In response to the firestorm that has erupted following the death by suicide of disgraced haredi religious author and educator Chaim Walder, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu (head of the Safed Rabbinical Court/Tzfat Beit Din) issued a detailed statement on his Facebook page to explain the reasons for the rabbis’ decision to convict Walder on accusations of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and rape.
Walder faced multiple accusations of sexually assaulting and raping minors and young adults, as well as having affairs with married women after an expose published by the Haaretz news outlet last month.
After Walder categorically refused to appear before the court despite a summons to do so, the rabbis ruled him guilty following evidence from 22 victims.
The next step would have been to refer the matter to Israel Police. Walder was instead found lifeless Monday morning on the grave of his son in the Segula Cemetery in Petach Tikva.
As head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Eliyahu has faced numerous questions from Walder’s colleagues, asking why the rabbis issued a ruling finding him guilty without having heard testimony directly from Walder.
The rabbi posted the following to his Facebook account in response.
Question: How was the Bais Din allowed to establish Chaim Walder’s guilt without hearing directly from the accused? Especially since they paskened (with certainty) that he was guilty?
- The Halacha requires us as Rabbanim (rabbis) to act against people who defile Beit Yisrael (the House of Israel). This involvement is not done with conventional parameters of Beit Din (rabbinical court) and we are not required to accept testimony before the defendant. Even more so when he regularly threatened women and they feared him.
- Despite this, we checked, investigated and questioned thoroughly. Witnesses testified that he committed adultery with married women for many years and they were forced to divorce because they were prohibited from their husbands. We saw rulings from other Batei Din (rabbinical courts) about these issues and supported the findings with additional unanimous evidence. In addition, we heard recordings in his own voice that attest to serious immoral acts, and we found him guilty without a doubt.
- Although it was clear to him that he was destroying homes and causing Jewish families to be hurt and become tamei (impure) he continued this behavior without stopping for a moment. We heard testimonies about 22 women and girls whom he assaulted, and there is no doubt that these cases are just a small fraction of the evil that he did.
- The Torah teaches us to treat Walder’s actions with the same severity as if it was murder. “For as a man will stand up against another man and murder him so is this thing.” Such acts bring anger upon Klal Yisrael (the People of Israel), evil decrees, and prevent our prayers from being heard.
- According to Halacha (Jewish Law) we are allowed to publicly lash him, threaten him, and humiliate him. We may remove him from being a shliach tzibbur (leader of public prayers) and stop him from teaching Jewish children. In addition to many other things that are not customary today.
- We don’t do these things [in these days], but we are still obligated to stop him. If we don’t warn the public about his actions and he continues, the blame will be on us, chalilah (God forbid). Due to the great responsibility on us to stop this [behavior] from happening in the future, we were forced to stop these abominations.
- We called upon Walder to take upon himself a path of teshuva. We sent people to convince him to repent, in order to prevent a huge Chilul Hashem (desecration of God’s Name) when his actions became public. Instead of repenting, he chose to threaten us through his messengers, just as they tried to threaten Rav Yehuda Silman shlit”a who paskened (ruled) that people to remove Walder’s books from their homes. It’s a pity that he doesn’t (didn’t) surrender and follow a path of teshuva (repentance).
Among a plethora of evidence, the Tzfat Beit Din (rabbinical court) was presented with a recording in which Walder was heard urging a married woman who had confessed to the rabbis about having an affair with him, to take back her testimony and conceal evidence relating to him.
“Come and learn something,” he was heard saying to her. “In life, everything can be concealed… even if they were to present a photograph of me next to you, I would deny it. I would say it was photoshopped. I will never admit to it, never.”
Walder advised the woman to instead say that her husband threatened her into reporting a fake event.
But the woman chose to testify before the court, presenting her version of the events that had taken place.
In the recording, Walder was heard threatening the woman, saying he would end his own life.
“Listen to me,” he said on the recording. “If this is publicized, I will shoot myself. Let this be clear to you, and don’t have any doubts. This would mean the end of my own life.”