Influential rabbis call on their followers to provide financial and emotional support to suspected murderer.
By MATTHEW WAGNER
In an ongoing battle launched by virulently anti-Zionist haredim against state institutions, a 19-year old yeshiva student accused of the savage beating murder of his three-month-old son has won the moral support of a battery of eminent rabbis.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the most respected halachic authority for haredi Lithuanian Jewry, headed a list of rabbinic heavyweights who called on their flock to give financial and emotional support to suspected murderer Israel Asher Valis and family. Other rabbis included Aharon Leib Steinman, Michel Lefkowitz, Shmuel Auerbach and Chaim Kanyevsky.
However, the rabbis stopped short of commenting on Valis's culpability.
Senior Justice Ministry officials met Sunday with a delegation of top haredi leaders ahead of a critical court decision Tuesday on the continued detention of Valis.
Valis, who could be released on bail as early as Tuesday if probation officers determine that he does not pose a danger to the public, is facing manslaughter charges. An earlier meeting between the two sides was called off due to haredi violence.
In a notice that was printed on the front page of the haredi daily Yated Ne'eman, the rabbis wrote: "Valis's rabbis are doing everything in their power to prove his innocence and free him from prison. We beseech our brothers everywhere to help. Everyone should do his utmost to aid the rabbis and provide Valis's family with support because expenses are high and the family is unable to pay them."
Until now the ultra-Orthodox Edah Haredit, which accepts no money from Israel for its yeshivot and boycotts all elections or other ties with the Zionist state, has waged the offensive on Valis's behalf alone.
The announcement made by Elyashiv and the other rabbis marks the involvement of more mainstream haredi figures.
Since the baby's death from brain hemorrhaging and Valis's subsequent arrest two weeks ago, residents of Jerusalem's Mea She'arim neighborhood, an Edah Haredit stronghold, have grappled with police, torched trash bins and blocked roads in protest.
On Pessah eve, Rabbi Yitzhak Weiss, halachic authority and spiritual leader for Jerusalem's anti-Zionist Edah Haredit community, said Valis's indictment was "identical to the blood libels concocted by the evil Europeans against Jews before Passover.
Valis's uncle, David Eisenstein, said Sunday on Army Radio that his nephew was innocent and should be released from prison immediately.
According to the police, Valis admitted that he hurled the baby against a wall. He is also suspected of repeatedly biting, beating, pinching and punching the infant.
But Eisenstein said Valis's confession was obtained while the young man was distraught.
"Israel is inarticulate and police misunderstood him," said Eisenstein. "All of Israel's neighbors and the doctors who treated the baby said he did not do it."
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago, Hadassah University Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Ido Yatziv, who treated the infant, said Valis claimed the baby had fallen. "The mother backed up his story that the baby had fallen. But they both knew I didn't believe it," said Yatziv.
Eisenstein agreed with his interviewer that the court of law was the proper arena for proving Valis's innocent, not the streets of Jerusalem, "but occasionally irresponsible people let things get out of hand."
Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.
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