(JTA) – In what some herald a turning point in the Orthodox world, reports of sexual abuse by a prolific author of children’s books have now led several booksellers to stop making his work available.
Meanwhile, advocates and at least one prominent rabbi are urging Orthodox parents to remove Chaim Walder’s books from their homes. Many do.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz last week published an investigation alleging that Walder, therapist and writer, psychologically treated several minors before mistreating them. After the first report, new allegations emerged from additional women who said they were abused by Walder while he was in his care.
Because Walder is very popular among Haredi Jews, of whom the children sent him letters with their secrets, the news triggered a cascade of reactions. Some feared that taboos against spreading abuse allegations outside Orthodox circles, as well as other long-standing norms that protect abusers, could mean Walder could come out unscathed.
That worry seemed to fade after Eichler’s Judaica in Brooklyn announced on Tuesday that he would suspend sales of Walder’s books, including his “Kids Speak” series, which can be found in many Orthodox homes in the United States and Israel.
“This decision was not taken lightly and will undoubtedly come at a high financial cost, as these books were bestsellers – but as a company that cares about our community, we cannot ignore them. calls we have received on behalf of the alleged victims, “said bookstore owner Mordy Getz.
Getz also said that although many rabbis expressed support for his actions only in private, he found it significant that at least one prominent rabbi had gone public, referring to Rabbi Aryeh Klapper, Dean of the Center for Modern Torah Leadership in Sharon, Massachusetts.
In the following days, the Israeli Orthodox newspaper which published Walder for years suspended his column and urged him to retire from public life, Haaretz reported. An Israeli supermarket chain catering to haredi buyers announced that they would be removing Walder’s titles as well, and their radio show was cut off. The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, an Israeli town, has ruled that families should not keep Walder’s books in their homes.
And Thursday, Walder’s longtime editor, Feldheim Publishers of Nanuet, New York, tweeted that he would remove Walder’s book from the shelves while the allegations against the author are investigated.
“We are not judging and sincerely hope that he can clear his name,” said the publisher, who has published more than 20 volumes of Walder in three decades.
While some have criticized the tone of Feldheim’s statement as being too respectful of Walder, the response to his decision, and that of Getz, focused more on the precedent they set. People called the decision “earthquake,” a “fundamental change,“”a big step for the world chareidi” and “a massive change from the denials and cover-ups of the past. “
“It’s an incredible development”, writes Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer. “The Walder case is decisive. Feldheim obviously didn’t want to drop any of their bestselling authors and hope that Walder will be rehabilitated, but the public pressure in the Haredi community was too much for them.
Orthodox families in which parents and children were raised thanks to Walder’s work are also responding to the revelations.
Rahel Bayar, a former Orthodox sexual abuse prosecutor who now heads a consultancy firm aimed at helping organizations, including synagogues and camps, prevent sexual abuse, wrote on his social media accounts Thursday that she had received “so many” questions from parents about what to do in their own home. She urged them to throw out the books – and explain why to their children.
“Allowing a predator takes many forms and in this case, continuing to engage in content from an alleged pedophile – content aimed at children, no less – allows its normalization. So we don’t do it, ”wrote Bayar. She added, “Your children should know that if something dangerous happens to them, they will be believed. “
On Instagram, an activism hub for Orthodox women, many mothers posted photos of the books they said they were throwing away. Without naming Walder, Shoshana Greenwald, for example, wrote: “As you can see from the missing cover, this book has been read many times. No more.”