Struggling With the Tragedy of Chaim Walder: 7 Thoughts. By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

Struggling With the Tragedy of Chaim Walder: 7 Thoughts. By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Chaim Walder

In recent weeks, our youth have had much to struggle with, r”l.  Chaim Walder, a famous author in the Torah community, was accused of horrific actions in a virulently anti-Chareidi and openly racist newspaper.  Subsequently, a Bais Din was held that examined the evidence and heard testimony from a number of witnesses including recordings. The Beis Din released information, perhaps too prematurely, that Mr. Walder engaged in some very serious predatory behaviors.  Perhaps it was too premature, but their intention was to save the lives of others.  Mr. Walder took his own life by gunshot at the site of his son’s grave – a son that had passed away from cancer, r”l.  We need to get some perspective and direction on seven essential issues.

SEVEN POINTS TO CONSIDER

  1. The first point is the issue of davening. We should be davening for victims of predatory behavior.  Many people do not realize that predatory behavior is truly a matter of Pikuach Nefesh.  It is far from harmless.  Victims are often scarred for life and the predatory behavior can cause all sorts of repercussions such as suicide, attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, drug abuse.  And it can effect three generations.  We should ask and beseech Hashem to help eliminate this horrible scourge, and also take action ourselves.  If you see something, say something applies here more than anywhere else.
  2. The second point is the concern and love that we must have for Chaim Walder’s wife and children. They are entirely innocent and need our love and tefilos.  Picture, for a moment, what has happened here:  One month, they are on top of the world with a seemingly heroic father who helps people,and is a famous author. A short time later, all of that has been taken away from them.  Rachmana litzlan.  They need our love and our tefilos.
  3. The third issue is about Rav Eliyahu, a choshuv Rav and the Chief Rabbi of Tzfas. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the son of former Sefardic chief Rabbi, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zatzal, had convened the Bais Din to hear the allegations against, Chaim Walder. How should we view his actions in this matter?      Shouldn’t our Rabbonim and leaders be kabdeihu vechasdeihu to remove a possible takalah in Klal Yisroel?  Isn’t there the raglayim ladavar and beyond here that Rav Elyashiv zt”l spoke about (see Yeshurun XV p. 670)?  Dayan Weiss zt”l (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. VIII #148) was asked whether one is permitted to turn in someone who is speeding excessively in a residential area where there are both elderly people and young children. He ruled that one may certainly do so, from a kal vaChomer argument from the words of the Shulchan Aruch (CM 378:8-9) and the Sma. The rationale Dayan Weiss employs is that the person has the equivalent status of a Rodef in how he is endangering the public.   That is certainly the case here.  True, there are many things in which the Chareidi world does not see eye-to-eye with Rabbi Eliyahu on, but he is well-respected as a Talmid Chochom and a tzaddik.  But isn’t this the right thing to do?  Rabbi Eliyahu and his Beis Din concluded that the author was, in fact, guilty of numerous predatory misdeeds, rachmana litzlan.  Vilifying him here, then is wrong.  This is not just a case of comparing the punishment for being mevazeh someone versus the punishment for the prohibition of aishes ish.  There is the matter of possible public pikuach nefesh here.  Rabbi Eliyahu was concerned for a bor b’reshus harabbim, a public hazard.  And this was a Beis Din at work.
  4. The fourth point is a sensitive one, but one that I had asked Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l about while driving him to a Torah uMesorah meeting in Camp Romemu in upstate New York. Rav Elyashiv zt”l had paskened that one does not take off trumos and maasros on a certain type of food because human beings do not eat it.  I had asked, what if a Rav personally knows that it is human food?  What should be done in such a case?  Rav Dovid zt”l responded that the Rav should tell people his understanding of the metzius, and, in fact, he is obligated to do so.  It must be done, however, with the greatest of Kavod.  Let us not make a mistake.  An active predator has the halachic status of a rodef.  He must be stopped because his actions directly cause victims to hurt themselves.  I was personally involved in unmasking such a predator a number of years ago.  We had identified seven victims in therapy who had engaged in attempts toward suicide.  This is no exaggeration.  Not many people realize the damage that  predators do.  Rabbi Eliyahu had incontrovertible evidence here that children were victimized.  Rav Dovid’s psak here is more nogayah in regard to a predator than to the idea of taking off trumos and maasros on Bran.
  5. The fifth point is the matter of the author having taken his own life. Suicide is a terrible aveirah from a Torah perspective. It is equal to murder according to the Rambam (Hilchos Rotzayach 2:2).  It should be made clear that this is incorrect behavior.  There is an exception when there is mental illness, but the tone of the note and the recordings do not reflect this. The letter that was left seemed more to reflect manipulative behavior than a state of mental illness. There is also the fact that he did leave a widow and orphaned children in the act.
  6. The sixth point deals with lessons to be learned from this entire tragedy. 1] We should have greater resources available where people can reach out for help against predators. Amudim, for example, is a remarkable organization that is truly necessary. 2] We should also work hand-in-hand with the authorities to ensure that people at risk for suicide are safe.  We just don’t have the abilities or resources to do otherwise.  3] We should try to keep a lower profile on all of these issues with the caveat that the public be properly protected.
  7. Finally, is the halachic question of what should be done with his books now. I would like to respectfully disagree with a ruling issued recently by Rav Shlomo Aviner shlita.  In 1959, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l penned a response to a Rebbe who was teaching in Rav Binyamin Kamenetsky zt”l’s Yeshiva of South Shore (IM EH Vol. I #96). The Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Dishon, had asked Rav Moshe about a certain “artist” who once had an excellent reputation. This artist had composed a number of musical compositions that had captured the hearts of the Torah community. Unfortunately, the artist had gone astray. Was it permitted to listen and sing the tunes that he had composed while he was still “fully kosher?”
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The underlying issue was whether one should give a “good name” to evildoers which would violate a principle found in the Talmud (Yuma 38b.)

Rav Moshe zt”l ruled that there is nothing wrong with doing so for tunes that he had composed while he was “fully kosher.” For tunes that he had composed after his fall, Rav Feinstein wrote:

 “It is likely that we should not be stringent since tunes do not essentially have to do with matters of Kedusha, however, Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh should avoid it.”

YOCHANAN KOHAIN GADOL: WERE THERE TWO OR ONE?

Rav Feinstein zt”l bases his ruling on the fact that some authorities (See Meleches Shlomo on Maaser Sheini) are of the view that the Yochanan Kohain Gadol who had promulgated many decrees in regard to Maaser Sheini – was, in fact, the same Yochanan Kohain Gadol who eventually became a Tzaduki. These decrees, however, were made while he was still “fully kosher.”

Rav Feinstein addresses the fact that the Rambam specifically points out that this was NOT the Yochanan Kohain Gadol who became a Sadduccee. Rav Feinstein writes that this would not mean that the Rambam held that it would have been forbidden to publicize his name along with the enactments – because why create a double argument on something when we do not have to?

He further wrote that tunes, are essentially a matter that has nothing to do with a Davar Shebekedusha, and should be no different than inventions of machinery or medicine.

THOSE THAT FORBID

Rav Menashe Klein ob”m (Mishneh Halachos Vol. VI #108), without mentioning the view of Rav Feinstein, comes to the exact opposite conclusion.  He writes that it is entirely forbidden to do so – even in regard to the tunes composed while he was still “kosher.”

Rav Moshe Stern ob”m (Be’er Moshe Vol. VI #74 in the notes), the Debriciner Rav, also forbids the matter and even writes that it is forbidden to sell tapes of such individuals. Indeed, Rav Stern writes that one must even look into a person who would even stoop to sell such tapes. Interestingly enough, Rav Stern also does not mention the more permissive view of Rav Feinstein on the topic.

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And while, most of the readership here, are not Skver Chassidim, the Halachic publication of the Skver Rebbe’s Kollelim (Zera Yaakov Gilyon #26) cites the more stringent view of Rav Moshe Stern in their halachic conclusions – ignoring entirely the view of Rav Feinstein.

What is the status of religious works and rulings, such as Eruvin, of those that have gone astray?

The issue, therefore, calls for a closer examination of the sources that are cited in order to understand what is the actual halacha. The stringent view compares the cases to a Sefer Torah that is written by Apikorsim which should be placed in Geniza and not used. Rav Feinstein, however, cites the Pischei Teshuvah in Yoreh Deah (281:2) who rules that if the author of the Sefer Torah became an Apikores after he had written the Torah – there is nothing wrong with the Sefer Torah.

This latter point is highly significant and it is somewhat wondrous how the stringent authorities could have overlooked this Pischei Teshuvah.

Rav Feinstein further writes that the “giving a good name” would only refer to the period of time that he was acting properly and correct, and thus would not be considered a halachic problem. Rav Feinstein also distinguishes between matters of Kfirah – religious infidelity and matters of personal failing in the area of unseemly activity.

It is not that the personal failing in unseemly activity is not problematic. The Shach writes (YD 251:1) that someone who regularly fails in one area of halacha is deemed an Avaryan. The Netziv (Shailos uTeshuvos maishiv Davar Vol. I #8) has a responsum that deals with a Sofer who was not careful in his halachic observance and concludes that the Tefillin that he had written are still kosher, but do require examination.

But also, what if we were to take the aforementioned Rambam at face value? Would we allow books that were written by a murderer?

TIMING IS CRUCIAL

Getting back to how the Be’er Moshe and Mishne Halachos might address the aforementioned Pischei Teshuvah, one can only assume that they questioned how it would be possible to ascertain exactly when the musician went astray? The answer to this question would lie in the notion of a Chezkas Kashrus (see Krisus 12a) – every person begins with the status that he is considered kosher until the moment when something new has clearly developed.

Thus, even according to the stringent view, one would have to research when the problems first began and only stay away from that which developed after that time.

TIMING

Timing would also be an issue even according to the responsum of the Netziv – as one would have to ascertain what Tefillin the Sofer may have written after he became lax in his halachic observance. Indeed, even Rav Feinstein’s permissive view did not apply to Bnei Torah and Baalei Nefesh – timing would, therefore, be an issue for Rav Feinstein’s view as well.

It is also clear that Rav Feinstein’s lenient view was predicated upon the idea that music is essentially something that does not directly relate to Davar Shebekudasha.

WHAT ARE INSPIRATIONAL BOOKS?

What about inspirational books, however? Are they a davar shebikedusha?  This issue is also somewhat nuanced, as it depends upon how we understand the issue of Elisha Ben Abuyah mentioned in Rav Feinsteins’s responsa as well. Did all the Torah of Elisha Ben Abuya mentioned in the Talmud strictly come from the time period before he “went astray?” Rav Feinstein understands this to be the case, but other authorities explain otherwise.  The author of the Kochvei Ohr seems to learn like the other authorities in regard to Rav Meir his student.  He concludes that only Rabbi Meir could have eaten the kernel and thrown away the chaff, but no one else.

As far as the argument that the books remain the parnassah of the author’s wife and children.  We should rather consider supporting them through the establishment of a fund, than to expose our children to the writings of someone who preyed upon our children.  We should get rid of them all as quickly as possible.

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