Several leading ultra-Orthodox media outlets downplayed allegations of sexual abuse against celebrated Haredi children’s author Chaim Walder, after his death by apparent suicide on Monday.
Walder was a mainstay of ultra-Orthodox education in Israel who wrote dozens of children’s books that are found in most Orthodox homes. He appeared to have shot himself in Petah Tikva on Monday, after new allegations of sexual assault against him surfaced, in addition to previous accusations by several women.
Ultra-Orthodox media largely skirted the sexual assault allegations and did not mention suicide in obituaries published Monday.
The Behadrei Haredim news site described Walder as a “well-known writer and educator,” and highlighted a chain of summer camps he started. The obituary did not mention the abuse allegations or suicide.
The top story on the Haredim10 news website called Walder, “The man who influenced an entire generation of children.” Much of the article focused on his denial of the allegations against him, and on the work he did within the community.
It noted that the “tragic incident” of his death came after a Haaretz report that accused Walder of “alleged serious misdeeds.”
The Kikar Hashabbat ultra-Orthodox site mentions the allegations, toward the bottom of Walder’s obituary.
Several weeks ago, Walder was suspended from a radio program he hosted “due to evidence of inappropriate behavior,” the report said.
Walder “emphatically denied everything that was attributed to him,” said the report, which also did not mention suicide.
On social media, some lashed out at Haaretz’s Aaron Rabinowitz, whose award-winning reporting first brought the allegations against Walder to light.
“Who made you judge, jury, and executioner,” one person asked him.
Another vowed that Walder “will have his revenge from upon high. There’s a law and there’s a judge… Journalism kills, the Torah forgives those who return to the path. Now he’s totally clean.”
The Kipa news site published comments by prominent religious Zionist Rabbi David Stav, who told the paper that the ultra-Orthodox community had a duty to publish the allegations against Walder to prevent possible further abuse, despite fears of potential suicide.
Walder was found dead in a Petah Tikva cemetery on Monday next to the grave of his son, who died several years ago of cancer. Police said a man was found in the cemetery just before 1 p.m. with a gunshot wound. A passerby heard the shot and alerted authorities.
Walder had previously threatened to take his life over the revelation of accusations against him.
The author of 80 books, Walder, 53, had reportedly left his house early Monday after having holed up there for days, and his family had raised the alarm, concerned for his safety.
He was accused last month by three women who said he had sexually abused them when they were 12, 15, and 20, respectively. The accusations were published in the Haaretz newspaper and in their wake, several other women in the ultra-Orthodox community shared similar stories about Walder on social media.
Known as an educator and therapist in the Haredi community, Walder allegedly used his popularity and status to commit the acts.
On Sunday, an ultra-Orthodox rabbinical private court that deals with sexual abuse cases in the community said it had heard 22 testimonies from people — including young boys and girls — alleging abuse at Walder’s hands when they had gone to him for treatment over the years, considerably expanding the allegations already lodged against him.
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who heads the court, posted Sunday on Facebook that the court had found Walder guilty of the accusations, even though the author had not testified himself.
Walder announced last month that he was stepping away from public life to clear his name. His announcement came after the ultra-Orthodox Yated Ne’eman newspaper, where Walder was employed as a writer, warned him that if he would not take a leave of absence, he would be fired.
A number of other ultra-Orthodox entities severed their ties with Walder, a resident of Bnei Brak. Walder was removed from his work at the ultra-Orthodox radio station Radio Kol Chai and the Otiyot children’s magazine said it would stop publishing his stories.
Walder’s books were also removed from the shelves of the Osher Ad supermarket chain and the Jewish bookstore Eichler’s Judaica of Borough Park.