The following is a transcript of Episode 83 of the Identity/Crisis Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.
Yehuda: Hi everyone and welcome to Identity/Crisis: a show about news and ideas from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I’m Yehuda Kurtzer president of Shalom Hartman Institute North America and we’re recording on Tuesday, January 4th, 2022. I don’t usually do this, but today’s episode involves discussion of sexual abuse of children. Listener discretion is very much advised.
We have so much language of plague in our lives because of the last two years that we sometimes might be losing sight of those plagues that are already endemic in our system. Over the years in my position of leadership in the Jewish community, I’ve learned to stop being surprised when we hear the revelation of news of predatory or abusive behavior by a respected adult against children or other people vulnerable to his or her authority.
We always should be disgusted and repulsed by it even if it’s a common malfeasance, which it is. It’s always shocking, but I guess it’s the side of not believing that a particular authoritative individual can do something like this that’s what always needs to be questioned. Because whenever we get too shocked by this news, we forget how power works and how easily power can be abused.
I’ve also come to learn that it’s really hard to eradicate abuse and that really the best that institutions and communities can hope for is to try to create enough culture change and a climate of sensitivity and awareness to make predatory behavior more visible and obvious, and then to train people to respond the right ways when it actually inevitably happens. And to support victims, to engage law enforcement immediately to suppress the instinct to protect the institutions or the perpetrators.
And that’s really hard work. For several weeks now, a massive story has been unfolding in Israel. That is all the talk in Israel, as far as I can tell from afar and especially in Orthodox communities and that includes both in Israel and here in North America. And perhaps surprisingly, not that much of a news item for anyone else, including non-Orthodox Jews here in North America.
The story centers around an individual named Chaim Walder, a rabbi, a therapist, and most famously the author of a series of children’s books – it’s an understatement to say were wildly popular in Orthodox and especially ultra-Orthodox households. The book stood out – and it’s perverse now to think about this – because they purported to give voice to children and the experiences and internal monologues of children in a society that is oftentimes normatively ordered around the authority of adults.
In 2003 Walder received, and you’re going to gasp when I say this, the Guardian of Children Prize from the Prime Minister of Israel. In November, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz broke the story of accusations that Walder had raped multiple women and girls, as young as age 12, who had been under his care as therapy patients. Since the publication of that piece, the monstrosity of the horror has now grown to include over 25 victims who have stepped forward, including girls and boys, as young as age nine.
The case came before the rabbinical court in Tzfat, which heard testimony, including recordings of Walder threatening his victims should they talk publicly about the abuse. Walder, by the way, refused to participate in those proceedings, but the rabbinical court anyway, upheld the accusations as credible and began a cascade of public consequences some of which had already started in public, including ostracism, the banning of his books, and more. And it ultimately led in December to the opening of an Israeli police case against Walder.
Shortly thereafter, Walder took his own life. That was the week of Christmas in Israel and in an astonishing tragedy, which connects to what we want to really talk about this week one of Walder’s victims, Shira Yocheved Horowitz of blessed memory had died by suicide shortly after, as well, apparently in despair at the way that the Haredi public and many of its rabbis supportedWalder.
There’s a lot here that’s simple, but the complicated pieces that I want to talk about today with my guest are around the much larger conversation that this scandal opens up about how the Haredi community responds or doesn’t respond in a moment like this. About rabbis who quickly and rightly took action against Walder and those who dragged their feet initially, or actually continued to dig in defensive him.
And perhaps the most stunning moment and I say this not in a good way was seeing the images first broken on Twitter of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, attending the shiva for Walder. The power of the state, intertwined in religion, coming to pay respects to a child molester. And the last thing, and this is a personal comment. I didn’t know Chaim Walder.
I never knew about the books. As far as I know, I don’t know any of his victims and in that sense, this is not a personal story for me. But I did get, a few years ago, a firsthand view of a rabbinic abuse scandal as a kind of whistleblower. And I remain wounded by that experience of running up against the way in which authority protects authority.
And I also have plenty of people in my life who I’m close to, who have suffered various forms of physical and sexual abuse in that sense. These forms of abuse or this story feel tragically reminiscent of one of the most haunting verses in the Torah, Exodus 12:30 describing the peak climactic moment of the plague of the firstborn that God brings upon the Egyptian striking death upon the whole society from the house of Pharaoh on down.
I think about this verse all the time, “ain bait asher ain bo met” there was no households in which there was not to be found a dead body. To me, this is the image of real terror and unsparing plague that nobody can escape. So to talk about all of this today, I’m really excited to welcome my friend and colleague, Dr. Nechumi Yaffe.
Nechumi is a faculty member in the department of public policy at Tel Aviv University. Her PhD is in political science from Hebrew University. And she was the first woman from the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community to achieve such an accomplishment. She is also a researcher on ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel at the Israel Democracy Institute.
I met Nechumi when she was doing her post-doc at Princeton. And during that time, as well, Nechumi spend time with us at Hartman as the David Hartman Fellow. She was previously also an advisor to the Haredi educational system in Israel. So she knows that system extremely well. And her work as a scholar now focuses on the ultra-Orthodox communities, both in Israel and North America, looking at issues of poverty, especially as they’re inflected by issues like gender and rabbinic authority.
So, first of all, Nechumi, thanks for coming on the show and for being willing to talk about this really tragic and quite sensitive issue.
Nechumi: Thank you very much, Yehuda.
Yehuda: I want to start us off by – a lot of our listeners will have heard Chaim Walder’s name for the first time on the show, or will know about his scandal, but may not know how intimately Walder and his books are part of Haredi society. So maybe you could just start by telling us what we need to know about Chaim Walder in order to understand the magnitude of the scandal.
Nechumi: Okay. I think the depth of the tragedy is that Chaim Walder introduced psychology into the Haredi community. He was the first one to speak about emotions, to take kids’ perspectives, to focus attention on their feelings, thoughts, world. He was the first one that legitimized it and made it into a conversation.
He wrote over 80 super popular children and adults books. He had a column is the elite in Atid Neeman which is the elite newspaper in Israel. He was the spiritual guidance of the elite Lithuanians in Israel. This is his public face. On a personal face, so many people knew him. And he helped a lot of people. So people met him in very sensitive cross-sites in their life. When they were losing children, when they went through personal challenges, he was the face of it all. He opened up a center for childcare in Bnei Brak. And he legitimized the language around helping, around therapy, around just acknowledging the uniqueness of children.
Nechumi: So putting the information we have about him, the data, people coming forth – and I’m going to talk about it in a minute – that to some people, this wasn’t coming as a shock. Putting together this saint and this demon, people lack the language, lack the ability to just really comprehend it. So, I think it’s the deepest, most shocking story that has happened to the Haredi community. This is overriding the Meron story which was a story where 40 forty-five found themselves trampled during Lag b’Omer.
So it’s a huge story, but here’s where things get even more complicated. People knew. I personally can say that I heard more than once rumors. But the rumors that were very spread is that he had all kinds of affairs with women and everything was in consent. And people were feeling, okay so he’s not a saint and he’s not a tzaddik. And he probably should not be talking on behalf of hashkafat Torah, the pure ideology of Haredim, but the crowd masses didn’t about molesting children.
Even like people that work with him knew you had kind of like shady part, you know, a little bit of a shade, but no one really knew. Now it turned out that some people around him did know. And actually, he had some victims coming and suing him and he had an arrangement and it turned out that he paid a lot of money to a lot of people all those years.
And maybe the climax of it is that the rabbis knew. And also there was probably a get that was getting to a married woman where it said explicitly that she had an affair with him and she’s not allowed to remarry him. Because there is a halakhic thing that if you betray your husband, you’re not to be with the person you betrayed.
So it turned out that it’s not just that it was a horror and he was a demon. There was a whole chain of silence around him and people knew, very strong people knew and they were covering for him for all sorts of reasons.
Yehuda: What you’re describing are two, I would say pretty common aspects of oftentimes how these stories unfold and why they’re so difficult. One is what we’ll call the cognitive dissonance problem, especially with religious authority figures of, “how can I believe this about this person that I know?” And therefore I might be inclined – and this is a very generous read – I might be inclined to not believe it because the costs of believing it are just too great. And the second, what you’re talking about is there are always people who know. It’s never the case that no one knew. It’s just that either they know a lot and they choose not to talk about it, not to disclose it.
And then we have to unpack all of that or they can’t quite put the pieces together to say what I actually know is evidence of something that is monstrous. So in that respect, it seems like you’re describing something that I don’t want to say is common, but there are patterns that appear in other types of incidents.
And so would you say that in this particular case, the reason for the obstacles is just that he was too valuable as an individual or as a figure?
Nechumi: I would say, first of all, we get it. We have to bring into the picture the fact that you were the one that everyone came to with their problems. He had a lot of power over people. He had everyone’s secrets. He knew everything about everyone. So it wasn’t silence. People were covering for him and he was covering for them.
I do want to leave like a little bit of room for doubt that no one knew the scope. I know for a fact that people knew that he many women, but to the best of my knowledge, people didn’t know, or people around them did not know that about children. And maybe those who knew about the children just had an agreement with him because he knew things about them. So it was like a lot of, sorry for saying it, men covering for men kind of thing. Because he had so much knowledge on other people and a lot of good people were just overlooking it because they thought about the good that he was doing. And that’s the tricky part.
He was doing some good too. A lot of it. And not enough people knew the entire scope. And not enough good people knew the entire scope to really step in. And I want to say that when the story broke and the leadership right away took action to suspend from the newspaper, I was quite surprised how quickly the initial response was of the leadership. I thought they would take more time, but they were really very quick to act. But then when the video recording of him talking to a woman and basically instructing her how to lie to her husband and how to lie to the beis din and telling her if something is going to happen, I’m going to commit suicide.
And I’m going to make it even worse. A few hours after this video was publicly released, he went to his son’s grave. His son died of cancer. And it was it very tragic and he wrote a lot about it and shared his feeling and made it into support groups. So people knew about this really tragic episode of his son and he basically shot himself on his son’s grave which is so manipulative.
Somehow it’s turned some of the rabbis to reconsider for a minute and say hey, the man was not fully prosecuted. The whole procedure wasn’t done. And we were ready to judge him and maybe this was too harsh. Today we know that people that were supporting him and it’s a big political party behind him were going into rabbis and telling them we killed him. We pushed him into suicide. So we a major rabbi came out and said this most ridiculous thing that actually humiliating a person is worse than killing him. And those who humiliate do not have a portion to the world to come. And speaking lashon hara causes death, which is ridiculous.
And I can tell you that this rabbi is very old and he’s one of the senior rabbis, he posted this and they made him this really big funeral and they wrote this eulogy.
And since you’re talking about a lot of religious power that is involved and probably some other things that are there, a few other rabbis wanted to go into this old rabbi just to talk to him, they cannot get in to this very minute. We are still in shiva and we know of rabbis, big leaders that are still being prevented from coming to this rabbi to discuss it with him. Because they want him to make a declaration that he doesn’t back him.
Nechumi: And I think there is so much much political work of other men covering for him calling people, threatening people, to make people doubt. So that they don’t say it’s natural. They’re like: how do you know? It’s their word against his word. It was published in the secular media. Haaretz wrote about it.
It wasn’t brought into a Haredi beis din. The beis din in Tzfat was not Haredi. So what they are doing now is that they are feeding doubt.
Yehuda: Right. Just so I make sure I understand, your argument effectively is that had the process been born out through the police investigation, et cetera, given the fact that there were initial responses, like famously here in New York, one of the big booksellers, the minute that the story broke in November said we’re not selling the books. And by the way, it’s going to cost us a lot of money by not selling the books. You think that had the process played out, had he not killed himself, had he actually had a police investigation that the Haredi community would have kind of responded in the right way, but that the doubt gets seeded because of his death. Because it does seem like it interrupts the story.
Nechumi: I want to be honest. And I think it’s more wishful thinking than reality. Chaim Walder is very demonic because he had this angelic side to him, because he was sensitive, because he was talking the language of acceptance, of thinking of the other person, hearing that person.
