Ultra-Orthodox Israeli author Chaim Walder allegedly engaged in sex with minors, two girls aged 12 and 15, according to an investigation published in Haaretz on Friday morning.
Additionally, a third testimony alleged that Walder regularly raped a 20-year-old woman, his therapy patient, on a regular basis.
Walder is a well-known author publishing literature for children and young adults in the Ultra-Orthodox world, with his series Kids Speak (in Hebrew - Yeladim Mesaprim Al Atzmam) selling over two million copies of his books in ultra-Orthodox communities across Israel and the Diaspora. The first book in the series became one of the top five best-selling books in Israel of all time.
In the testimony shared with Haaretz, Talia (not her real name) recounted the first time she met Walder, at the age of 12, more than 20 years ago.
Upon meeting her, Walder told the girl that she was "very mature," and that he liked the way she looked. "He was very smart and manipulative," Talia told the newspaper. "He did it very slowly, so as not to stress me out."
Over time, Talia said, these overt comments became more explicit, and Walder would ask her frequently if she had begun menstruating yet, repeatedly over several months.
When she reached the age of 13 and began menstruating, Walder began to engage in full sexual intercourse with her.
"I remember the trauma afterwards, I remember crying," she said in her testimony.
"I would study for tests in my head, wait for it to end, and go home. I was like a corpse. I remember his smell, his belt, but it was a technical process and the feeling was completely disconnected. The disconnect accompanied me for years."
According to Talia, Walder would mostly meet with her in Bnei Brak, in the bookshop owned by him. The situation continued for years, until Talia distanced herself from him at the age of 16, realizing she could no longer bear the experiences that he put her through. She recounted that Walder made her keep what happened between them a secret, and told her that nobody would believe her even if she did say anything.
"He said it was my word against his word, and that if we weighed them both up, it was clear which of us would be believed."
The second minor who came forward to Haaretz to testify against Walder was Moriah (not her real name,) who was raped by Walder regularly, starting when she was 15 years old. According to Haaretz, Walder took advantage of age, status, and the admiration Moriah had for him in order to have sex with her on a regular basis.
Walder has written over 50 books and is seen as having revolutionized ultra-Orthodox literature for children, as his books allow the child to speak their thoughts and emotions aloud, and focus on difficult and sensitive topics. He also heads the Center for Child and Family run by the Bnei Brak municipality, and is a certified counselor, working with children and young adults suffering from trauma and abuse.
It is in this role that he met his third victim Dina, (not her real name) who first filed complaints against the author more than a decade ago.
The complaint filed by Dina described an event that had happened seven years prior, but the case was closed within a month, with the police citing a lack of evidence as the reason for doing so.
According to testimonies given by friends of Dina, although Dina chose not to speak to Haaretz herself, she first met Walder when she came to him for help, seeking therapeutic treatment.
"One day she came to him for treatment and they went down to his bookstore, where he touched her against her will," the person testifying stated. "Her boundaries were not clear, and he took advantage of this."
The testifiers allege that Walder justified his sexual relations with Dina by telling her that the use of contraception provides a "buffer," according to Jewish law, and therefore it did not count as cheating on his wife.
In 2003, Walder received the Prime Minister's "Child Protector" award, for his activities promoting the status of children, and his "sincere concern, dedication, and belief in the ability to improve the situation of children in the community."
Responding to the allegations against him, Walder's attorneys Miki Hova and Guy Shemer released the following statement:
"Our client strongly denies any claim of inappropriate behavior, all the more so those in the article. These are false claims based on a blatant lie that adds up to a virtual blood libel. The claims presented here are not worthy of a reply since they have no connection to reality. Mr. Walder is a writer and educational consultant who founded the Child and Family Center in Bnei Brak and has been devoting his life for decades and works to promote, nurture and protect the welfare of children and their rights in general and the ultra-Orthodox sector in particular. For his extraordinary contribution, he received the 'Magen Hayeled' (Guardian of Children) prize from the Prime Minister."
"Over the years, Mr. Walder has waged struggles for the benefit of children who have suffered violence and abuse and as a result, certain elements have given themselves the goal of harming him and there is evidence of some foolish attempts to incriminate our client, and this article constitutes a direct continuation of this, whose source is a false complaint filed against him many years ago that was opened and shut."
"Mr. Walder is an ultra-Orthodox man and he has never treated minors or women and certainly did not sign any form of hush money agreement, and any such claim is nonsense. As part of his fight to clear his name, and with regard to the claims brought here, our client underwent a polygraph test in which he denied the claims and as expected was found to have told the truth. Our client is determined that he not be harmed by this in the slightest, and will fight for his good name with all the legal means at his disposal."