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.

Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Haredim, Sexual ethics


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy