Monday, November 15, 2021

When Religious Icons are Psychopaths

Celebrated Charedi author, Chaim Walder (TOI)
Although I have nothing to do with him, his name sounds vaguely familiar.  Maybe because 52 year old Chaim Walder has had so many accomplishments in his life. Some of which are listed in Haaretz: 

A talk show host and columnist with a focus on social and educational issues, Walder is one of the most prominent children’s advocates in the ultra-Orthodox community, the founder of the Bnei Brak-based Center for the Child and Family and is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s “protector of the child” award. He has written 80 books, including numerous volumes of the popular “Kids Speak” series, which are a fixture in ultra-Orthodox households across the country.

Well… one might seriously be tempted to say this Charedi rabbi has contributed mightily to the well being of his own community and beyond. And made a huge Kiddush HaShem in the process.  However, if reports in the Jewish news media are true it appears that Walder has clay feet and is not who he appears to be. He may very well be a sexual predator – accused by several women of sexual abuse. And with at least with one of them the abuse took place when she was a minor. 

So, instead of the hero most people think he is – he may be a monster. A psychopath with no conscience. His observant lifestyle exposed to be a pretense. Passing himself off as a champion of children. Which he has thus far done quite successfully. 

The story is sadly familiar. The details of grooming and abuse are too lurid for me. If you can stomach them they are available in 3 different publications

What is also familiar is his denial. I have yet to hear of a sexual predator saying he’s guilty of all accusations.  They always deny them - accusing the accusers of lying because of some sort of personal vendetta. Which appears to be the case here. Walder’s lawyers have responded on his behalf. After mentioning some of his many achievements they said the following: 

Over the years, Mr. Walder has waged struggles for the benefit of children who have suffered violence and abuse and as a result, certain elements have given themselves the goal of harming him and there is evidence of some foolish attempts to incriminate our client," they stated.

"Mr. Walder is an ultra-Orthodox man and he has never touched minors or women in this way...Our client is determined that he not be harmed by this in the slightest, and will fight for his good name with all the legal means at his disposal." 

He may be innocent. But I wouldn’t bet on it. There have been too many cases just like this where highly accomplished devoutly religious individuals have proven to be monsters. Walder is only the latest. Three different women have come forward with these accusations and detailed their experiences. I doubt they are somehow conspiring against him. I therefore find it hard to believe his denials. 

The problem in high profile cases like this is the disbelief among much of the religious public. How is it possible that a man that does so much good for the religious community can be so evil? They end up seeing Walder as the victim – believing his denials. 

I am confident that the truth will eventually be determined. But I am not so confident in Walder’s innocence. We shall see.

Why is it that so many prominent – supposedly religious people have been able to prey on vulnerable people? I think there are 2 reasons for this. One is the opportunities made available to them by their very prominence. They have become icons that are worshipped and can do no wrong. Parents flock to him seeking his advice and attention for their children. Which he gladly gives them.. 

The 2nd reason is the feeling of power and infallibility one gets when they are seen as icons by so much of the public. A psychopath will use that to his advantage and feel invincible. 

Fortunately people like this are not invincible. They are often caught. If Walder is as guilty as the testimony of his accusers suggests justice will prevail. 

The unfortunate reality seems to be that we have not seen the end of this  kind of thing. It will surely happen again. Psychopathic personalities with insatiable sexual appetites are apparently more common thane we think. When a psychopath is given the opportunity he will strike. The best we can do is learn how to better protect ourselves and our children. And to make sure that sex abusers are prosecuted to the fullest extent of law. That may not end sex abuse. But hopefully it will put a major dent in its occurrence.