Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Chaim Walder Scandal Is Another Failure for the 'Infallible' Rabbis


Letter from Litvishe Gedoilim Praising Walder when rumors began six months ago

The fall of Chaim Walder, children's book author, newspaper columnist and rock star across all strands of Orthodoxy, after allegations of serial sexual assault, is setting off tremors throughout the Haredi world – because it threatens one of its most foundational claims

They are unlikely to find any signs of the storm which for the past week has roiled the mouthpiece of the Haredi-Lithuanian community, and the homes of the senior rabbis who dictate its every word. But there will be one glaring absence:


The weekly column of Yated’s most celebrated writer, Chaim Walder [], which won't be in its usual space on the editorial page. There will be no official explanation from the paper.

Yated Ne'eman (which translates as 'faithful (or reliable) tent-peg') was founded in 1985 by Rabbi Elazar Shach to express the hashkafa (perspective) – the pure and never-changing ultra-Orthodox [] ideology, and it never reports any matter of a sexual nature. Certainly not the allegations of sexual harassment against its columnist who, on Wednesday, announced he was leaving [ -  see below] all his public posts.

Walder was left with very little choice but to jump, at the last moment, before he was pushed. Since the publication in Haaretz last week of Aaron Rabinowitz and Shira Elk’s investigation [] into the multiple accusations against him, the biggest question looming over his future would be whether he would get to keep his column in Yated.

He assumed that he was too big, too popular and influential to fall. But on Wednesday the paper’s management told him to resign or be fired. He had lost the rabbis’ backing. 


Most of the media focus in the past week, since the Haaretz revelations, have been on Walder the Haredi children’s author: the biggest, best-selling writer of children’s books in all of Israel and the wider Jewish world. But it was his writing for grown-ups, in the most ideologically rigid and doctrinaire newspaper in Israel, that gave him the extra credibility he needed.

Every word in Yated, even including the ads, is vetted daily by the rabbis of its "spiritual committee." Walder, their regular writer, wasn’t just a columnist. He was trusted to articulate the hashkafa on current affairs in a contemporary language.

The rumors regarding Walder were not new, but their publication in Haaretz created a massive dilemma for these senior Lithuanian rabbis. Walder is not just a one-man best-sellers machine. He is the rabbis’ mouthpiece to both old and young, and removing his column would be a silent admission that the rabbis themselves had been wrong in investing this unique trust in him.

Underlying hashkafa is the myth that the Haredi way of life and set of beliefs are the one and only "authentic Judaism," going back to the days of the Temple, unchanged and unadulterated over 2000 years. This, of course, has no basis in history.

Modern ultra-Orthodoxy is a reaction to the changes of the past couple of centuries, the post-enlightenment emancipation of Jews in Europe, the great emigration to America and the foundation of the secular Jewish state of Israel.

Key to this is the modern reinterpretation of the Mishnaic principle of emunat hachamim – belief in the wise men, or sages. As even the most casual student of the Mishna and Talmud’s interminable debates knows, that doesn’t mean the rabbis are exempt from criticism and disagreement. But in the modern Haredi [] ideology, emunat hachamim has become the Jewish versions of papal infallibility. Questioning the rabbis has become unthinkable and, by extension, so has questioning their appointed/annointed representatives.

Walder's pedagogic and literary achievements over the past 25 years since he published his first book are unparalleled. He created a new genre of children’s literature. Before he arrived on the scene, the characters in most Haredi children’s books were either boys (and in rare cases girls) living in heavily mythologized historic periods or presented hollow cliches of children living in the contemporary world.

Walder changed that. The characters in his popular "Children Talk About Themselves" series and other books were life-like and easy to identify with. His singular talent was to be able to write convincingly about the daily lives and challenges of Haredi kids while remaining within Haredi society's strictest parameters.

Six months ago, Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein, the two most senior Lithuanian leaders, both signed a rare personal endorsement of Walder's latest book: "His wonderful stories and essays positively influence and strengthen boys and grown-ups, men, women and children, ultra-Orthodox sons of Torah and also those far-away have been drawn close by them."

This rabbinical elevation of Walder as the ultimate educator also elevated his longstanding side-business as a much sought-after (and unqualified) child and family therapist, bringing him in close, intimate contact with vulnerable women and minors.

Walder is a rock star not just within his Lithuanian community. He is the only popular Haredi writer whose books steadily sell in all sections of Orthodoxy, even in national religious and modern Orthodox communities. In a society where education and ensuring children follow in the tradition is the highest priority and a holy duty, this across-the-board acceptance, in the homes and bookshelves of all the various sects of Orthodoxy, is unique and unprecedented.

For the Lithuanians, there could have been no greater affirmation that they gloried in being the standard-bearers of Torah observance and belief. And for Walder himself, it was a position of great power, especially for someone who isn’t a rabbi himself. It also explains why it was so difficult for the rabbis who call the shots at Yated Ne'eman to fire him.

Interestingly, while Haredi society in Israel finds it almost impossible to discuss the issue of sexual abuse [] in public, the first proof that Walder’s status had irrevocably changed came from Brooklyn. Eichlers Judaica, a major bookseller to the Borough Park Haredi community, announced on Tuesday it would no longer be carrying Walder’s books (which have been best-sellers in translations to English and Yiddish as well) "due to shocking allegations recently revealed."

Eichler’s CEO Mordy Getz went further, writing [] to his customers that "Given that the access to alleged victims was largely by way of the author’s books and work, we believe that this decision is an essential step in protecting our children and building a safer, healthier community. Our heart goes out to all who had to, and still have to, suffer in silence."


It’s not often that the Haredi leadership in Israel, which sees itself sitting at the pinnacle of the ultra-Orthodox hierarchy, find itself reacting to developments in America, but on Wednesday it became clear that it couldn't stop the momentum, when Osher Ad, the Israeli supermarket chain targeting the religious community, whose branches boasted stands selling Walder's books, announced that it would be removing them as well.

Some still thought that at that point Walder was too big to fall. That the rabbis were too invested in him and even feared that, as a therapist to the some of their own families, he knew too much. But by Wednesday it was all over.

He was allowed the last word saying in a statement that would be "taking time off all his public duties to devote himself to clearing his name and his time to his family," but everyone knew what that meant. He had lost the rabbis’ backing and, with that, his column in Yated Ne'eman.

This is much bigger than the career of one man and even bigger than justice for his victims. It will have major implications for the way sexual assault is treated in the future within the Haredi community. And it will be yet another crack in the already shaky edifice of rabbinical authority, because more than anything else, it was the rarest of admissions that the greatest rabbis of the generation can, sometimes, get it disastrously wrong.


Unknown said...

Has Mr.Walder been proven guilty of this? Anyone can be accused of anything. What troubles me is if a person has done something wrong does all his work mean nothing? We need to know that Moshe Rabbeinu was accused of having affairs with other women (see the gemara). What about the halacha of Dan L'caf zchus until you know the whole story.

Dusiznies said...

The nature of this crime is that it is done in private and it can never be proven 100 %.
The Eida Hachareidis banned his book a year ago without comment, seems that they knew that he is a sexual predator.
There were rumors about him for years. The fact that grown women put themselves out to report this pedifile, is very huge news. why would a now married lady from the Chareidie community lie like this? So far Walder cannot explain why now adult women would fabricate a story like this. The three who were brave enough to come out, do not know each other, yet their stories are similar.
Comparing Moshe Rabbeinu to Chaim Walder the pervert is so sick and disgusting that it is beyond the pale of decency and speaks volumes of those defending him.Why aren't you "dan le'kaf zchus" the brave women that are opening up about his perverted history?
Would you be "dan l'kaf zechut" if he raped your daughter?

Unknown said...

When the whole truth comes out that he is guilty I will side with you. It takes time until a whole story is investigated and verified.

Dusiznies said...

Its been verified by Bais Din and the courts stay tuned to this blog ,,
I will post a statement from R' Eliyahu who says "it's been verified"
He is a dangerous animal and the sooner he gets locked up the better. He has ruined the lives of many families.. families have broken up etc
I have been sitting on this story for months and my wife and I met met with one of the victims. I didn't post it as I didn't want to get sued by this savage. But encouraged her to go to the mainstream media ...

Cult personality "through unquestioning flattery and praise" said...

The gedoylim are a failure because they are infallible. They are getchkes (gods) accountable to no one.

Cult personality's (idolatry) were always the worst destructive force on earth. It always leads directly to mass sexual exploitation and mass murder. The 3 hereg val yavoirs (cardinal sins). Aka Judaism 2021, thanks DIN for helping burst this mad bubble.

Josh. said...

Some of us enjoy reading this blog without having to see your duplicate comments about getchkes (idols) gedolim (god's) shamans and sexual exploitation and the rest of your 25 word vocabulary, do you really have to comment on every article?!?!
My god!!
I've been holding myself back from saying anything for over a year...I still haven't gotten your point as I doubt you can articulate what your opinion even is, but what has DIN got to do with this sermon of yours?!? Smh...

Anonymous said...

Josh, aren't you posting a lot? What is your interest in promoting cult personalities, sexual exploitations, and murder?

Money? Or are you in the mikva business? Or a true believer in the avee avos getchke (uber shaman).

Anonymous said...

The laws of Lashon Hara do not apply in this situation. When an armed individual goes on a shooting rampage, there is no requirement to take him to Bais Din before calling the police. Furthermore, it is not “Lashon Hara” to warn others to take cover. The individual in question was engaged in ongoing criminal activity of an extremely severe nature, and those aware of it would have been in the right to go to the police without first going to Bais Din. How much more so did they have a right to warn others.