On the same day that Israeli news outlets reported on Chaim Walder’s apparent suicide, they were filled with other stories related to violence, mainly sexual, allegedly perpetrated by men across Israeli society.
They included the alleged criminal abuse of gynecologists Alkalai and Rofeh, the sentencing of Eliran Malul for the sadistic murder of his wife, Michal Selah, and of Barak Ben Ami for the inhumane murder of his 10-month-old daughter, Guny.
Humanity’s enduring capacity for barbarism has been bolstered over the past decades by easy access to bottom-of-the-barrel content disseminated via the Internet, movies, et al., to a point where murder, rape and abuse have become newsworthy only when the cruelty is exceptional or when we recognize the names of the alleged perpetrators. Epstein, Weinstein, Berland and Meshi Zahav are far from alone. They are simply well known.
The fact that alleged serial pedophile Walder happened to be a haredi Jew should not surprise us. While there are many haredim who believe that their community is God’s anointed among us, it turns out that there are plenty of rotten apples even in the “Red Delicious” crate, just as there are in the Catholic clergy, atheist elite and among Islamic imams. No community, no nation, is immune to this sad syndrome.
The fact that Walder was a leading light in the public firmament is not remarkable either. The higher one rises in the human hierarchy of power, the more the rarified air muddles the high fliers into a sense of entitlement and an aura of unaccountability. Sometimes, the parachutes do not open for those deviants who fall from grace.
However, what sets this case apart is the appalling reaction of some of the leading lights of Walder’s community who have both protected the lie of his legacy and added acid to the open wounds of his many transparent juvenile and youthful alleged victims.
True Torah heroes like rabbis Shmuel Eliyahu and Asher Melamed have raised their voices and spoken the naked truth about his alleged destructive criminality, having heard from alleged victims who have testified thus far. Given the “shame factor,” the fact that 22 have come forward thus far is an indication as to just how many were allegedly abused.
But at the same time, warm eulogies sprouted by a number of so-called rabbis, without any regard for those lives that Walder had allegedly broken, reveal self-serving politicos whose power is derived from keeping their flock uninformed and unprotected from predators in their midst. These same people have the gall to deride other societies as depraved.
The Yated Ne’eman newspaper, which serves the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community, called Walder an “important rabbi,” and one of the “prominent educators and men of hessed of Bnei Brak.” It noted that he “was taken” in the “prime of his life.” Yet, rather than “being taken,” Walder apparently took his own life to avoid facing the girls and boys whose lives have been permanently scarred by his alleged debased criminality. The same pattern repeated itself in some other haredi news outlets.
Gershon Edelstein, an elder of the creed, demonstrated that it is possible to spend one’s entire life learning the sacred texts and yet remain sorely lacking in empathy and loving-kindness.
He said that exposing Walder was worse than committing murder. “Even if there are teachers who have their own opinions on the subject, it is incumbent upon them to transmit to their pupils only the opinion of the Torah... and to tell them that bad people slandered him.... It is clear that the pressure brought to bear on Walder led to mental illness, forcing him to take his own life. That is called murder.”
Edelstein’s corrupt words condone evil, deter victims from reporting and encourage copycat crime.
How can we understand the contradiction of those who claim to have the exclusive ear of God, yet who protect the wicked at the expense of their victims, who refuse to give their own children the tools to identify and defend themselves from molesters, and who are willing to destroy and exile broken families who dare to challenge an immoral status quo?
I am sure that most haredim are shocked and outraged by Walder. But it is way past time for the leadership of elements within this community to discern God’s compassion in the texts they revere and act accordingly with humility and honesty. In so doing, they will protect the welfare and enhance the lives of their devotees, and sanctify rather than desecrate God’s name.
The author writes articles dealing with Jewish and ecological issues. He wrote “The Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment” and Poetry in the Parasha.