By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
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 beis din was convened and examined the evidence and heard testimony from a number of witnesses, including recordings. The beis din released information that Mr. Walder engaged in predatory behaviors. Perhaps they released that information prematurely, 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 who had passed away from cancer, R’l. We need to get some perspective and direction on seven essential issues.
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 repercussions such as suicide, attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse. And it can affect three generations. We should 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.
Concern For Chaim Walder’s Wife And Children
They are entirely innocent and need our love and tefillos. Picture, for a moment, what has happened here: One day, 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 tefillos.
A chashuv rav and the chief rabbi of Tzfas. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the son of former Sephardic chief rabbi, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, zt’l, convened the beis din to hear the allegations against Chaim Walder. How should we view his actions in this matter?
Shouldn’t our rabbanim and leaders be kabdeihu v’chasdeihu to remove a possible takalah in Klal Yisrael? Isn’t there the raglayim la’davar that Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, spoke about? True, there are many areas regarding which the chareidi world does not see eye-to-eye with Rabbi Eliyahu, but he is well-respected as a talmid chacham and a tzaddik. Rabbi Eliyahu and his beis din concluded that the Walder was guilty of numerous predatory misdeeds, R’l. Vilifying the rav here is wrong. This is not just a case of comparing the punishment for being mevazeh someone versus the punishment for the prohibition of eishes ish. There is the matter of possible public pikuach nefesh. Rabbi Eliyahu was concerned for a bor b’reshus ha’rabbim, a public hazard. And this was a beis din at work.
Stopping A Rodef
The fourth point is a sensitive one, but I had asked Rav Dovid Feinstein, zt’l, about it while driving him to a Torah Umesorah meeting in Camp Romimu in upstate New York. Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, had paskened that one does not take off terumos and ma’asros on a certain type of food because human beings do not eat it. I 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 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 inflict. Rabbi Eliyahu had incontrovertible evidence here that children were victimized. Rav Dovid’s psak here is more nogei’ah in regard to a predator than to the idea of taking terumos and ma’asros from bran.
Taking His Own Life
Suicide is a terrible aveirah from a Torah perspective. It is equal to murder according to the Rambam (Hilchos Rotzeiach 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 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 orphans in the act.
(1) We should have greater resources available so people can reach out for help against predators.
(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.
I would like to respectfully disagree with a ruling issued by Rav Shlomo Aviner, shlita. In 1959, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, penned a response to a rebbe who was teaching in Yeshiva of South Shore, led by Rav Binyamin Kamenetzky, zt’l (Igros Moshe E.H. 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 to and sing the tunes that he had composed while he was still “fully kosher?”
The underlying issue was whether one should give a “good name” to evildoers, which would violate a principle found in the Talmud (Yoma 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 kedushah; however, bnei Torah and ba’alei nefesh should avoid it.”
Rav Feinstein bases his ruling on the fact that some authorities (see Meleches Shlomo on Ma’aser Sheini) are of the view that the Yochanan Kohen Gadol who had promulgated many decrees in regard to ma’aser sheini was, in fact, the same Yochanan Kohen 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 Kohen Gadol who became a Sadducee. 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 she’b’kedushah, and should be no different than inventions of machinery or medicine.
Rav Menashe Klein (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—even in regard to the tunes composed while he was still “kosher.”
Rav Moshe Stern (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 stoop to sell such tapes. Interestingly, Rav Stern also does not mention the more permissive view of Rav Feinstein on the topic.
And while, most of the readership here are not Skver chassidim, the halachic publication of the Skverer Rebbe’s kollelim (Zera Yaakov Gilyon #26) cites the more stringent view of Rav Moshe Stern in the 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 calls for a closer examination of the sources that are cited in order to understand the actual halachah. The stringent view compares the cases to a sefer Torah that is written by apikorsim which should be placed in genizah 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 it, there is nothing wrong with the sefer Torah.
This latter point is highly significant, and it is somewhat astonishing 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 kefirah, 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 (Y.D. 251:1) that someone who regularly fails in one area of halachah is deemed an avaryan. The Netziv (She’eilos U’Teshuvos Meishiv Davar Vol. I #8) has a responsum that deals with a sofer who was not careful in his halachic observance, concluding that the tefillin he had written are still kosher but do require examination.
But 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 Mishneh 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 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 ba’alei 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 she’b’kedushah.
What about inspirational books, however? Are they a davar she’b’kedushah? This issue is also somewhat nuanced, as it depends upon how we understand the issue of Elisha ben Abuyah mentioned in Rav Feinsteins’s responsum 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, Elisha ben Avuyah’s student. He concludes that only Rabbi Meir could have “eaten the kernel and thrown away the chaff,” but no one else.
There is the argument that the books remain the parnassah of the author’s wife and children. We should perhaps rather consider supporting them through the establishment of a fund than to expose our children to the writings of someone who preyed upon other children.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.