Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Issues Surrounding Predators: It's All About Context

As a follow-up to the previous post about Chaim Walder, there are three issues that I would like to address.

First was the criticism of Chief Rabbi Lau for visiting Walder's family. I neglected to properly explain the criticism and many people did not understand it. Surely the family are not guilty? Surely they are also victims, in their own way, and are suffering greatly? Surely it's a good thing to comfort those who are suffering?

Indeed, this is true. They are not guilty. They have suffered and will continue to do so. It's a good thing to comfort those who are suffering.

But what all this misses is context.

There are lots and lots and lots of people suffering in Israel every day. People mourning for the loss of loved ones. People suffering abuse. And obviously the Chief Rabbi cannot and does not show support for anything more than the most miniscule fraction of them. What makes this family so special as to be honored with a visit from the Chief Rabbi - if not for the fact that the deceased is an important person?

Furthermore, Walder happens to be the subject of a huge scandal as to whether he is a tzaddik who was persecuted to death or an evil monster. By honoring the family with a visit while not making any statement about Walder, this lends support to the "persecuted tzaddik" narrative.

In addition, by not making any statement of support for the victims, it is a further slap in the face to them.

(Rav Lau did end up making a vague call for all victims of abuse to go to the police and support for victims of abuse - without mentioning Walder - but only after there was a national uproar about his visiting the mourners.)

So, while it is true that the family are innocent people who are suffering, nevertheless given the context, it was absolutely wrong for Rav Lau to visit them.

Another issue, a bizarre one, relating to context is Walder's suicide itself. Traditionally, suicide was always regarded as a terrible sin - a murder. Rambam writes that there are no eulogies or mourning for such a person. In recent years, when there is greater awareness of how many suicides are due to extreme mental torment and illness, such an approach is not taken. But in Walder's case, there are no such justifications. It was a premeditated strategy which he is on tape as explaining to his victims, done to avoid paying the price for his sins. And yet the rabbinic and political leaders of the charedi world are quite happy to overlook all this! This is due to the context of his being a charedi hero who was vilified by the secular press for behavior which the charedi community does not acknowledge the existence of.

The concept of context is also relevant to the question of what do with Walder's books. I haven't read them, but I'm told that there is nothing wrong with their content. And until yesterday, I wasn't sure what should be done with them. But after seeing how so many prominent people and publications are glorifying Walder, it's clear that they should be destroyed - and preferably in a very public way. Doing so sends out a crucial message - to his victims, and to society as a whole - that Walder is not a person to be glorified.

A neighbor of mine told me that he is arranging a public book-burning. I can see the merits of that idea. Again, not because of the content, but because of the context. Subsequently I realized that actually burning them in a fire is not a good idea, for several reasons, but destroying them, as publicly as possible, certainly is. If the rabbinic and political leaders and newspapers of charedi society can't call out evil, then it's up to us to do so.

(And, yes, of course I'm aware of the irony in that I wasn't happy when people declared that my own books should be burned. But even at the time, I always said that it is perfectly appropriate to ban books that are genuinely evil - I just didn't agree that my books fell into that category.)

UPDATE - I just found out that the books do indeed contain deeply insidious content. One story is about a girl who was relentlessly bullied at school, and the book praises her for never telling her parents, so as not to cause them distress. One shudders to think about why Walder wrote that and what effects it may have had.


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68 comments:

  1. Youre making R Lau into too much of a leader. He is a rabbi without a kahal. He is haredi, but he is not an anybody special within haredim.

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    1. While you may be correct, nonetheless, he is a political appointee representing orthodox Jewry. He must be very careful about appearances. He certainly could and should have visited or phoned some the poor victims nobody has spared a thought for.

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    2. Not sure how you define "Kahal", but I personally am a talmid of Rav Lau, regularly attend his shiurim, and go to him with halachic questions, and I know many others in the same situation, especially in Modi'in where he served as Chief rabbi and is still widely respected.

      Also, many segments in the Religious Zionist community, particularly Merkaz, regard the creation of a Chief Rabbinate as part of the redemption, and take the institution of the Rabbinate and rulings made by the Rabbinate extremely seriously.

      Not sure why you define him as Haredi, he did learn in Haredi Yeshivot (Kol Torah), and was a Talmit or Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach , but he also served in the army and is a proud Zionist. He cannot be easily classified as Haredi or Dati Leumi

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    3. Regardless of what he may be, he was the candidate of the charedim.

      Also, do his kids serve in the military?

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    4. As Nachum pointed, Rav Lau was the candidate of the charedim -- and no matter his own inclinations, is there at their service and to represent their interests.
      That's why they chose him.
      Duh.

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  2. "In recent years, when there is greater awareness of how many suicides are due to extreme mental torment and illness, such an approach is not taken. But in Walder's case, there are no such justifications."

    Ah, so now you are a posek! Mazel Tov! The truth is that this is just nonsense you made up out of thin air. Even taking as a given that he's totally guilty, this is totally consistent with "extreme mental torment". One would expect somebody as guilty, who is about to be exposed, to suffer extreme mental torment. And the practice is to have aveilus even with a prior suicide threat. See Chasam Sofer who says such a case is not me'aved atzmo l'daas.

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    1. ...aaannnddd the point here is context! That's RNS's whole point:

      Sure, Walder probably experienced "extreme mental torment" albeit self-inflicted. Surely that can't be compared to someone who has severe depression or existential angst beyond their control!

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    2. Chasam Sofer wrote about someone who killed himself because he was accused of being a horrible Roshoh?

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    3. Chasam Sofer wrote about somebody whole killed himself with prior warning. If you want to make up your own Torah - that none of this applies if he was (allegedly) a horrible rasha, you're welcome. Just don't pretend that it's based on anything you found in halacha. You didn't even look at the halacha for thirty seconds. It's just something you made up on your couch after a full bowl of cholent. Which I guess, for secularists, is enough.

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    4. For those who are interested the חת"ס wrote about it his שו"ת יו"ד שכ"ו

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    5. @happygoluckypersonage

      Hey, isn't it a crazy coincidence when the world began to view suicides more sympathetically in general, the halachic approach magically changed as well? Hmmmmm . . .

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    6. The Chasam Sofer's ruling is very debatable, ESPECIALLY for people who are horrible resho'im.
      It's very clear the no-hesped-and-no-part-to-the-world-to-come thing is designed to serve as deterrent. And deterrents work best when they are actually applied.

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    7. "The Chasam Sofer's ruling is very debatable"

      Who debates him? You? Do you know of any posek who actually rules no aveilus by suicides with prior warning? Or did you just make this up on the spot? Which is, of course, the standard secularist approach to halacha.

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    8. @happy
      Yes, the Shulchan Aruch.

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    9. JW, seriously, did you even take just 30 seconds to look at the Chasam Sofer? He quotes the SA in support! You didn't even try! This is what I mean by the secularist, am haaratzus approach to halacha.

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    10. I am very impressed by all the things you know about me. How did you do it? Am I being watched?And here I was, thinking I had learnt these halachos correctly.

      More seriously, the fact he brings the SA doesn’t mean the SA meant what he wants it to.

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    11. Ok, if you actually learned the halacha, that's a good first step. Better than 99% of the secularists I interact with here.

      Now, I'm not saying that you can't argue with the Chasam Sofer. Or claim that he's saying a chiddush. But can you understand that since there's nobody on the level who actually argues with him l'maaseh (as far as I know, unless you can bring sources), therefore rabbis will tend to pasken like him? Rather than saying he's "debatable" and "problematic"? That's just the normal thing to do. Not controversial.

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    12. Ah, so it's not just about me that you know everything?
      Try some actual arguments instead of ad hominem attacks.

      I did not write 'problematic', I wrote 'debatable'. Which it is. And since it is, it doesn't matter who challenges it, as long as his arguments stand. I could have written about the semi-kapparah, which is like King Hizkiyahu did to his father Achaz, or that his גוף is not a נרתיק של קדושה like it's written in Gesher Hachayim, or about the seriousness of his offence, like the CS did. But I think the deterrent aspect is more important for being strict, and it will be better received in rationalist circles, like this very forum.

      Based on the lenient usual practice of his time (already) and an unusually (for him) progressive streak, the Chasam Sofer basically obliterated this halocho. And it might be that was a good thing for most cases.