I feel like it’s just really hard to put the two together. People feel like part of their development as sensitive human beings is this person’s. It’s really psychologically very hard to like incorporate, but I say it’s wishful thinking because I know that’s the way things work. When there’s a lot of power at stake and when Chaim Walder holds such power it’s not as simple as you would be indicted or rabbis would back off. It’s not so straightforward.
It seems like we opened up Pandora’s box and we don’t know which snake’s going to come. And it seems like there’s a lot of covering in the community, a lot of covering or especially for sex offenders.
Yehuda: Let’s talk about that a little bit because I’ll tell you, Nechumi, the thing that is eating at me and I think I know the answer, but the thing that eats at me the most about this is in the Haredi community one of the things that are most public and in so many ways, admirable about the Haredi community is the reverence and love of children, of having children.
Right. It’s if you live, the truth is it’s more in Israel than it is in America, not just among Haredi Jews. It’s a society that’s built around having children, taking care of children, et cetera. It’s something that’s just eating on me so much about this, that like you would think that anybody who is even accused of lifting a finger against a child in a community that purports to value children this way would be destroyed, just demolished. And the ultimate perversion of a character like Walder, who was there for children. What is going on? That doesn’t rise to the level of being able to create universal widespread repudiation. This person is not us.
Nechumi: Okay. So the answer is quite simple. Any ideology, not just the Haredim, any ideology around the world, when they come to power, they throw their core ideas just to keep the power. You can see it very clearly in Russian communism, you can see it in China.
You can see with all the big ideologies in the world once they are established, whenever their system and whatever their power is being subjected, the core ideas that led to this ideology are just gone in a minute just to keep the survival of the power structure and to keep the system as it is. So that’s the answer.
Chaim Walder is the system. He is the system. He writes the hashkafat Torah. He writes the ideology. He’s backing up all the rabbis. He’s their representative. And when he goes down, everyone is at risk. And the entire hierarchy is questioned which actually probably is what’s really happening.
People really start to question authority and the Haredi community. So he’s the one that could go down. You do not want people to question authority.
Yehuda: Based on everything that I’ve read the statistics around child abuse, around sexual abuse are no different in the Haredi community than they are anywhere else. They’re essentially the same.
Nechumi: Or more.
Yehuda: It could be. You probably know better than me, but that’s the latest I read. It’s not radically different, but the response is the story. This is now an old story. There’s a piece about it that Sharon Otterman wrote in the New York Times, almost 10 years ago, about sex abuse cases in Satmar and the issue is not that there’s more, the issue is that there is a culture of silence that is pronounced in the Haredi community as well.
So it’s not merely a question of here’s this individual who’s upholding the authority structure. There is a larger body of concerns about speaking to the police or speaking out about that this happened to you. You want to unpack what are the various elements that go into what motivates the culture of silence.
Nechumi: First of all, is the issue of sexuality. Sexuality is never discussed in the Haredi community. Today was a committee in the Knesset and some social workers were talking and they were explaining how complicated it was for a Haredi child to come and give a testimony. And they said the simplest thing.
Haredi children do not know the explicit names of their private organs. They don’t know the names of it. They don’t have a name for it. We don’t relate to our bodies even in the most fundamental way. Above it, there is absolutely no sexual education at all. It’s as if it doesn’t exist. And in some places boys and girls are expected not to think about it, not to want it, to see it as something non-Jewish and something evil and something that you just don’t do even when they get married.
So they have like a training, a kallah teacher, you know, a bridal instruction and a groom instruction. It’s still very, very limited. And we have to be honest, sex is being really controlled. It’s been controlled halakhically and it’s being controlled in many ways.
So the ability of people to really speak safely and openly about ??? I don’t even know what’s the word for the English. So being aware and being able to protect yourself is just very nuanced. Now it’s starting. It actually started already a few years ago. Tell children that no one is allowed to touch their bodies.
But parents feel very uncomfortable. They haven’t unpacked their own sexuality. It’s a real issue with sexuality in the community. So their ability to speak about it and to word it and to relate to it, it’s just very limited. So they just freak out. They don’t know what to do about it. So this is the first thing.
And the second thing is in the Catholic church, when you think about what’s happening in the Haredi community it reminds you of the Catholic church stories. When you talk about holy figures, rabbis, just putting the two together being a sex offender is just very difficult.
It’s difficult for adults. They can unpack it for themselves. So their ability to really give it over to children is just not there. So it is very complicated. And another thing is that the Haredi community has a very complicated relationship with the state of Israel and they are not citizens in a way, not internalizing civic law and the non-religious laws.
Therefore some of the things need to be unpacked and dealt with in the community. They think that being a sex offender is someone who doesn’t overcome their yetzer hara, their bad inclination. They’re not a good Jew. They don’t realize there is a whole felony. They’re a criminal. And they don’t realize it’s a sickness.
It’s not something that you can overcome. It’s not a diet that you can control your food.
Yehuda: But this line of thinking, the relationship to the state of Israel piece is a little frustrating, right? Because I kind of understand that philosophically among diaspora Jews for whom relationship to law enforcement is of a long history of skepticism of our community and law enforcement, we can do much more inside our community.
There’s even a whole halakhic language about handing over people to the secular authorities, but so much has changed in the last 20, 30 years. You know more about this than anyone else around the Haredi community and the way in which they are – they’ll never admit that they’re Zionists, but in practice, they are participating in the economy of Israeli society in a totally different way.
They are part of the political infrastructure of Israeli society. They are one of the most powerful forces in the electoral system. Like when is asimon going to fall about like, wait this is our system?
Nechumi: Okay. So I think stories like this makes the asimon fall just because people feel it’s beyond the community’s scope and ability to really deal with. We saw it in COVID and we see it again. It’s just a demonstration of the fact that the mainstream Haredi community is not fully participating in the civic parts of Israel.
They don’t see themselves as taking an active part in forming the state, being part of the state, being there l’hatchila (initially). They haven’t developed a religious way of talking about it.
They talk about it as if it was a hundred years ago. I can tell you personally, there is a book coming out with a big study that I’ve done with IDI and it talks about it as a whole within the Haredi community. And we are looking for a rabbi who was going to write a piece and introduction part couldn’t find one.
We couldn’t find them for a long time because there isn’t a developed religious language to really look at the reality and say, here we are. And this is what we think. And this is what we do. So they either speak like they are from hundred years ago or they just say, “it was imposed upon us. And this is the situation we found ourselves in. And now we’re just reacting.”
So the whole relationship to the state is like we are solely reacting because this state is not exemplifying Jewish tradition or halakha which by the way is not true, but obviously, for political reasons, it’s being kept this way. And so it’s a much bigger, deeper problem that hasn’t been solved yet.
And I think that some rabbis are realizing it that really we are the victims of this thing.
Yehuda: Yeah, in multiple senses of the word members of your community are victims of this, but it’s also that the reputation of the community winds up devastated.
Nechumi: I want to say something really disgusting. Unfortunately, some people don’t care about the implications in the community. They are so insular in their own community, that they feel like who cares what they think. To the extent they are so isolated, the Haredi community is large. It’s over a million people now and they’re very secure in their own place.
But some of them realize if we’re not going to have law enforcement in our neighborhood – today police are not going into some of the neighborhoods in Jerusalem and they’re not going to so many neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh. This is actually dangerous. There is no fear of the outside. We are going to be the victims and people realize it.
Maybe not deeply enough and maybe not seriously enough, but it’s a huge problem.
Yehuda: So you talked about one side of the sexuality piece, which is people not talking about human sexuality, a culture of shame. That’s probably connected to sexuality, or if parents don’t learn it, then they have may have a formulaic relationship to their own sexuality, but that’s certainly not the language to convey to their children.
There’s also another piece of this story. I don’t know how big it is. I’d love for you to share, which is for the victim being sexually abused or treated in this way can compromise someone’s marriage. And it can be used by perpetrators as a threat against someone’s marital prospects.
I know of a story in the Jewish community here in America, it wasn’t Haredi it was some modern Orthodox Jew. It was an open secret of a Jewish leader who had done this to a number of young women, had abused them in positions of leadership. And then said, if you say anything about it, you’ll never get married.
So can you talk a little bit about that? Because it’s the flip side of the sexuality piece.
Nechumi: Okay. So if there’s one thing that the Haredi communities need police for it’s shidduch, the matchmaking system, which so many decisions from when a child is being born, is being made on this basis. To which school we’re going to send them?
Which neighbor will we live in? Who are the people we can associate with? And so the reputation of a family is their marriage. Their children’s marital status and chances. Again today, in the committee in the Knesset, there was this social worker who came with these crazy stories that they got a phone call with a woman.
And she said like, okay, I’m done. I’ve married my 10th son and I finished with my kids. And I want to talk about sexual abuse that I had years ago when I just couldn’t do anything about it.
Yehuda: In other words, she had to wait to marry off her 10 children in order to be able to testify about her own victimhood, struggling.
Nechumi: So, this is an extreme story, but not unheard of.
Keeping the family reputation is one of the highest values. And whenever there’s an official story about a family, the family’s reputation is being questioned and their status is their world.
People won’t go and report when a girl was being molested because she’s a damaged good. Or a boy. And they don’t stop to think what’s going to be the day after she gets married. And she actually can usually have problems functioning as a full human being and having sex and being a functioning human being.
They don’t think so far because parents’ responsibilities after the huppah once they marry the child, goodbye. So this is one of the big reasons why the silence is being kept. This has to do with other things as well.
The ability of parents who really provide schooling that really fits their children, giving them more help during their childhood, allowing them to express their uniqueness. That’s a policing system. And it’s a system that is – the rabbis on Monday on the day funeral were talking about lashon hara, how gossiping is the worst thing in the world. And I was thinking, seriously? There won’t be gossiping? The Haredi community’s basic structure is gossiping. They’re actually relying on you to gossip on your neighbors and police them.
So you’re pulling gossiping only when you want to keep control over people.
Yehuda: Well, but that’s the trap. It’s kind of the trap of a halakhic system, of a Jewish legal system, which is well, this is probably bad behavior. It probably goes against halakha in this way or another way. But I also have all of this halakhic literature that tells you not to gossip, not to believe anything bad about your neighbors in meantime.
So now I can pretend that I’m in a values tension between two things that are important to me, instead of being able to say there are moral commitments, human commitments that just transcend all of this nonsense. And that’s a real constraint around Jewish law. I sometimes struggle with when rabbis who care about Jewish law, use Jewish law to argue why these behaviors are bad.
I guess that’s good, but you’re in a discourse now that in some ways it’s blinding itself about what you’re actually seeing in front of you.
Nechumi: I feel like that’s maybe we shouldn’t be so scared of gossiping. Hey, we’re doing it anyway. And we doing it usually for bad purposes, and maybe, maybe we need to license some things, and maybe gossiping is a way to license some things. I feel like the Haredi community is so policed and controlled and held by norms and it’s really suffocating. And I feel like maybe more people should gossip and then more people would realize that that’s the way to go.
Yehuda: So this is an interesting actually turn. It helps us to bridge to gender, which I want to ask about here, which is post-Me Too movement there was quite a bit of talk around whisper networks. Whisper networks where people say, “I can’t say this out loud, but you shouldn’t go work for that guy. You should always keep a door open.”
That kind of trafficking and information, which if you really know about something, very egregious whisper networks can be dangerous. Whisper networks can also be dangerous if you’re communicating, but you don’t actually know anything. But whisper networks have been means by which women have actually shared information, accumulated power, and protected themselves.
So there’s something. Your language of gossip suggests that there’s also a gender responsibility here to a system that is overwhelmingly run by men it might be the only one in a system that even won’t allow women’s faces to be on billboards. Gossip might actually be the gender response by which you can create social accountability.
Nechumi: I agree. And I told you that I knew about some stories about Chaim Walder. And the reason I knew this was exactly what you are referring to. Women who worked with him told other women to just stay away, to just be very careful. I didn’t have the professional name, but this is exactly what’s going on.
And they feel like there has been an awakening the past few years. First of all, there have been a few organizations in the community Lo Lishtok, Tahel, Magen, and a few organizations that are dealing with the subject and raising awareness. There was a book that it was originally written in America and then it was translated into Israel and teachers started using in their classrooms to instruct children. So there is an awakening, but, we are still fairly far. It’s still very far from a good corrective place.
There’s a lot of control in the community. It’s not that people have free internet. It’s not that people are exposed to other things in the world. This is why I feel like people are just more vulnerable, in a way, because they’re not connected by themselves.
They need the newspaper to tell them what’s going on.
Yehuda: I guess my last question for you, Nechumi, and I don’t mean to suggest there is any redemption in this story. I don’t think that there is, but there are things happening underway around awareness, raising around the desire to make this public conversation, to speak to the media, to come on podcasts, to push, to recognize that unless you do that, unless you allow it, these systems will remain.
I’m curious whether that correlates at all with other trends in the Haredi community. And I kind of want to end with what to watch for? What should we be watching, not just about this scandal, but about the social or political trends in the Haredi community that are also being raised up by a moment like this that might help us understand where this is all going?
Nechumi: I feel like this Chaim Walder story never would have happened 10 years ago. The internet went under the walls and gave people an alternative life. And I think the people who came and spoke to Aaron Rabinovitch who broke the story in Haaretz. People that just were exposed to it and were willing to do something to combat it.
I feel the Haredi community is going through a tremendous change. We’re talking about big numbers. People going to academia, people joining the air force, work. People are drafted into the army. People are just looking for a more moderate kind of lifestyle. And people are demanding some answers and people are demanding different behavior from the leaders.
So you mentioned the story about Rav Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, who went to the shiva of Chaim Walder and people really freaked out. I mean, you’re not a private person, you’re a public figure and he can’t do it. The next day they went to his house and demanded an apology letter which he wrote.
And he said I went as a family friend. I know the wife. I know the children. I felt like as a person I should go, but I’m not supporting any of these things. And he wrote a whole apology. This would never have happened years ago. People didn’t have the guts to question a rabbi and to demand from a rabbi an answer.
But that’s not all. People are demanding to see rabbis, demanding rabbis to condemn it. They keep going to the beis din and they want to come up with a psak din on him. And in the past week, there were other perpetrators that their name came up. As we talk now, today there was another article about these big famous figures and there were a few cases with the police. People came forward and said, okay, this is what I know about this and this person, please prosecute them. So it’s like Aviv haHaredi, the Haredi Spring. Given his position was so legitimized and given he was such an authority figure and this was broken.
People have more guts to question other authority figures. And none of the Haredi ministers have published notes. They are petrified because they losing the masses.
People are just outraged, very angry and scared for the children. They realized they are raising children in a community that can’t protect them. So I anticipate a few things. I feel, first of all, some are going to start making a beis din. There is already one beis din that was very politically controversial.
I think now there is going to be a mainstream beis din. There’s talk that Rav Chaim Kanievsky wants to open a forum takana. I wouldn’t trust those guys. Sorry, to say it out loud, because if Chaim Walder had been a year ago…
Yehuda: He’d probably be one of the judges on the rabbinical court.
Nechumi: Even the beis din of Rav Chaim Kanievsky when they said we’re going to do it wrote we’re going to have women social workers and women advisors on the committee for women to give their sensitive testimony. This is the first time they realized that they have to do it initially with women having a position.
So like malach ra oneh amen, a bad angel agrees that there’s going to need to be a little bit of a gender shift over here. But I feel like it’s definitely opening the door for a lot of women because rabbis feel like we won’t get some of the stories unless women are in the room or are going to be the one who takes it in.
So, although I don’t trust this beis din, I think other organizations will come forward and do something. And I think this part of bigger trends that are going to happen of people realizing, we just have to be part of the legal system. You have to be part of a modern time.
And we have to be more realistic about our community, our children, our responsibility, our authority, and more transparent. I also hope that some people are going to be really scared, literally scared. They will know they won’t be able to hide it. Chaim Walder didn’t get away with it. They will not get away with it.
Nechumi: People need to be really scared and we need people to know they will be caught.
Yehuda: Well, thank you very much to call me for being on the show this week and for talking about all of this and for all of your work in this arena.
And thanks to all of you for listening to our show this week. Identity/Crisis is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced this week by David Zvi Kalman and edited by M Louis Gordon with assistance from Miri Miller and Shalhevet Schwartz and music provided by so-called.
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