Monday, January 10, 2022

An Unprecedented Divide - And the Unspoken Victims

R' Moshe Sternbuch (Wikipedia)
It’s a never ending saga. Something the Charedi world has never experienced – at least to my knowledge. People are still talking about Walder as though the revelations about him and his suicide happened yesterday. Even though it was first reported back in November (followed by his suicide a month later).  

One of the consequences of all this is the division among  some of the most universally respected Charedi religious leaders themselves. Which appears to still be going on. On the one hand you have people like the very popular Rabbi Zev Leff who shockingly said that based on the laws of Lashon Hara, it is forbidden to believe any of the accusations made against Walder. Going so far as to suggest that the alleged victims may have made it all up or even ‘fantasized’ it!  Adding that his books are perfectly fine to read and contain valuable advice. 

Add to this the voices of R’  Gershon Edlestein, and Tziporah Heller who make the argument that it was Lashon Hara that killed Walder as though what he did is secondary to that. There are a lot more like them saying much the same kind of thing. All of them highly respected  mainstream religious voices. 

On the other hand you people like R’ Moshe Sternbuch who forbid reading his books because his evil spirit permeates them – regardless of what they say. And that they should be thrown out. Included in this camp is the following

The Chief Rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, said that Walder's guilt was beyond doubt and that one should not keep his books in their homes or schools, adding that Walder was a danger to society whose forbidden acts had destroyed lives. He said his ruling was based on testimonies, other court rulings, pictures and recordings.  The senior judges of the Bnei Brak Beth DinYehuda Silman and Sariel Rosenberg, ruled it was forbidden to read his books. Walder sent threats to Eliyahu and Silman and the women that testified. Aryeh Klapper, senior judge of the Boston Beit Din, said that Walder's books should be immediately removed from stores and shelves. 

There are many other voices on both sides of this issue - each claiming to espouse the authentic Torah perspective on this subject. I do not recall as much strong division among  respected religious voices as I am hearing now on a subject that they usually agree upon.

The obvious question for those who respect the concept of Daas Torah is who to listen to?  One might be tempted to say: Elu VeElu - that they are both right. That each side is looking at only one perspective and commenting on that. But I have trouble with that idea in this case. Because it is inherently contradictory to say that they are both right... that one should read his books and that it is forbidden to read them. Will the real ‘Daas Torah’ please stand up?

Is this yet another indication that Daas Torah is in trouble? Maybe. I have recently suggested as much. But I  have also suggested that it will survive.  Still, I have to wonder how the average Charedi sees this controversy. Which side does he take? And why? After all logical Halachic arguments were made by both sides about the correctness of their views. The fact is that sides are being taken. Does that mean that each side thinks the other side is mistaken to the point of serious violations of Halacha? I think that may be the case.

On a completely different subject, I can’t help thinking how devastating it must be for Walder’s children to have to go through all of this. That said, I do not regret for a moment my sharp and very public condemnation of that man. It was necessary and important for the truth to be heard for a vareity of reasons. Not the least of which is the validation it gives to his victims. Compassion for them comes first.

Nonetheless I cannot imagine what the constant flow of  revelations and condemnations about their once heroic father is doing to their mental well being.  It is rto imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. Having your own beloved father outed like this and then having him commit suicide because of it.  

The question is, what can be done to ease their pain? It’s not their fault that their father did what he did. They had nothing to do with it, believing him to be a Tzadik that suddenly turned out to be a phony.

The wrong answer is to avoid talking about it. That would hurt his victims But in doing so we inflict further damage upon his children. The conundrum is that the good being done by supporting the victims is  by the same token hurting his innocent children.  

It’s easy to say that it isn’t us that caused this problem. It is their father. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to have compassion for them. The question is how do we do both? 

I have no answers. Just questions. And they trouble me greatly.