My pet project is showing that Charedi society functions according to regular laws and patterns, and that attempts to improve Charedi society that ignore these patterns will invariably fall flat on their face. With this in mind, let us state clearly the specific factors which impede our ability to stop depraved sexual predators from turning their desires into reality.
The first is that, though we are a separatist community socially, culturally, ideologically, and, to some extent, economically, we are not so legally. In Eastern Europe, it was normal until well into the 19th century for Jewish communities to punish wrongdoers through imprisonment, beatings and other measures, but in the modern liberal state we are not allowed to do that anymore. In the smallest and most close knit communities, there are other ways of dealing with criminals who prey on others in the community, but in most cases there is one, and only one: the police.
The second factor is the engine and framework of the Charedi social order, namely the shidduch system. The single most important factor pressing an ordinary charedi to do something he doesn’t want, or to refrain from something he does, is fear of damaging his children’s chances in the shidduch market.
Now, let us put these two facts together. Prosecutions can hardly be brought against sex offenders without a victim who is willing to give evidence in court. Some activists profess to find this unacceptable, but absent a complete re-imagining of the judicial system as a whole it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. While there have been cases of victims being told not to take their allegations to police because of twisted notions of Jewish communal loyalty or simply to protect a well-connected offender, what many people fail to acknowledge is that the main reason most victims do not want to come forward is because of the fear of destroying their chances of a shidduch.
Some will respond to this by concluding that if the shidduch system disables our collective ability to deal with predators then the shidduch system must be dismantled. As a beneficiary of the system and one who wants the same for my own children, my perspective is of course different, but, more to the point, it doesn’t matter what my perspective is. Charedi society cannot be infinitely reshaped at will. There are, of course, different models of the shidduch system used in different parts of the community, but from the structural perspective we are interested in here they amount to the same thing.
It therefore follows that, to ameliorate this problem, we must acknowledge how the functioning of the Charedi system generates a difficulty, and find ways to use the features of this same system to overcome it. Specifically this means capitalizing on the ease with which news spreads in the Charedi community, while respecting the need of victims for anonymity. The obvious solution is, in fact, essentially what Rav Shmuel Eliyahu and his beis din did: to investigate allegations fully, and, after concluding beyond any doubt that the person in question is a danger to the community, publicize this so that no parent will allow his or her child to go near him ever again. Few individuals are as powerful as Chaim Walder was so it will not normally be necessary to convene a beis din of Rabbis from across the country, but the basic model should be this. Indeed, instituting such procedures would only be formalizing a mechanism of public shaming that is already used throughout the community with some, but not enough, success today.
This is, I believe, the closest we can come to a solution after the fact, but at least as important as responding effectively to crimes is preventing them from happening in the first place. In my career in education, the single most important thing I have done is work with organizations founded to promote safeguarding among Charedi children. The task of teaching our children to identify the signs of abuse, keep away from predators, and immediately report acts of grooming before they escalate, is not an easy one, but there are some excellent workshops and books that have been produced in recent years, especially for primary-age children. What is urgently necessary, however, is to invest the time and effort into bringing these resources together into a systematic curriculum covering all ages, which schools and yeshivas can adopt and implement. It is equally important that this curriculum must not, as is often the case, be treated as an extension of the anti-masturbation lectures conducted in yeshiva ketanas, because this confuses pupils and leads to the crucial messages getting lost amidst the fog.
I do not pretend that by focussing on these two approaches we can eliminate every incident of child abuse in our community, but I do believe that by playing to our strengths and using the power of our social system we can do much better than we are today, and, since we can, we must.
15 thoughts on “On Chaim Walder”
Dear Eli, It’s been a long time since we last spoke. Indeed, this post has been long overdue. I was awaiting this with baited breath but you were hesitating. I know you were. However, now that you have spoken I can see that you carefully kept away from certain aspects of this discussion.
You advocate that Rabbi Eliyahu’s Beth Din and methods were the best available, yet it ended with the suicide of Walder and the fact that his victims will not have their day in court. In your opinion was that the best outcome to this situation?
Rabbi Edelstein and others accused Rabbi Eliyahu of retzicha by publicly embarrassing Walder and leading to his suicide. What is your opinion on that? Was there another way?
Should we still be stocking his books in our schools or should they be assigned to the dust heap of history?
1) “You advocate that Rabbi Eliyahu’s Beth Din and methods were the best available”
2) “Rabbi Edelstein and others accused Rabbi Eliyahu of retzicha by publicly embarrassing”
See the pattern here? One person says one thing, while the other person says something else.
