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When Chaim Walder killed himself, the awareness of his terrible crimes had not yet become too overwhelming for anyone to deny. As is well known, there were various significant people and institutions maintaining his innocence (either because they genuinely believed it, or because they figured that they could get away with such a pretense).
In the notorious obituary printed in Yated Ne'eman, it describes Walder's greatness in his Torah studies. As a child in Talmud Torah, he was known for being "blessed with talent," then in Mishkan Yaakov he was "greatly beloved to the Rosh Yeshivah." He then graduated to the famous Kol Torah yeshivah, where he "grew to glory." Then in Knesses Chizkiyahu he was "drawn to the deep shiurim of the Rosh Yeshiva."
A week later, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman claims that Walder "did not have much of a yeshiva background," didn't do well in either Kol Torah or Knesses Chizkiyahu, had "very little knowledge of Torah" and was not successful in yeshiva.
Well, which is it? I have no idea who is telling the truth and who is falsifying things; both the Yated and Rabbi Meiselman are notorious for falsifying matters to serve their agenda. But could it be true that such an evil person was successful in yeshivah? Could it be that he grew as a ben Torah, as a talmid chacham?
Before addressing that question, let us turn to another point. There is also a report spreading that in none of Walder's books is there any mention of God. This seems to be based on another claim by Rabbi Meiselman, that years ago it was already clear that there was something wrong with Walder, because "in 15 children’s books, he does not mention the Ribbono Shel Olam once, which is highly suspicious." Well, a commentator to an earlier post decided to actually investigate the claim, and randomly looked at two of Walder's books. He found that they were absolutely full of references to the Ribbono Shel Olam, as well as to religious themes in general!
Obviously Rabbi Meiselman's claim is false, though it well serves his agenda of arguing that Walder was a rasha because he wasn't a proper Ben Torah. But what are we to make of Walder's references to God? Was all this just part of his elaborately crafted manipulations? Or did he really believe in God?
This is a broader question that goes beyond Chaim Walder. Do frum resha'im - those who attack women, those who steal from others - believe in God? And if not, is their entire frum appearance just a scam? I've been thinking about this topic for many years, and seeking insights of others. And my tentative conclusions are as follows.
It seems to me that it's comparable to the charedi purported belief that learning Torah protects from harm. A lot of people who purport to believe this act in such a way that clearly shows otherwise. During one of the Gaza wars, the Grodno yeshivah relocated from Ashdod to Beit Shemesh, and claimed that they were providing protection to Beit Shemesh (which, unlike Ashdod, didn't need it. They obviously don't really believe that Torah protects. But they nevertheless believe that they believe it.
It's difficult to know to what extent anyone - good or bad - actually believes in God. Some people have a high code of moral conduct, and they may believe that this is because they fear God, but who knows if this is really the reason. And even those who do act immorally believe that they believe in God.
The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt reports that overwhelmingly, evil people do not believe that they are doing evil. Everyone, even Nazis, rationalizes to themselves that they are doing the right and necessary thing. Accordingly, it does not conflict with their self-image. A women who confided in me about how she was molested by a prominent person in the American yeshivish community told me that when she asked him if Hashem wanted him to be doing this, he assured her that Hashem understood. And he probably believed it.
The Gemara tells us that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai's dying wish for his students was that their fear of God should equal their fear of man. The Gemara's point is that people's fear of God - even the disciples of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai - is generally less than their fear of man. (And the corollary of this is that what stops people committing crimes is not fear of God so much as it is fear of man.) But all such people certainly believe that they fear God!
In my life, I have known, to a greater or lesser degree, five sexual predators. All of them were rabbis. (This should certainly not be taken as any indication that all or most or many rabbis are sexual predators - I know many hundreds of rabbis!). With two of them, it was obvious from the outset that there was something seriously "off" about them. But with the other three, there was no indication. With one of them, even though I now know intellectually that he is a predator, I still can't begin to wrap my head around it. And all five rabbis were, and four still are, very frum. They sincerely believe that they sincerely believe in Hashem, and act accordingly in all areas of bein Adam LeMakom.
It's important for people to realize this. Because otherwise, people let their guard down. And people reject claims that "real" rabbis could be harming people. And if people are harmed by a very frum, very knowledgeable rabbi, they are inclined to believe that it must be they themselves who have a problem.
I would like to finish by reminding everyone that if you actually want to make a difference about all this, there is something concrete that you can do. You can support the efforts of the amazing but woefully underfunded organization called Magen. (It will also be nice for them to be receiving donations instead of the numerous death threats that they are getting lately.) You can learn more about their work, and send a donation, at their newly updated website http://magen-israel.org.
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