Haredi Jewry Confronts Its Own “Me Too” Crisis

In November of last year, Israeli journalists reported on multiple credible accusations that Chaim Walder—a popular ḥaredi therapist and author, whom Yehoshua Pfeffer describes as “something between J. K. Rowling and Mister Rogers”—had committed sexual assault. Subsequently, a rabbinic court convicted Walder of sexually abusing children and adults, some of whom were his patients, over the course of 25 years, and booksellers removed his works from their shelves. Walder committed suicide last week. His funeral brought hundreds of mourners to the streets, and influential rabbis and periodicals eulogized him.

While revelations that beloved figures abused their fame and charisma in pursuit of sexual gratification have caused plenty of controversy in broader society, in ḥaredi circles there is an added moral complication in the form of the prohibition of lashon ha-ra (wicked speech or gossip), which extends, in many situations, to reporting damaging information even if it is true. Pfeffer analyzes the reactions of the ḥaredi society, and what lessons can be learned from the episode:

A significant portion of the ḥaredi 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 ha-ra at best or malbin p’ney ḥavero (public shaming) at worst, is what led to Walder’s tragic death.

The second camp encompasses many who have emphasized 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, the number of victims is far from few. Anybody who is acquainted with sexual abuse in its multiple manifestations knows how terrible the injuries can be. . . . Not for nothing does [Scripture] suggest (though this is not the simple reading) that rape is akin to murder.

According to the secretary of the rabbinic court that heard the testimonies, among the victims are women who have been silenced for twenty years. Now, they are being accused of murder, [in the sense that they supposedly drove Walder to take his own life]. Sensitivity to victims cannot dictate everything we do in society. Certainly, there are other important values including modesty and morality, a public square devoid of vulgarity, and the prohibition against lashon ha-ra.

The prohibition on lashon ha-ra, [however], must not itself become a means of protecting evildoers and empowering evil. [Halakhah] must not become a double-edged sword that enables predators to harm victims further. When it does, it is obvious that such diligence stops being halakhic observance and turns into the exact opposite.

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Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Haredim, Sexual ethics

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia