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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy