intimidation and protection of offenders.
Thanks for the comment. I think that as a starting position, it is imperative to have our feet on the ground and to be aware of the internal dynamic of Charedi society. The fact of the matter is that the great majority of Charedi victims will not take their case to the police, for reasons that are not set to change dramatically anytime soon (though the recruitment of Charedi police investigators has helped). A second fact to take into consideration is that only a small percentage (well under 10%) of complaints untimately reach indictments, so that the police are not necessary a very effective way of dealing with predators. Finally, a third fact to bear in mind is that Religious-Zionist communities have for several years been dealing with cases of sexual assault precisely by means of local internal committees – not the Takana Forum alone, which has a national mandate to deal with educators, rabbis, etc, but rather local committees that deal with several cases each week. I am not sure about what you mean concerning prioritizing the Haredi Klal or the verbiage about the public space, but even if you have a valid point on a theoretical level, the priority now needs to be on saving the next victims, which depends on education on the one hand and a robust community mechanism on the other.
If it is a fact that the majority of victims will not go to the police, that in itself is a major indication of the problematics of the closed community which is the Charedi world (although the problematics of the Israeli police is an issue as well). If you want change, and you want to protect the next victims, there needs to be a change in that very structure. Again, thinking that a closed society will effectively police itself borders on irresponsible naivete.
Practically, of course that will not happen tomorrow and in the meantime there needs to be an immediate intra-community effort. But if the endgame of the Charedi world is to continue operating as a closed society, one needs an amazing degree of credulity to think that they will be operating with anything approaching best practices at insuring the safety of the vulnerable, no matter how “robust” you think these internal mechanisms will be. It is like arguing for more funds for the internal police investigation force instead of an actual public inquiry. Again–this has been COVERED UP for DECADES. But if you belief that not staying closed is an admittance of bankruptcy, and as such the unacceptable end of the Charedi world then you are, just as I wrote, voicing more concern for the klal, ie Charedi societal norms of internal control, than you are for previous victims, or indeed, the next ones.
As to your other points: I am not sure that the comparative openness of the MO world and its organs, Forums and committees can really be compared to the ways that Charedi society functions. Prima facie, as the MO world is much more willing to involve the secular authorities when needed, one might think that the point you are arguing for a plan of internal action by using the DL/RZ example is, then, rather meaningless. As is the citing of a statistic of whatever percent (for which I take your word) without a valid comparison to what happens to complaints dealt with internally. Come now, this is simple. (Anecdotally, I for one received instruction from a prominent DL RY to turn IMMEDIATELY to the secular courts when the safety of children was in question.)
As noted, the fact that most victims don’t go to the police is influenced by many factors, and while some can and should be relieved (such as by rabbis encouraging going to authorities etc. and by introducing Charedi policewomen) others cannot be, and as we know even well outside of Charedi society many victims prefer to stay away from authorities. This is why every society needs community mechanisms outside of the police to help combat abuse.
But to your main point, your basic premise is that Charedi society – its leadership, its mindset, its raison d’etre – is to care more about image and facade than about victims. Thus, an internal mechanism won’t help because they’ll cover everything up. Yet, at the same time you expect some miraculous structural change whereby everything is out in the open and the great disinfectant of sunlight purges all preditors. I think the flaw in your thinking is simply that dealing with issues in any given society requires entering the prevalent custom and mindset in that society and thinking about how to better things. Expecting to revolutionize as you seem to is just wrong.
Baruch Hashem, just in the past couple of days R. Shmuel Eliyahu has partnered with a Bnei Brak beis din and they have started to receive witnesses and deal with cases of abuse that have come to light in the wake of the Walder episode. To my understanding, they are not doing this with intention of covering up the cases, and they are also fully cooperative with authorities, and in my opinion this is really a great step forward. But time will tell.
I didn’t write about image or facade. Those are your words. I wrote about the obvious closed nature of Charedi society–comparing it to other closed societies like a kibbutz. The need for mechanisms by which victims can more easily report abuse is an important step. But it is an instrumental step alone, not a solution to the essential problem. R. Shmuel’s involvement actually proves my point–that input from OUTSIDE the closed system is needed to effect any change.
One can only applaud any steps taken in the direction of aiding victims, but one should also realize that the “prevalent custom and mindset” is in actuality part and parcel of the horrific problem of abuse which is beginning to look more and more like that of the Catholic Church. To deny this by pointing out band-aids being applied is to ignore the essential nature of the problem and to do that…well, that is, as I said, naive at best. But if you see changing this nature as tantamount to the dismantling of what Charedi society is, and so will defend that, then, there is more than naivety here. Ovdei H, Charedim le’devaro are not those whose faith is “the system”–but rather in HKBH who will hear the cries of those victimized crying out from the blood-stained streets, cheders, and backrooms of Bnei Brak, Nachlaot and wherever else evildoers have been allowed to strike.
R. Shmuel’s involvement in inspiring and setting up an internal system is wonderful, and light years away from a sweeping call for victims to call the police or to set up a Haredi version of liberal investigative journalism, both of which would be pretty futile and even counterproductive. Real, stable, and productive change can be trigerred from the outside, but must take place on the inside, and in keeping with internal mores and values. By way of example, have a look at our articles on army service (my response article is here: https://iyun.org.il/en/article/charedi-society-and-military-service/internalizing-the-army-imperative/)
I agree with the riesha–that change must take place inside; but the seifa is contradictory. For it is many of those “mores and values” which are the actual root of the problem in the case of abuse. When primary allegiance is owed to a closed system you will provide better conditions for evil to flourish.
The mores and values we’re talking about are modesty, the integrity of the community, isolation from secular culture, rabbinic leadership, and so on. These values are good, not evil, but their application has sometimes been flawed – to this I certainly agree – and this has led to the kind of distortions that I mention in the article and that you rightfully decry. What I’m emphasizing is that we should not call for a wholesale cancellation of the values and dismantling of the society, but to ensure their application should not cause such gross distortions and to reinforce other values that might have been overlooked due to the dominance of those mentioned above. Does “community” as a value allow evil to flourish? I don’t think so, but the challenges for a tight community are different from those of an individualistic society, and therefore they require different solutions. That doesn’t mean they’re just “band-aids” (your expression), but it means you can’t copy paste liberal methods (which certainly have their own issues).
I’m not talking about “community” as a problematic value. It is one sorely lacking in liberal, individualistic society. As a Southern Baptist professor of religion once told me, “The most important thing that people need to learn from Jews is the word ‘We.'”
I am very clearly talking about the primacy of allegiance to that community which flows from a flawed understanding of what it means to be chared le’devar Hashem. All of the things you list are at best a double-edged sword (just as individual freedom is). Let us ask the woman whose long term abuse at the hands (and more) of Walder thinks of modesty, isolation, rabbinic leadership. Taken together in their present iteration they have created a problem which allows abuse to flourish. Yet at the base of this lies not a misconstrued application of tsniut, but rather a nearly mafia-like allegiance to Charedi society above all. Litzman yochiach–by his own admission he subverted justice in order to protect one of his own. This is the world which continued refusal to acknowledge the very essential problematics of closed societies creates.
אַלְמָנָה וְגֵר יַהֲרגוּ וִיתומִים יְרַצֵּחוּ:
וַיּאמְרוּ לא יִרְאֶה יָּהּ. וְלא יָבִין אֱלהֵי יַעֲקב:
בִּינוּ בּעֲרִים בָּעָם. וּכְסִילִים מָתַי תַּשכִּילוּ:
הֲנטַע אזֶן הֲלא יִשְׁמָע. אִם יצֵר עַיִן הֲלא יַבִּיט:
I understand that you have a rather large axe to grind against Charedi society, you consider it to be an anti-Torah society in the deepest way (at least one that is not Chared Lidvar Hashem), and that you therefore anticipate a Charedi reformation or transformation. This is fine, you are entitled to your views. I have a different perspective, which sees much to be admired in Charedi society, but looks to improve that which needs improvement and rectify that which requires rectification. Yes, there is much, but there this does not undo its unique virtues. All I would add is that even given your own views, it would be well to adopt a pragmatic position: what can be done help, what can actually work, how can we move forwards. De facto, this would probably make our positions fairly close.
