Court Hears 22 Accusations of Sexual Assault by Haredi Author Chaim Walder

Therapists, rabbinical court judges, rabbis and professionals described alleged cases of forced sexual relations and sexual harassment of women, girls and boys who had come to Walder for treatment

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
Chaim Walder, in 2011.
Chaim Walder in 2011.Credit: David25
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

UPDATE: Haredi author Chaim Walder dies by suicide after dozens of sexual assault allegations

The rabbinical court in Safed said Sunday that it had heard 22 testimonies describing sexual assault by the celebrity Haredi author Chaim Walder, considerably expanding on the initial report first reported by Haaretz in November.

The court, headed by Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed and a leader in dealing with cases of sexual assault in the ultra-Orthodox community, presented the evidence to a number of senior religious court judges a few days ago.

The evidence brought before the rabbinical court included many more allegations against Walder than appeared in the Haaretz expose, which reported three women’s allegations that Walder sexually assaulted them, in two cases when they were minors. In addition to hearing testimony from the alleged victims themselves, the court was also given taped conversations involving Walder and documents, Haaretz has learned. The testimony was cross-referenced with evidence and correspondence that supported the alleged victims’ allegations.

In addition, the rabbinical court spoke with therapists, rabbinical court judges, rabbis and professionals who testified about other men and women they allege were victimized by Walder. They described alleged cases of forced sexual relations and sexual harassment of women, girls and boys who had come to him for treatment, with the earliest accounts going back 25 years ago and the most recent ones occurring six months ago. A good many of the assaults were said to have been carried out in Walder’s book storeroom in Bnei Brak, as well as in his office, his car and in hotels.

Chaim Walder at an outdoor event sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality in 2011.Credit: Yoninah

One woman who appeared before the court said Walder had had sexual relations with her regularly when she was under the age of 14. Another testified that Walder had had sexual relations with her against her will in his office in Bnei Brak when she came to him for treatment. According to the second woman, Walder took advantage of her at a time when she was under great emotional and financial stress, sending her to an acquaintance of his he said would help her. Instead, the women told the court, the acquaintance sexually assaulted her. “Walder turned me into a prostitute,” she said.

Two other women, one age 19 and the other age 17 at the time, testified that Walder had touched them against their will when they came to him for treatment.

An ultra-Orthodox therapist told the court that Walder forced himself on one of her patients. A male Haredi therapist said Walder had assaulted an 18-year-old woman who had served as a counsellor at his camp. The same therapist alleged that Walder had taken advantage of another woman who had come to him for counselling by having sexual relations with her.

An ultra-Orthodox man who helps young people who have dropped out of ultra-Orthodox society said a 15-year-old boy and a girl had come to him for treatment after they were assaulted by Walder. Another therapist said a 9-year-old boy was assaulted by Walder at his camp and a 12-year-old boy was attacked when he was a counsellor at the same camp.

A woman told the court that a friend of hers had had sexual relations with Walder on a regular basis from age 16, starting when she attended his camp. Another woman testified to incidents in recent years in which Walder sexually harassed a friend of hers for a prolonged period at her workplace, as well as about another friend who was sexually assaulted by Walder when she came to him with her son. “At the end of the treatment, Walder pushed her forcibly against a wall and kissed her against her will,” the woman said.

Another woman told the court that Walder had sexually harassed her after coming to him for treatment at age 16 and a student at a school in Jerusalem. Testimony was also given about a 9-year-old boy who had come to Walder for treatment about a decade ago and had been assaulted. Public figures also told the court about a woman whom Walder took advantage of when she came to him for treatment and that Walder had signed a non-disclosure agreement with her.

Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, in 2011.

“There is no doubt at all that these incidents are only a small part of the evil that was done,” Rabbi Eliyahu wrote on his Facebook page. “The Torah teaches us to treat actions like Walder’s with abhorrence and severity, as if they were murder. If we don’t warn the public about his actions he will persist in them, and the blame will be on us.”

The Haredi court has no legal authority under Israeli law. Nevertheless, its conclusions will likely have an impact on the Haredi community. Moreover, many of the allegations against him occurred within the statute of limitations, which will enable victims to sue in regular courts.

So far, however, no police complaints have been filed, and the police have not opened an official investigation into the allegations. In the case of Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder of the Zaka emergency response organization who was accused of multiple sexual offenses, police opened an investigation immediately after the publication of allegations, even though no complaint had been filed.

Although the alleged victims have not yet filed a police complaint, some are considering filing a civil lawsuit against Walder. A police official told Haaretz that the decision to open an investigation is under the purview of the investigations division and that "it is difficult to determine what the various considerations" are for opening one.

Because the court operates according to Haredi legal standards, evidence was also presented of what would be regarded under Israeli law as noncriminal acts involving relationships Walder had with married women. Among others, the court was presented with a document showing that he had relations with Walder while she was married and continued to do so after her divorce, despite a rabbinical court order barring them.

Walder claimed that the “Chaim W.” appearing in the documents was not him. However, Walder’s whole name and identity number appear in the court minutes and addenda shown to the Safed Rabbinical Court name him as the one not allowed to have relations with the woman.

The court was also presented with tapes, among them of Walder himself, which could shed light on his conduct since the allegations were made public. As noted at the time, Walder vehemently denied many of the accusations against him.

In a tape presented to the court, Walder is heard speaking to a woman who admitted to her husband that she had been having an affair with Walder for years and whom Walder instructed on how to hide evidence from the court.

He urged her to rescind her confession, telling the woman: “Listen to me well, even if they were to bring a picture of me with you, I would deny it. I would say it’s Photoshopped. I would never admit [it], never.” In addition, Walder told her, “There’s a simple way to undercut your own testimony. You can turn the situation around. You can say that he threatened you.”

In addition, since the original report was published in Haaretz, Walder has “threatened” various individuals that he intended to commit suicide. The tape indicates that this was a well-known ploy of his, which he used it in the conversation with the woman that was recorded. “Listen, if this comes out, I’ll shoot myself, let me be clear. There’s no question about it because, from my point of view, it’s the end of my life. I don’t care. You know I have a death wish. It’s not my problem,” he is heard saying on the tape.

Walder was asked to appear before the rabbinical court but refused, claiming that it had decided his case before hearing his version of events.

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