Backlash mounts against Orthodox children’s book author accused of abusing minors, surprising many

(JTA) — In what some are heralding as a watershed moment in the Orthodox world, reports of sexual abuse by a prolific children’s book author have now led several booksellers to stop making his work available.

Meanwhile, advocates and at least one chief rabbi are urging Orthodox parents to remove Chaim Walder’s books from their homes. Many do.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an investigation last week alleging that Walder, therapist and writer, psychologically treated several minors before abusing them. After the first report, new allegations emerged of other women who said they were abused by Walder while in her custody.

Because Walder is very popular among haredi Jews, whose children have sent him letters with their secrets, the news sparked a cascade of reactions. Some worried that taboos against airing abuse allegations outside of Orthodox circles, along with other longstanding norms that protect abusers, could mean Walder could walk away unscathed.

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This concern seemed to fade after Eichler’s Judaica in Brooklyn announced on Tuesday that it would suspend sales of Walder’s booksincluding 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 no doubt come at a high financial cost, as these books were bestsellers – but as a company that cares about our community, we cannot ignore the pleas received on behalf of the alleged victims,” ​​said bookstore owner Mordy Getz.

Getz also said that while many rabbis only expressed support for his actions privately, he found it significant that at least one prominent rabbi went 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 its column and urged him to withdraw from public life, Haaretz reported. An Israeli supermarket chain that catered to haredi shoppers announced it would also remove Walder’s titles, and its radio show went off the air. The Sephardic chief rabbi of Tzfat, an Israeli town, has decreed that families should not keep Walder’s books in their homes.

And Thursday, Walder’s longtime publisher, Feldheim Publishers of Nanuet, New York, tweeted that it would take Walder’s book off the shelves while the allegations against the author are investigated.

“We are non-judgmental and sincerely hope he can clear his name,” said the publisher, who has published more than 20 Walder volumes over three decades.

While some criticized the tone of Feldheim’s statement as being overly deferential to 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 chareidi world” and “a massive shift from past denials and cover-ups.”

“It’s an incredible development” writes Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer. “The Walder affair is fundamental. Feldheim obviously didn’t want to give up on one of their best-selling authors and hopes that Walder will be rehabilitated, but the public pressure in the haredi community was too much for them.

The Orthodox families in which parents and children were raised thanks to Walder’s work are also reacting to the revelations.

Rahel Bayar, a former Orthodox sexual abuse prosecutor who now runs a consultancy aimed at helping organizations, including synagogues and camps, prevent sexual abuse, wrote on her social media accounts Thursday that she had received “so many” questions from parents about what to do in their own homes. She urged them to throw the books away – and explain why to their children.

“Allowing a predator takes many forms and in this case, continuing to engage in alleged pedophile content – ​​child-directed content, no less – allows for its normalization. So, we don’t,” a Bayar wrote, adding, “Your children need to know that if something dangerous happens to them, they will be believed.”

On Instagram, a hub of Orthodox women’s activism, 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.”


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Grover Z. Barnes