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

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism