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Wednesday, January 05, 2022 

After the Walder fiasco, the Haredi community needs to do some soul searching

After the past week, when Haredi author Chaim Walder committed suicide, rather than face justice, there's been some justified outrage in wider society over the continued muted response by Haredi leaders to the issue, if they're even willing to discuss it at all. For example, the Takana forum:
Walder, 53, a popular ultra-Orthodox educator, counselor, and children's author with 80 books to his name, took his own life after he was accused last month of sexually abusing dozens of women and children. On Sunday, a private ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court that deals with sexual abuse cases within the community, confirmed it had heard 22 testimonies from individuals alleging they were abused by Walder, who denied any wrongdoing.

His suicide shocked the Haredi community, but leading ultra-Orthodox figures and most of the community's major media outlets downplayed the allegations of sexual abuse against him in their extensive obituaries and did their best to skirt the issue of suicide as well.

Shilat, who says she was not surprised by the allegations brought against the famed author, believes that if not for the Haredi community's infamous code of silence regarding abuse in general and sexual abuse in particular, Walder's actions – and perhaps his suicide – could have been prevented.
If he killed himself with a handgun, something not clear from news reports so far is whether it was registered. If not, then Walder committed the additional offense of illegal possession of a firearm. Which is also pretty disturbing when you think about it.
Rumors about Walder's actions were circulating for years, she told Israel Hayom, but Forum Takana had no points of interface with the incidents.

"We can only regret what happened to his victims and what happened to him," said Shilat, adding that in recent years there have been appeals from ultra-Orthodox elements to her, in an attempt to establish a Haredi equivalent of Takana.

"It hasn't happened because their principles are different from ours," she explained. They [Haredi men] find it difficult to sit together and listen to women while for us it's a matter of principle. Cooperation with external elements is also an issue for them. A community needs to be mature in certain ways to create a move that encompasses all the ultra-Orthodox sects.

"I can only assume that were there such early organization, it would have been possible to prevent these acts and perhaps also Walder's desperate act."
Yes, this too is a serious problem. The insular approach they go by, with goodness knows how many barriers, effectively prevents combatting the issue effectively. Some Orthodox adherents have taken up the crucial role of distributing fliers addressing the issue:
Some 320,000 “We all believe the victims” fliers were distributed in Haredi neighborhoods across the country on Friday, in an act of defiance by a group of grassroots activists, in response to the ultra-Orthodox leadership’s response to revelations that author Chaim Walder was a serial sexual abuser.

The fliers featured a young girl with a hand over her mouth and the Hebrew caption “We all believe the victims.” Around the wrist of the hand over the girl’s mouth is a bracelet that reads, “Lashon Hara does not speak to me,” using the Hebrew word for gossip.

The backside of the fliers explains the importance of speaking out about sexual abuse and believing the alleged victims. The pamphlets were plastered on town bulletin boards, stuck in mailboxes and distributed in synagogues.

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll — one of the roughly 150 volunteers who helped distribute the fliers in cities as far north as Safed and as far south as Dimona — told The Times of Israel that the campaign is a response to the claims by many in the Haredi leadership that the stories of Walder’s alleged victims who have come forward in recent months constitute Lashon Hara and that they are what caused the publisher to take his own life last week.

Keats Jaskoll said it was this reaction by ultra-Orthodox media and rabbinical leadership that led to the subsequent suicide on Thursday of Shifra Horowitz, an alleged victim of Walder’s.

The Haredi activists behind the campaign have preferred to remain anonymous, but Keats Jaskoll, who is modern Orthodox, said “they decided that if the leadership isn’t doing anything [for victims], we have to take action.”

Keats Jaskoll, who co-founded Chochmat Nashim, an organization that advocates for Orthodox women’s rights, said that the response she saw from Haredi community members upon seeing the fliers had been overwhelmingly positive.

“There were mothers who came up to volunteers to thank them and ask for more fliers so they could give to their families,” she said, while also admitting that there were some onlookers who were not as supportive and questioned why such a campaign was necessary.

The campaign organizers have launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to produce another batch of fliers.
Good job and good idea there. Last week, the Jerusalem Post editorial said chief rabbi David Lau should resign because of his hypocritical approach:
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau paid a shiva mourning period visit this week to the family of haredi author Chaim Walder, who was facing numerous allegations of rape and sexual assault of minors at the time of his suicide. The visit drew condemnation and questions about why Lau has not also reached out to the victims. This is a serious error on Lau’s part, and illustrates yet another bad choice by religious authorities in this country.

We expect our institutions, both secular and religious, to take sexual assault and abuse of children seriously. But there has unfortunately been a lapse all around, with far too many cases of abuse across Israel being revealed. This includes allegations of sexual harassment in the police force and Israel Defense Forces. A former Israeli president was sent to prison for rape. There have also been well-known celebrities, politicians and others at the center of sex scandals, whether it be in the LGBT community or the religious world.

Let us not forget the case of Malka Leifer, the former principal whose case dragged on for years before she was extradited to Australia to face trail for sex-abuse charges. In that case, religious figures were also seen showing support for the accused and not for the victims.
It's interesting to note that what Leifer did could be considered acts of homosexual rape. Yet you never hear LGBT movements condemning Haredis who commit homosexual assault, no matter how much it taints their image by extension, and they never campaigned for Leifer to be extradited back to Australia at the time the case occurred. It's enough to wonder if the worst of the Haredi clans are in good terms with the LGBT movements, all because the way they approach religion could cause homosexuality. The Jerusalem Post also wrote about a few more alarming sexual abuse scandals of the past month:
December saw a whirlwind of alleged sexual assault, abuse and fallout.

The “prison pimping” affair, as it is now known, took Israel by storm. The report of guards pimping out female soldiers who served in Gilboa Prison to Palestinian security detainees initially came out in 2018 but was closed with barely an investigation. It came back in November after the Gilboa Prison escape and its consequent investigation. The police have now opened a probe, and a number of female guards have already come forward.

A week into December, a student accused of raping multiple teens in a Tel Aviv high school was placed under house arrest. A gag order was imposed on the affair, but two of his victims shared their struggles on social media, saying their “abuser walks the halls of [their] school” and that they are constantly tormented by the experience.
There's more to read and ponder. Of course, nobody asks whether leftist policies have any guilt in all this embarrassment either. And Lau's initial ignorance of victims in the Haredi community was despicable. Fortunately, this week, it appears Lau finally listened to the criticism and gave his support to the victims:
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel David Lau expressed support on Sunday for acclaimed Haredi author Chaim Walder's abuse victims after he had been criticized over his visit to Walder's shivah (the seven-day mourning period).

Walder, 52, had committed suicide last week amidst growing allegations of sexual abuse.

"My heart goes out to the victims," Rabbi Lau said in a statement. "We must always stand by them and especially now," Lau added, emphasizing that the victims had won his trust.

Lau referred in his letter to the phenomenon of sexual violence as a whole, writing that "these harms exist on many levels in society, and the cry of the victims whose souls are murdered cries out to us."

"In any case where there is fear of indecent acts or harassment, it is obligatory to complain to trusted authorities about these things and to not hide," he said.
And this is exactly why the Haredi gurus must start forming liasions with police officials in order to ensure sex offenders cannot continue to prey on innocents.

There's another op-ed in the Jerusalem Post pointing out:
And just in case anyone is still confused: Chaim Walder was the victim of nothing but the consequences of the actions of which he was accused. Shifra Yocheved Horovitz, of blessed memory, was the victim of years of sexual abuse, followed by being forced to see her accused abuser praised as a righteous and holy man by the most powerful and influential leaders in her community.

Rest in Power, Shifra. May the victims and their families be comforted
, somehow.
Then, Ariel Kahana's made clear the ultra-Orthodox community has to look at itself in the mirror, and:
By committing suicide at his son's grave last week, ultra-Orthodox author Chaim Walder achieved the exact opposite of what he wanted. The very little that remained of his good name went down into the grave with him. But more importantly, the suicide will likely give a push to break the code of silence within the ultra-Orthodox sector.
Let's hope. It should also be noted there's so-called religious Zionists who've made the serious mistake of serving as Walder's apologists, which have led one religious Zionist rabbi to shun the books of one such apologist:
Rabbi Tzvi Tau, one of the senior rabbis of religious Zionism and the head of Har Hamor Yeshiva, condemns the accusations made against children's author Chaim Walder, who committed suicide due to allegations of sexual harassment. A few days later, Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of the Tzohar Rabbinical Association and the president of the Feuerstein Foundation, removed the writings of Rabbi Tzvi Tau from his personal libraries.
The Tzohar rabbi's concerns are valid. It was incredily dumb of Tau to do that, presumably out of a knee-jerk reaction, exactly what hurts non-Haredi movements as much as the Haredis themselves. Let's hope some lessons can be learned here too, because codes of silence are unhelpful, and now, they've outraged plenty for the right reasons.

Update: here's one more op-ed stressing why Walder's books should be withdrawn from sales at any store sources that haven't done so yet. And here's another one about how de-facto segregation enabled the gurus of Haredi communities to control their flock up to a point, but now it's hopefully coming unglued.

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