My point is that insularity (especially coupled with the ideas of modesty and da’as torah/rabbinic leadership) will of necessity breed the crimes that have stained the media, the streets and the lives of the innocent. I do not disagree that there is something to be admired in parts of Charedi life, as I noted regarding community. How anybody of moral fiber cannot have an axe to grind against the hillul hashem of Litzman–capota and spudik clad–who aids and abets a person who is accused of the most heinous of crimes because of his tribal loyalty to Ger is beyond me.
I don’t aim at being glib, but it strikes me as ironic (given your position at Tikvah) that your arguments basically parallel those that have been made for over 100 years in defense of socialism and communism. You point at values whose application have merely been “flawed”–much like those apologists for communist regimes whose leaders haven’t “properly applied” the truths of Marx. I think that the your colleagues at Tikvah would agree that without the capitalistic notion of individual incentive, societies are necessarily doomed to wither. At best they lag behind those where better individual efforts reap better rewards. However, given enough time, they collapse into dictatorships as collectivization necessarily robs people of freedom.
A society without any legitimate checks and balances on its leaders, whose da’as Torah cannot be questioned by the public over whom they rule, is essentially a society which robs it participants of what we usually call freedom. When there is no place for the sunlight of democratic societal norms to enter (the ability to dismiss leaders who do not make things better for the many), the result will be rot from within coupled with an increasing hardening of boundaries to keep that society under the rule of those who are in power. It matters little whether we are talking about an Animal Farm run by pigs or lehvdil, the Torasher velt. When that is coupled with not the traditional take on tsniut (all one needs to do is look at older photos) but with a new hyper focus on anything remotely related to females in the public sphere, and a renewed insistence on insularity from (for all its problems) the much more open society at large, you are creating a perfect storm for the horrors to take place. This is not a condemnation of Charedi society alone, but also any type of society (the kibbutzim for example) where atrocities are enabled just by the same emphasis on insularity and the privileging of the closed group above the freedom of its constituent members. Without addressing THAT, you are not addressing the problem.
Again–if a member of the police force insisted that only incremental tweaks to MACHASH are needed to stop brutality and invasion of citizen’s privacy and not a serious public investigation, I cannot believe that we would take him seriously.
Wow, and you’re raising many points here, which I cannot address in the framework of these comments. But very, very briefly: 1. It’s unfair to equate Gur Chassidus, which has become very cult-ish of late, to the rest of Charedi society, which is incidentally very critical of goings on in Gur and other extreme areas of the Charedi space. 2. For most of Charedi society the comparison to socialism is very inaccurate, and don’t forget the fundamental distinction between a community and a state – anybody will tell you that the experience of life in a yeshivish community is certainly not communist Russia. Proportions please! 3. The truth is that Rabbinic leadership is light years from the power that outsiders attribute to it, and in fact is far more democratic than you would think. I wrote about this a little in this article, but there is much more to be written on the topic. 4. I am not speaking about tweaks, but am certainly speaking about internal shifts in mindset that lead to significant changes that remain mindful of core values. Please read some Tzarich Iyun articles and you’ll see the direction, and on the issue of sexual abuse this article (and this one) are good examples. 5. Thanks for the engaging conversation.
re your comments:
1. Glad to hear that.
2. The comparison I made was not to socialism per se, but primarily to apologetic rhetoric. Both, despite the obvious differences, end up needing to protect the collective itself at a high cost to its members.
3. There is a difference btwn the man in the street (who may very well own two phones–the “dumb” one to receive phone calls from his children’s school) and the rabbinic leadership. But I would guess that on many major issues (army service being the most visible and perhaps tsnius) there is more lock-step. Whether this is a cause or a result of insularity or some of both is an interesting question. If democracy is making headway, that is good. But I fear that it is only regarding minor issues.
And again, to circle back to the point on closed societies: The claim by leaders (like the school principal) that they are powerless in the face of the populace is similar to the claims of too many leaders of closed societies (who always made sure to have the word “Democratic” in their names). It is too often a ploy to deflect responsibility.
4. I appreciate the articles you linked above. Habira doleket! And action needs to be taken. I remain unconvinced that without doing away with the insular nature of any given insular community anything approaching optimum safety will be achieved.
5. You’re welcome and thank you as well.