      However, when we're dealing with people whose death interrupts all chances to know the truth in a very serious case, and who are most probably horrible reshoim, it would be a good thing, I think, to not forget the basic halacha.

      It seems at least one person DID kill herself, very sadly, BECAUSE CW got sterling hespedim.

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    13. Hmm Jew Well, I know that you want to argue with the Chasam Sofer and the standard practice for a whole list of reasons, some of which may or not may be valid. But at the end of the day, it's just you, some random am ha'aretz off the street, vs. the Chasam Sofer and minhag haolam. You're a nothing compared to them. A literal zero. Get it?

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    14. First of all, ARGUMENTS count, not people.
      Second, you know nothing about me.
      And third, no one is a literal zero. I would certainly not write anything like this about you. And don't tell me I'm a literal zero only compared to them, or I'll have to conclude you don't know what literal means.
      But I WOULD write your propension to escape debating ideas by debating people seems hopeless.

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    15. Again, I agree that some of your arguments may have some merit. I suggest that you discuss them with rabbis so that in the future, they might pasken differently in suicide cases. Who knows, they may agree with you!

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    16. Oh, I really was anxiously waiting for your advice on the proper thing to do!
      All the rabbis I spoke to agreed with me on this case. But then, they're not the ones who were asked to give the hesped in the first place, are they?

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    17. Oh, you already asked rabbis and they agreed with you? Great! I have respect for that. Of course, as you mentioned, those are probably not the same rabbis as those who gave the hespedim and advised the family.

      I would be interested in knowing who those rabbis are, but I understand if you are hesitant to reveal their identities. What was their rationale? Did they argue with the CS, as you do? Do they feel that going forward, all suicide cases with some prior threat should have no aveilus? Or do they agree with the CS, but felt the hespedim were out of line?

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    18. I'm not comfortable disclosing any names, but you wouldn't know them anyways, as they're not anglo or israeli rabbis.
      The one who agreed with me the most felt, like I wrote, that the CS's elaboration on this halocho seems at odds with earlier sources, and that therefore it is advisable to stray from accepted practice in such extreme cases (I wasn't asking for more, I myself am not in favour of uprooting standard leniencies without sufficent reason) Others wouldn't want to say anything which might sound against the CS himself, but agreed that those hespedim were detrimental for the victims, and said that the CS himself wouldn't have advocated it.

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  3. it would be interesting to see how the Haredi establishment in Bnei Brak,see the actions of the bet Din in Tsfat. I think they had the responsability to act in search of justice for the victims of this man, and safeguard their traumatized souls .As for Walder"s soul ,let the Bet Din shel Maala decide .

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  4. **********************December 29, 2021 at 11:48 PM

    "it's clear that they should be destroyed - and preferably in a very public way. Doing so sends out a crucial message - to his victims, and to society as a whole - that Walder is not a person to be glorified."

    You sound like a chareidi rosh yeshivah now. This is not a halachik matter. Isn't your hashkofoh that each person should be able to do what they think is the right think to do? Who are you to dictate to them in such a manner - "it's clear....."?

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  5. I have several of Walder's books and I will certainly not destroy them. First there's nothing wrong with their content. And second It would be like throwing away a CD of Freddy Mercury because he had sexual relations with men, or of Matityahu because he is no longer observant.

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    1. You're equating consensual sexual relations with men and no longer being observant with sexual abuse of minors?

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    2. It is very different. His books were written to teach children middos. The gemara in chagiga when discussing how Rav Meir could learn from Acher after he went off the derech days explicitly that a child should only learn from someone who acts like a malach Hashem.

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    3. Right. Equating raping children to being gay and not religious.
      Do you even understand what you wrote?

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    4. I see that there's a similar ambiguity about R. Shlomo Carlebach. Some people still adore him, others admit that he also was guilty of sexual misconduct.
      (I think he explained his hugging women and the like as showing them emotional support when they needed it, as being like saving a drowning woman. To not do it is being a חסיד שוטה. But some of the touchy-feely stuff made women downright uncomfortable.)

      On the other hand, so many of CW's stories are really uplifting. They were heavily scrutinized before they were printed, and even have glowing approbations. So, now they should all be disposed of? What about "accepting the truth from whoever says it", as the Rambam says?

      (If I may say, it's sort of the opposite of Rabbi Slifkin's case: CW produced frum content, but lived a treif life; Rabbi Slifkin lives a frum life, but (at least some of) the ideas in the books are condemned as being treif!)

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    5. Yehuda P. - Carlebach groped, molested and harassed women and young girls. It was not "hugging women and the like" to show them "emotional support when they needed it" that for some reason make women "downright uncomfortable". It was (and excuse me for being blunt here) fondling minors' breasts, rubbing against them to completion, etc. Let's not use language that minimizes and obscures that.

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    6. @Tobie: Wow, I wasn't aware that it went that far. The Wikipedia page on him just vaguely mentions "sexual misconduct". His daughter also was very vague about it.

      I'm listening to Rav Reuven Nakar, who was on the Beis Din who summoned Chaim Walder a number of times to tell CW to desist from his "counseling activities". He discusses the severity of the charges--they can't just be dismissed as lashon hara.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsmxzgncXmY

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  6. Not sure why everyone assumes that the family is innocent. They haven't expressed sympathy for the victims or repudiated Chaim Welder's actions.

    So suicide became like בן סורר מורה שלא היה ולא נברא? דרוש וקבל שכר? כ

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  7. Book burning is ALWAYS a bad idea
    Ash

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  8. Isn't sleeping with a woman who is married to another man a death penalty offense under halachah? How can anyone defend CW?

    Rabbi Eliyahu had previously been part of a Beit Din that brought justice to one of Tropper's victims. I don't follow Israeli rabbinic leaders much but that seems like two examples of a courageous rabbi doing the right thing when the easy way out would have been not to get involved.

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    1. I heard that Rav Eliyahu was also instrumental in preventing the return of the convicted sex offender "Rabbi" Ezra Scheinberg to Tzfat after his release from prison.

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  9. Burning is bad optics. Maybe publicly throw them in the trash or recycling bin.

    I imagine at least part of the old practices about suicide were meant to discourage it for others. That's not really going to help with people suffering from depression- or at least not many of them- but in a case like this, where the guy had some idea- or at least he claimed- that he was doing the right thing by doing so, yeah, a statement should be made. Maybe not burial outside the fence or whatever, but at least a statement.

    I am, by the way, disgusted by R' Adlerstein's post. The first statement we get from an "official" American source and it's all about defending Edelstein's letter and trying to "understand" it. It's like a charedi is constitutionally incapable of seeing something wrong by a "gadol" and saying, "No. This is wrong, period."

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    1. Nachum, look in the comments where he slams him. He's just playing the game.
      I was also disgusted. Gadolatry at his best.
      Ash

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  10. If, as seems to be the case, much or most of the content of this man's books is good, then far better to publish new editions with any insidious material removed and, above all, with the name of that man removed. We all know the history and symbolism of destroying books, let alone publicly doing so - let's not go there.

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  11. "There are lots and lots and lots of people suffering in Israel every day. People mourning for the loss of loved ones. People suffering abuse. And obviously the Chief Rabbi cannot and does not show support for anything more than the most miniscule fraction of them. What makes this family so special as to be honored with a visit from the Chief Rabbi - if not for the fact that the deceased is an important person?"

    This accusation makes sense if Rav Lau has no personal relationship with any of the mourners. Has this been checked out?

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    1. Even if he does. In a situation like this, a personal friend who is also a very prominent public figure sends an apologetic note. Or, at most, sneaks in under the cover of darkness.

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  12. Instead of burning or otherwise destroying these books, maybe it would be reasonable to cover the author's name on each book. The content was and still is wonderful. Meanwhile a clear statement is being made that Chaim Walder is a person worthy of condemnation. At the very least, since it will always be possible to destroy them later, but not un-destroy them, people might considering putting them in a box out of site for some time. I completely understand that for some people even the mere site of these books will bring traumatic memories, and understand their not wanting to ever see these books again. For most readers, such as children, this is not the case. A mere "cover up" might be enough.

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  13. What if Rav Lau personally knows the family members? Are you certain he doesn't? Are you perhaps missing facts which explain the context?

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  14. "the most miniscule fraction of them".
    RNS, the word is spelled "minuscule".