I personally feel Rabbi Eliyahau’s conduct has been disgraceful as one should never cause extreme shame to someone that led to what happened, but this back and forth drama is a distraction to the main issue… how are victims supported, who knew about Walder’s abuse, how can we stop it happening in the future…?
Shiduchim is a euphemism. It is a stand-in for ‘the place I occupy in a close-knit society’
There is no way to have a close-knit family-based society while simultaneously using outsiders to deal with matters of sensitivity and sexuality.
They do not go together. It’s like vegetarian steak.
I agree with you. This sums a lot of it up.
Your exposition is unique for its brevity.
I concur with every word you have written.
Yet I feel you have overlooked a crucial point. Much as it repulses me to say this, it seems that child molestation is not viewed by some in the community as the horror that it is. At least, not as much as, say, chilul Shabbos, failings in kashrus or the inappropriate use of technology.
I have my own theories as to why this is, but unless something changes, and changes dramatically, the communal attitude towards child abuse is unlikely to swing towards the necessary abhorrence and intolerance, without which we cannot expect the status quo to shift.
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You claim “and changes dramatically”?
Why don’t you say what change you would like to see?
“Much as it repulses me to say this, it seems that child molestation is not viewed by some in the community as the horror that it is. At least, not as much as, say, chilul Shabbos, failings in kashrus or the inappropriate use of technology.”
I’m wondering if a different approach is needed when educating children about inappropriate touching, and it needs to be in the same language as we teach about other prohibitions, in Torah-based language.
I remember learning repeatedly in primary school that embarrassing someone is like killing them, or waking someone without their permission is stealing sleep which you can’t give back… I’m not qualified to say how inapproriate touching can be viewed along these lines, I imagine rabbinic guidance is needed, but if we were to start teaching in the same lessons that inappropriate touching is like killing because it causes unimaginable shame and embarrassment and (for older children’s education?) can make someone not want to live… or stealing, because you would be taking away their privacy and innocence and in some cases damage parts of their body irreparably as well as their mind… I wonder if some people (yes I know sadly not all) would abhor these acts as much as being mechallel Shabbos and think twice before committing them, or be more likely to report it if it happens to them chas vesholom.
Mr Spitzer as you are in the field of education I would be interested to know what you think.
The UOHC currently have in office in their Beis Din a Dayan whose written opinion on child abuse is that it is very often made up, that reporting to the police is impermissible even if someone poses an ongoing threat to children because the matter then falls out of the Dayan’s jurisdiction and causes distress to the abuser’s family, and that abuser behaviour is controllable by therapy. The elderly av Beis din’s views on reporting the repeated and horrific rape perpetrated by one of his dayanim’s sons were previously placed on record by a channel 4 documentary. That dayan told the court that he believed his son deserved a slap on the wrist. A convicted child rapist wonders freely around Golders Green Lubavitch with no supervisory measures in place. A senior Rabbi credibly accused by tens of women of inappropriate touch was on the dais at the pirchim siyuum, as if to say “these are your gods O Israel.”
Rabbi Spitzer, so long as these men remains in office, children are being placed at sickening risk by a hierarchy that is fully aware, as you note, of the problem. A hierarchy which can nevertheless only be described as accepting, accommodating, loyal and supportive towards well known prolific and dangerous sexual deviants.
What are you, Rabbi Spitzer, going to do about it? All the safeguarding you put in place will achieve nothing with leadership like this. How can you go to work every day under the auspices of those Dayanim whose wickedness in accommodating child sexual abuse is astounding, beyond all rational comprehension?
You write detachedly about a system you know is astoundingly immoral in the three chamuros, a system in which external and obviously contrived shows of religiosity count for far, far, more than will known, repeated, violent, depraved, acts of child sexual abuse?
Nobody is suggesting the work of safeguarding London Charedi children is yours alone to complete, but with this defeated article you absent yourself from it entirely.
Your solution doesn’t work. Israel has a vastly greater number of rabbonim than London does so finding 3 senior rabbonim unconnected to, and beyond the influence of, the abuser is possible. No such parallel exists in our small community. The 2 prominent cases mentioned by The Hat (the son of the UOHC dayan and the then-member of the UOHC rabbinate) demonstrate this. There is no way those cases could have been handled internally and they weren’t. The former was prosecuted by the CPS (hats off to R Zimmerman) and the latter was mishandled by the UOHC in the most embarrassing, damaging and incompetent way imaginable.
The correct solution starts with properly identifying the problem. The reality is that the senior echelons of frum society are pro-abuser and anti-victim. Until that changes, we will be stuck with evil predators.
“The reality is that the senior echelons of frum society are pro-abuser and anti-victim. Until that changes, we will be stuck with evil predators.”
What’s your solution then?
Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof
Before being condemned did the police get the chance to investigate as you said is normal procedure?
Rav Tau holds it was a conspiracy.
The beth din decision was based on presented evidence but without the chance of rebuttal.
Look at the VIP scandal for conspiracy.
As Rabbi Spitzer correctly identifies, many victims of sexual abuse are tangibly disadvantaged by pursuing the matter in a secular or a religious court of law. That appears to be the case in the UK population as a whole, and in Charedi society in particular. Sexual crime, particularly issues of consent, the societal stigma and shame that Rabbi Spitzer correctly identifies, victim intimidation and manipulation, and the habit of predators to pick on particularly vulnerable victims, make this an intrinsically difficult crime to prosecute beyond reasonable doubt.
I do not agree with tinkering with the burden of proof to achieve a politically motivated conviction quota.
It follows that recourse to the criminal justice system – religious or secular – is only of utility in a proportion of cases. But does that mean we are doomed to play a terrible game of Russian roulette with the bodies of young children unprotected from prolific abusers until they incriminate themselves conclusively?
Rabbi Spitzer’s answer, self evidently correct, is that we do not. We can all act, lawfully and calmly, after taking into account the preponderance of all the available evidence, and after drawing rational conclusions: to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities.
I take issue with the narrowness of Rabbi Spitzer’s proposed response in which only an elite group of UOHC Dayanim are empowered to protect the community from the harm caused by sexual abusers. In particular I protest at his myopia to the eminent incompetence and bad faith with which that UOHC elite have handled this issue, up to this very day.
As I see it, sexual abuse is everyone’s problem, all the time. Sexual abuse is a problem for women and for men. Sexual abuse is a problem for children and adults. Sexual abuse is a problem for the rich and for the poor. Sexual abuse is a problem for the linkster elementim and for pro-Iranian flag burners.
Sexual abuse is a problem for employers and employees. Sexual abuse is a problem for teachers and parents. Sexual abuse is a problem for shul goers and for those who administer shuls. Sexual abuse is a problem for those who live in homes and those who have neighbours. Sexual abuse is a problem for Rabbis and laymen. Sexual abuse is a problem for those who use WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, or a robotcalling landline.
Nobody will ever cure the world from sexual abuse, but nobody is at liberty to absent themselves from the struggle against it.
There will always be those who cannot or will not control their base sexually abusive impulses. There will always be those whose fell instinct it is to cover and protect sexual abusers. It falls to everybody, everywhere, to raise up our voices – responsibly, thoughtfully, rationally, and without violence.
We all need to make it clear to our co-religionists, our friends, our close relatives and our work colleagues, those who look and those who dress like one of our own, those who either commit or those who cover up sexual abuse, be they ever so holy and high, that this community should be a hostile community. This community should be implacably opposed to abuse, abusers and those who enable them.
Except it isn’t.
Like our prime minster, the Rabbinate of the UOHC is drifting, broken beyond any prospect of repair since the debacle of 2013. It is without the moral authority to rule credibly on the kashrus of a cabbage, let alone an Eruv or smartphone. Everyone knows this, and does as they please.
The community is in reality a welcoming and hospitable community to maladjusted deviants who expose children and vulnerable adults to serious, avoidable harm.
And that is everyone’s problem.
You are being disingenuous.
You may refer to it as “…there have been cases of victims being told not to take their allegations to police because of twisted notions…”, however this is the mainstream opinion in SH!
When a family member was violent to me and broke some expensive belongings of mine (specifically where the violence happened on a number of occasions at home), I was told not to go to the police and it could be said that if I did go to the police with a view of prosecution, I’d be left with no money or less of it as a result. I was told things like to “stand up for myself” and that “I can’t change her”, etc. However, I have since realised that going to the police is not the answer. It is not twisted to believe that going to the police is not the answer or will “fix people/things”, BUT people need to know that abuse is not acceptable and that facilitating it is not much different to being involved in it (eg. if it happened in their home and that knew about it). I think people need to view abuse from a holistic view and that going to the police is not the only thing available to them. You don’t empower victims of abuse by always telling a victim to “go to the police” and the “predator will go to the prison”, you empower victims by giving victims choice and appropriate support and if they feel that going to the police is a good choice for them, they should know (how) they can do it. Based on what I have read on the Walder scandal, not much of it has been of substance… just people ranting about how the community should be improved, anti charedi sentiment, etc… so once people put politics out of this picture and look at this from the alleged victim’s point of view, maybe things will change then.
Dear Mr. Spitzer:
I just viewed the webinar sponsored by Mosaic concerning your recent article about haredim. You mentioned a new book about Kirayas Joel. There is a webinar this evening about that book: