Gentle reminder that the Baruch Lanner scandal was widely considered a watershed moment and yet Orthodox institutions continue to look the other way on child sex abuse. There will be no real watershed moment until there is trauma-informed Halacha mandating us to believe victims.
Chaim Walder had dozens of victims. Baruch Lanner might have had more. You know why the community acted? Because victims don’t get together to make this stuff up. It’s a numbers game.
How do I know it’s a numbers game? Because of the leaders (yes, Modern Orthodox leaders too) who didn’t do anything when they knew about 1 or 2 victims. And press generally won’t cover it unless there are more. So the leaders are in the clear. And the victims suffer in silence.
The Orthodox Union didn’t conduct an investigation into Lanner until the @NYJewishWeek published a series in 2000. This was despite the fact that senior leaders definitely knew about the abuse and didn’t stop it, including Executive VP Rabbi Raphael Butler, who later resigned.
Butler, by the way, never admitted wrongdoing in his resignation letter, despite not acting on Lanner’s abuse for years. President Harvey Blitz wrote that he only “reluctantly” accepted the resignation. And the OU denied they made Butler the fall guy when others definitely knew.
And other Modern Orthodox institutions looked the other way too. A Beit Din (rabbinic tribunal) convened by the Rabbinical Council of America in 1989 ruled that Lanner was guilty, but its members did not publicize this ruling or order the OU to fire Lanner.
The rabbis on this court later publicly apologized, but I’m not here to drag them. I’m here only to remind you that none of the institutional response we’re seeing now is about believing victims. If that were true, the institutions would have acted years ago.
(All of the information about the Lanner case is freely available on Lanner’s Wikipedia page and the citations there, by the way).
I’m not saying every rabbi and community leader who knew Walder knew about his abuse. I’m saying there are definitely important people who could have done something about it who knew. @AronRabino1, one of the authors of the Haaretz piece, says it here:

And the institutions that deplatformed Walder, mostly Israeli media outlets but also @Feldheim, did so without any statement of support for his victims, and in Feldheim’s case, with a mitigating statement hoping the allegations were false. Only @MordyGetz took a real stand.
Do we need further evidence that this is not about believing victims? How difficult is it to say “our hearts go out to the victims?”

No. This is about two things. 1. PR, and 2. the fact that Walder’s behavior was sexually improper. It’s not about the victims.
How do I know this? Because besides R. Shmuel Eliyahu, mainstream Charedi rabbis have been silent. Why? Because there’s no need to release a statement that adultery is wrong. It’s obvious that it’s wrong, and it’s obvious that a children’s writer shouldn’t be doing it.
Charedi rabbis generally do not issue public condemnations when the behavior or content under question is clearly forbidden by Torah law. So when it’s not clearly forbidden, they have to be circumspect in their language and invoke their authority to get people to adhere.
It’s helpful to categorize this type of letter as one that most often is concerned with restricting the consumption of certain types of content. A “ban” letter. Books, music, classes by a certain rabbi or teacher might be its focus.
Take this letter and accompanying pashkevil, issued by the Edah HaCharedis in Jerusalem in June 2021. It bans Walder’s books because “they are far from the worldview of God-fearing Jews and are afflicted with the illness of the horrible and cursed secular enlightenment.”
Some are trying to claim that the Edah “foresaw” the revelation of Walder’s abuse or otherwise “knew” he must have been engaged in sexual immorality. It’s nonsense. While outright secularism is indeed associated with libertinism, having a few “secular”ideas≠sexual degeneration.
But that’s beside the point. The point: the rabbis who wrote the letter did not name one secular idea in Walder’s work. They used opaque and emotionally compelling language to sell their ban. If there were anything obviously bad in it, there would be no need for the letter.
So can’t we argue that rabbis didn’t issue another letter about Walder because child abuse is obviously bad? Unfortunately, no. Because Charedi leaders also issue responses to current events even when there is an obvious violation or contradiction of their Torah worldview.
A word of clarification: my discussion of pashkevilin here refers only to those that accompany official letters from rabbinic bodies. There are always plenty of unauthorized pashkevilin hanging up. Those are the work of individuals, not rabbinic or communal leaders.
Just Google “pashkevil” or take a walk in a Charedi neighborhood in Israel. Besides for death notices, most are decrying certain policies of the Israeli government that unfairly target Charedim, recent trends in women’s clothing that are deemed immodest, or smartphone use.
What all of these have in common is that they’re responding to a recent development that directly affects a significant segment of the community. It’s obvious to community members that what’s being condemned is taboo, but sometimes people need reminders.
No one needs a reminder that adultery is bad. It’s so rare in the Charedi community that to condemn it in a letter is a waste of ink. Even if a famous and highly connected person like Chaim Walder does it.
The question is if people need a reminder that child sex abuse is bad. If leaders who issue these letters do not write one about CSA, it can be safely assumed that they do not believe it is a serious issue that directly affects the a significant segment of the community.
So to summarize: Charedi rabbis had an opportunity to write a letter (of the second, current events type) condemning Walder’s abuse. Instead, they issued private decisions to media outlets. That they did this shows that they see this as a content consumption issue (“ban letter”).
I’m not trying to pick on Charedi communities here. Remember, I started this thread talking about the failures of Modern Orthodox communities, which in some ways may be considered worse. My point is this: stop pretending this is about victims when it’s about everything but them.
When Orthodox Halacha has a framework for assessing the allegations of individual victims using the latest advances in research on trauma and memory, and rabbinic leaders issue a clear, unequivocal endorsement for going directly to the authorities in every case, then we’ll talk.
There’s so much to work with. Perek HaChovel. Migu. Umdina D’Vei Dina. Anan Sahadei. To name just a few. The fact that no one has written on this yet is frankly pathetic.

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More from @wordpaley

17 Nov
Update: Radio Kol Chai, one of the top 2 Charedi radio stations in Israel, just suspended Walder's show. There are rumors his column in Yated Neeman will be suspended as well. It is possible these media outlets are just doing damage control, but this is still unprecedented.
The Charedi-owned department store chain Osher Ad has also removed Walder's books from its stores.

This would likely not be possible without the hard work of the Charedi feminist organization @Nivcharot and feminist activists @Estyshushan, @pninapf, @EfratChocron, @AvigayilKar, and many more I'm forgetting. They are making real change. Follow them!
Read 7 tweets
16 Nov
It’s now been more than 3 days since this news broke. And the only people talking about it here are the people who always call out abuse.

I want to be shocked, but I’m used to it already.

A thread on how the institutional structure of the Orthodox community perpetuates abuse:
First I’ll lay out the 3 problems with Orthodox infrastructure that perpetuate abuse, then I’ll explain each one by one in separate threads.
1. There’s no check on men in power.
2. Teacher is a lowly, unglamorous job so no one cares to properly evaluate their suitability to teach kids.
3. The well-being and right to self-determination of Orthodox children is not prioritized over their staying within the Orthodox fold.
Read 30 tweets
28 Oct
I gotta say, I did not expect to have an excuse to post this thread, so thanks Rabbi Arthur Schneier’s lucky stars, I guess?

7 Myths About Jewish Astrology, Debunked, a Thread
Myth #1: Astrology is avodah zarah (idolatry).

Fact: Astrology is only avodah zarah if you believe the cosmos control your fate and there is nothing controlling the cosmos. Or, of course, if you pray directly to the sun, moon, stars, or planets.
Even Rambam, the great rationalist, who writes trenchantly against star-worship in the first chapter of his Laws of Idolatry, believed the Zodiac was significant enough to mention in a halakhic work. He also believed celestial bodies have a higher level of knowledge than humans.
Read 25 tweets
22 Oct
Reactions to the Akeidah as Rotten Tomatoes reviews, a thread:

⭐️=audience review
Avraham Avinu
Be’er Sheva

🍅 16 Nisan 2003

While “Akeidah” goes a bit too hard on the melodrama, ultimately it is a significant theological accomplishment that will leave viewers with questions they will never be able to answer.

Original score: A-
Be’er Sheva

[Not available for comment. Will be back in about 3 years]
Read 25 tweets
20 Oct
Read. this.

And if you think the program you went on (or work for) is immune to this kind of abuse and gaslighting because there’s no creepy guy on staff, think again. The power imbalance on these “future leaders” programs is a feature, not a bug.

A thread: (1/24)
Many, if not most, adolescents have a hard time wrapping their head around complex philosophical and sociopolitical issues without taking a emotion-driven hardline stance, no matter how smart they are. It’s a developmental thing, not an intelligence thing.…
This is why teenagers tend to love grand unified theories and simplistic explanations of things. It allows them to sidestep the complexity of reality, which they generally try to avoid because they don’t need more confusing and dissonant emotions than they already have.
Read 24 tweets
12 Oct
thesis: life evolved/created to be progressively better at keeping time. the human body is the most advanced chronological device, with a resolution of 330 billion time units/day (# of cell divisions). it has cyclical (skin, menses, sleep) and linear (brain, telomeres) clocks.
Using Jewish thought’s 4 categories of the natural world:

🪨inanimate: stays the same forever
🌱plant: grows fast when young, then stays largely the same for a very long time
🐒animal: similar lifecycle to humans but no semiotic memory or free will, so limited ability to change
This can also be measured by the relative difficulty of determining age:

🪨: nearly impossible to determine age
🌱: once mature, very difficult except if you kill it to count tree rings
🐒: difficult to determine except in early and late life
👥: extremely easy—just ask for bday
Read 12 tweets

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