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  15. Public Book burning - is something that was done by Prosecutors of the Jews throughout the centuries, and by Nazi Germany. Surely we should not steep that low. I personally destroyed a couple of Walder's books I had at home by tearing the pages out and cutting them in pieces - this was a quite comforting activity I must admit. So please do destroy them if you feel outraged, but I would not go and organize public book burning, c'mon we are not savages...

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  16. “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” Heinrich Heine in the 19thC Germany. naturally, the Nazis burned his books, and we know what came next.

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  17. I have read books written by far worse people than CW, and I don't think they should be destroyed at all. I don't currently own any of his books but I think I'll buy some when my kids get of age. They don't need to know he was an abuser, and I see nothing wrong in his books.
    Rabbi Slifkin, you might get the irony of the situation, but you don't seem to get the point. ''genuinely evil'' is never going to be a matter of public unanimity. Maybe most people would agree to ban books like ''Mein Kampf'', but otherwise it'll always be subjective, and that's why banning books is wrong.

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    1. Which books did you read that were by far worse authors.

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    2. And did those authors lecture the subject on middos tovos?

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    3. For example, the one I mentioned. And sometimes, yes.
      But really, I'm not in the mood of defending CW's books right now, and I for sure don't want to be associated with those who defend his person.

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    4. To those who say they will not discard his books and even plan to buy them to read to your own kids because they "contain good messages". Please understand that he used his books as a front to get access to his young victims in private, his whole enterprise as an "writer" was for the purpose of sexually abusing scores of young people. When your kids grow up and discover the truth and ask you why you purchased the books of such an evil person, how will you explain?

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    5. I'll teach them the world is not black and white, and that power corrupts, and that sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do good things.
      I do not know how you are so well informed of all his intentions in writing his books.

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    6. so you wouldn't use Nazi obtained science data , just because some people were tortured to get it?

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  18. Now do one for the Dati Leumi community.

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  19. Rabbi Walder was a good person. He wrote wonderful books. Although he was involved with and did terrible things, we should not hate him.

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    1. I personally know someone who suffers permanently because of what CW did to her so no he is not a good person and we absolutely should hate him.

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  20. Your going to start burning books now? Really? Then we make full circle. It would be wrong to burn his books. Rabbi Walder was a good person. He wrote wonderful books. Now you want to destroy those books. You know who else burned books? The nazis.
     
    We've come full circle. Now we're back to burning books. That's the very sin of the nazis!

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  21. Perhaps the CONTEXT is what makes the aveilim all the more in need of comfort, imagine that your father was accused of, or even found to have committed these crimes and then committed suicide. Consider for a moment the hell and horror of such a situation. But when a rabbi comforts someone in such a situation you would rather he do 'calculations' about the political context.
    Should Rabbi Lau have visited? I certainly do not know. The CONTEXT provides particularly good reasons for why he should and should not have attended this particular shiva. Sometimes when a sensitive event occurs it is not necessary to have and state an opinion about it. Rabbi Lau is a functional human being and can make his own decisions, I am sure he was aware of the context, so it appears he still felt the need for comfort was more important, you may disagree; Rabbi Lau is not responsible for not sharing your nuanced viewpoint.
    Rabbi Slifkin, as a big fan of yours and longtime defender of your works within my social circles, I am revolted by this post of yours.

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  22. "There are lots and lots and lots of people suffering in Israel every day. People mourning for the loss of loved ones. People suffering abuse. And obviously the Chief Rabbi cannot and does not show support for anything more than the most miniscule fraction of them. What makes this family so special as to be honored with a visit from the Chief Rabbi - if not for the fact that the deceased is an important person?"

    What makes THIS family so special?! seriously? they didnt just lose a family member they lost THEIR OWN LIVES. nobody will marry those kids and their children and children's children will live in shame for eternity. i think this family needs some support. im surprised someone who's allegedly a rabbi & a doctor would miss such a thing.

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  23. The problem with the visit is that the family is standing by and defending Walder saying he was framed and innocent. If you make a shiva call you would have to share positive thoughts about the niftar and go along with the family’s story of walders innocence.

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  24. Burning his books in public is dumb. It doesnt do anything. Protesting and demanding R Lau resigns makes more sense and is more likely to have an effect because he's accountable to the general public.

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