Chaim Eliezer Waldner (November 15, 1968 – December 27, 2021): A Life in Service of Haredi-Israeli Society
Chaim Eliezer Waldner's life and career were marked by a commitment to Haredi-Israeli society, particularly in the realm of literature and advocacy for children. His writings and activism had a significant impact on his community, and he received recognition for his efforts to address issues affecting Haredi youth.
However, his legacy is also marred by allegations of sexual exploitation and misconduct that surfaced in the later years of his life. These allegations, along with the subsequent actions taken by various Haredi organizations and rabbis in response to the accusations, cast a shadow over his reputation and have generated significant debate within the Haredi community.
It is essential to approach such cases with sensitivity, respect for due process, and a commitment to justice for all parties involved. The allegations against Waldner highlight the complex intersection of religious and legal issues in cases of this nature and underscore the importance of addressing such matters transparently and responsibly within any community.
Chaim Eliezer Waldner, a prolific writer and advocate for children in Haredi-Israeli society, was born on November 15, 1968, and passed away on December 27, 2021. His contributions spanned literature for children, youth, and adults, journalism, public speaking, and activism for the welfare of children within the Haredi community. Waldner was honored with the "Child's Shield" award by the National Council for Child Welfare.
Waldner was born and raised in the HaCarmel neighborhood of Haifa, to Shlomo and Penina Waldner. In his childhood, he sang in the "Renenu Chassidim" choir led by Chaim Banet. He attended a small yeshiva in Haifa and continued his education in larger yeshivas like Kol Torah and Knesses Chizkiyahu.
In 1989, he married and served as a military instructor after his release from the army. Following his military service, he continued working as an educator and gradually embarked on a literary career.
Starting in 1990, Waldner began writing a weekly column titled "Facing the Mirror" in the "Yated Ne'eman" newspaper, where he discussed various issues within the Haredi world and political matters. In 2013, he also started writing for the "Yated HaShavua" supplement with a section accompanied by cartoons titled "Ot Chaim." He hosted a personal radio show called "Etzot MehaChayim" on Radio Kol Barama and later moved it to Radio Kol Chai in early 2014.
He founded a network of children's summer camps called "Children Speak for Themselves," which operated for several years in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.
In 1997, Waldner established the "Center for Children and Families," which operated under the social services department of the Bnei Brak municipality, where he served as an educational director. The center identified at-risk children and provided them with support.
In recognition of his efforts on behalf of children and youth, Waldner received the "Child's Shield" award for 2003 from the National Council for Child Welfare.
He lived in Bnei Brak, was married to Bracha, and had seven children. His son Moshe is also a writer and publicist. Tragically, in 2019, his eldest son, aged 28, passed away due to cancer.
Educational Stance and Positions
In August 1996, Waldner criticized the Supreme Court and its president, Aharon Barak, accusing them of usurping power in the country through judicial activism. According to him, the Haredi public has the right to live its life without interference in its unique educational approach. Nevertheless, Waldner supported finding ways for dialogue and understanding.
For example, he wrote that those who do not stand in silence during memorial days provoke the secular public. In an article in "Yated Ne'eman," he explained that even if one doesn't personally value standing in silence, it should still be done "for the sake of the honor of life" and compared it to secular individuals driving on Shabbat in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
Despite the emotional and personal openness evident in his books, Waldner was conservative in matters related to the Haredi community. He advocated for the preservation of modesty and discouraged the use of cell phones among children and youth. He also supported the tradition of young Haredi men delaying getting a driver's license until after marriage.
Waldner painted a picture of the deterioration of children and youth in Israel and the world due to the breakdown of boundaries and parental authority in their upbringing. On the other hand, he also criticized emotional rigidity and the inability to express oneself as a major cause of child rebellion.
In his series of books "Etzot MehaChayim" (Advice from Life), he encouraged parents to foster emotional openness in their children and give legitimacy to the expression of feelings, differing opinions, and original thinking while maintaining the authority of parents and educators as guides and authorities.
In May 2013, Waldner published an article in "Yated Ne'eman" warning about the incitement against the Haredi public. In the article, he compared the things written by Yair Lapid about the Haredi public to Adolf Hitler's speeches against the Jews.
In November 2016, Waldner made a controversial comparison in another article published in "Yated Ne'eman," equating the political left with cancer. His remarks stirred up controversy, and he later apologized for the comparison.
In June 2017, he published an article about content restrictions in Haredi literature, arguing that even liberal organizations censor ideas and content that oppose their views.
Allegations of Sexual Exploitation
In November 2021, a joint investigation by journalists Aharon Rabinovich and Shira Elq published in "Haaretz" alleged that Waldner had sexually exploited girls and young women for several years. In one case, a police investigation was initiated, but the case was closed due to a lack of evidence, and Waldner denied the allegations against him.
Following the publication of the investigation, his radio show on Radio Kol Chai and his regular column in the Haredi newspaper "Yated Ne'eman" were discontinued. The Haredi public speaking organization announced that Waldner's stories would no longer appear in their Shabbat bulletin, "Hidabroot."
The religious-nationalist children's newspaper "Otiot veYeladim" also announced that they would cease publishing his stories. Several bookstores removed his books from their shelves. In response, Waldner decided to take a hiatus from all his public activities.
In the days following the investigation's publication, additional testimonies of alleged misconduct by Waldner emerged on social media.
In November 2021, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu responded to a question about Waldner's allegations, saying, "There is no doubt that there is a very heavy cloud of suspicion here regarding sexual assault and harassment of many women for many years. Because of this terrible suspicion, I do not keep his books at home, even though they have many virtues.
I don't burn them, but for those who find it difficult, I suggest putting them in the shed until the facts are clarified." Other prominent rabbis, including Yehuda Silman and Shri'el Rosenberg, instructed their followers not to read Waldner's books or remove them from their homes. However, some rabbis made a distinction between the allegations and the content of his books, allowing continued reading.
In December 2021, Waldner was summoned to a special Beit Din (rabbinical court) for sexual offenses, consisting of rabbis Shmuel Eliyahu, Reuven Nekritz, and Aharon Yerachi. Waldner refused to attend the hearing, claiming that Rabbi Eliyahu had already judged him.
The Beit Din collected 22 testimonies about Waldner's relationships with women, including allegations of non-consensual sexual relations, relationships with minors, and sexual exploitation of minors. Simultaneously, the police announced that they were investigating the allegations against Waldner. On December 27, 2021, Chaim Eliezer Waldner was found dead in his home in Bnei Brak, at the age of 53, in an apparent suicide.
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