"We Can't Judge Rapists. Only Journalists."
I was hoping to move on from the Walder mess, but something came to my attention which has to be addressed. It's something that Rav Berkovits mentioned, and which has been vaguely messaged from many parts of charedi society. But now I saw it spelled out, nauseatingly, in an essay by the generally wise and respected Rebbetzen Tziporah Heller-Gottlieb. Seriously, I feel that I have to give a warning before linking to her essay, as it is immensely triggering.
People have been sending me statements and recordings from a variety of rabbis and educators in the charedi world who condemned Walder, as if to point out their greatness, but that's a pretty low bar. Yes, Rebbetzen Heller acknowledges Walder as a serial predator. But there are a number of very serious problems with her essay. And for a woman of such influence to be saying such things is truly disturbing.
First of all, Rebbetzen Heller describes Walder as having suffered a non-Torah punishment called "Death By Shaming." This is an amplification of the terrible message sent out by Rav Gershon Edelstein, and it is wrong, wrong, wrong. No, Walder was not killed by others, and he did not die of shame. He killed himself on the day that the police started on his case, in order to avoid the consequences and trick people into martyring him. It was perfectly appropriate and necessary for everyone to shame him. And to guilt victims into thinking that they hold some responsibility for his death is horrific.
Then Rebbetzen Heller describes Lashon Hara as a "killer." Well, yes, it can be, but this was a case where speaking badly about Walder was a mitzvah and had nothing to do with his death (and would still have been a mitzvah even if it had caused it). Almost unbelievably, she invokes the verse of Lo saamod al dam reyacha (do not stand by as your brother's blood is spilled) as applying to Walder as well as his victims! Needless to say, that is a complete and utter perversion of the passuk.
But then comes the problem which I alluded to at the beginning of the post. Rav Berkovitz had mentioned something about not judging people, but Rebbetzen Heller goes into this in great detail. She writes that "you can’t ever allow yourself to be a judge unless you are a genuine dayan who has to adjudicate a case." She writes that success and fame led Walder to "lose his balance." She claims that "Pirkei Avos tells you not to judge anyone until you stand in their place, where something pure remains."
This is so, so wrong, and such a perversion of Judaism. We absolutely must call out and condemn evil when we see it. The Torah is full of exhortations in that regard! Moshe not-yet-Rabbeinu did not have to wait for a Beis Din before accusing the Israelite beating another Israelite of being a rasha. And as for the misuse of the Mishnah in Avot 2:4, which states, "Do not judge a person until you have stood in their place," it has nothing do with assuming that something pure exists within everybody. It's simply encouraging us to think twice before taking a holier-than-thou attitude to someone for making a bad decision in a difficult situation. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't condemn serial murderers and rapists, for Heaven's sakes!
The most bizarre thing about Rebbetzen Heller's essay is that for all that she goes on about how one cannot judge people, and how even someone like Walder had something pure inside him and produced books that were "sensitively written," she has no qualms whatsoever about performing a judgment and character assassination on the Haaretz journalist that exposed Walder! She describes him as "supercilious" and as someone who spends other people's money digging up dirt on the Orthodox community, and says that he has little regard for the truth. Aside from the total lack of hakarat hatov for these journalists being the only ones who finally caused Walder's abuse to stop and did what the chareidi leadership could not and would not do, what happened to all her moralizing about not judging people?! Does that really only apply to charedi rapists, and not to secular whistle-blowers?!
It's just astonishing that such a generally wise and revered educator can send such terrible messages. Not surprisingly, there was an enormous backlash by those of her followers that are on Facebook (which may reflect a particular demographic; one fears that her non-Facebook disciples might be swallowing what she says). As I was writing this, Rebbetzen Heller issued a sort of clarification/ apology, in which she says that it was hard for her initially to accept that such a beloved figure could have been such a monster, and she regrets not demonstrating more sympathy for the victims. But she does not actually retract anything she said, and she doubles down and says "death by shaming is real" and that while this particular Haaretz expose happened to be correct, one can never accept such stories without their being verified by a Beis Din (!). This is a total perversion not only of Judaism, but of plain common sense.
Yes, there are fortunately plenty of charedi rabbis and educators saying the correct and obvious thing now. But the terrible, dangerous messages sent out by the likes of Rav Leff and Rebbetzen Heller - precisely the people who are generally widely respected for the wisdom and inspiration that they impart - need to be denounced. I wish that people actually in the charedi community would do this rather than me, but unfortunately this isn't happening.
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