For the last 48 hours I have been on call, non-stop and it has felt like a gut punch. I have received well over 40 calls, texts, emails and DM’s from across several time zones. A few were from Israeli media sources seeking comment, but I had little time for that. The majority of those reaching out to me were hurting, emotionally distraught about the two major events related to Chaim Walder. The first issue was that after it became public that a Beit Din, a Jewish court of law, received testimony from 22 people and deemed, without any doubt, that Walder was indeed guilty of sexual abuse he refused to appear. He then took his own life, as he promised to do, if one of his victims went public. Many of the callers asked why he would die by suicide particularly since the Beit Din offered him the opportunity to appear in the court, make amends, apologize and go on to lead a better life. The callers, as I, all felt deprived of seeing him in court, any court, receiving a fair measure of justice and offering contrition.
I have ambivalent feelings as to how the legal aspects were handled and would have much preferred to have a secular justice system handling the case. If his community had allowed that he may have been jailed and still alive. But that is a formality. Jailing may not prevent suicide as was prominently seen in the Jeffrey Epstein case – Epstein managed to die by self-hanging despite being in lock up in a supposedly monitored jail cell.
All of this, Walder’s conviction and suicide, leads to a sense of betrayal. But these situations are much more common than most see. Sexual abusers are, in the popular jargon, psychopaths. They display many of the following behaviors: A disregard for right and wrong, lying to exploit and deceive, expressions of cynicism and callousness, using others for personal gain or personal pleasure, having excessive arrogance and being highly opinionated, repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty, impulsivity, aggression, and a lack of empathy, no remorse, no consideration for negative consequences of their behavior and risk taking. If caught they attempt to lie or bully their way out of it. If they can’t, they project blame on to their victims. If they still can’t and are feeling trapped, they are likely to commit suicide, as one recent review study found. In fact, those accused of child sexual abuse are anywhere from three to 50 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. This is in line with the general understanding of a psychopath’s behavior. The attitudes that they can never be wrong coupled with the “You will miss me when I am gone” manipulation fit the framework of the pathology.
The second issue that all those contacts had was – How could he have so many defenders? How could he have been given what looked like a hero’s funeral? How could some of the greatest leaders of his community accuse those he abused of shaming him when it was he who harmed them? He created a sense of pain and shame and dissociation to them!
In March of 2018 I posted an article entitled Rabbis Misunderstand Sexual Abuse. I have no standing to debate Halacha, but I feel compelled to repeat a small piece of what I wrote in that article. I noted “There is Talmudic precedent for dealing with abusive rabbis. The Talmud in Moed Katan, 17a tells of a rabbi who had a bad reputation, because as the Talmudic interpreters indicate, he was sexually inappropriate. He was excommunicated and not allowed back to the community.” The Talmud goes on to state that upon his death this rabbi was not even allowed to be buried among his peers.
There is little question that when someone is sexually abused they may suffer a lifetime of pain. There is little doubt that, except in cases of child custody, particularly when there are many complainants, in this case 22, there is no doubt of the individual’s culpability and there is little doubt that much more is yet to be done to educate our communities about the scourge of child sexual abuse. Walder shamed himself.