What really happened to the Valis baby? Story and meta-story.
There is more than one story in the Valis case, and I would like to add my own comments to what R’ Yakov Menken wrote.
Story One, the death of an infant:
The first story is the tragic story of a baby’s death. The young father is accused of having killed his baby in a fit of rage over the baby’s crying, while others say the father was playing with his baby, threw the baby up in the air playfully as fathers do, and then tragically lost his grip, with the baby landing hard on the floor, emergency called, baby rushed to the hospital and dying in the emergency room.
Either this case was one of horrible abuse and murder, or it was a tragic, heartbreaking accident. The case is not clear, not yet proven one way or another. Demonstrations demanding the accused’s release were therefore at best premature.
I consider it unlikely that the young father is guilty, but it is certainly possible. I believe that abuse is extremely uncommon in charedi circles, but it does happen. Statistically, babies are FAR more likely to be killed by unrelated males (with Mommy’s boyfriend being by far the most common culprit) but it is not unknown or impossible for a father to kill his own baby, even a father with long payos.
Story Two, the meta-story
The second story is the meta-story of how the case has been portrayed in the press and how the charedi community responds to news coverage.
Here you have an Alice-through-the-looking-glass world, a Spy vs Spy Mad Magazine routine or a bizarre fun-house mirror world, take your pick of metaphor.
The Israeli press is routinely hostile and antagonistic to charedim, wherefore charedim assume that the press is lying or sensationalizing when they accuse a young chareidi father of murder. Likewise, the police are known to be anti-religious, thuggish and often vicious, and therefore any accusation of police mistreatment or police brutality is immediately assumed to be true by the charedi public. That is why the father’s confession is discounted by many charedim — it may have been coerced. OTOH the same confession, in the eyes of the media, is proof of guilt and makes rabbinic support for the young man look incredibly perverse.
On the other side of the looking glass, the charedi public is known to be wary of outsiders, protective of its own and suspicious of police, wherefore the press is quick to credit any report of chareidi misconduct and cover-up, and the police assume that an accused charedi is a guilty charedi. In addition, secular people (this is very common in America too) eagerly seize on any report, however rare, of crime and violence in the religious community as “proof” that religious people are no better, and maybe even worse, than people who are not bound by religious strictures.
Because of the way the media and police view charedim, and because of the way charedim view the media and police — with so much mutual hostility and suspicion — it is virtually impossible to cut through the fog in any particular case to find out what the truth is.
(BTW, it’s ironic that the Israeli press and the police are on the same side. Normally the mainstream media are antagonistic and skeptical towards the police, just as they are in the U.S. It’s only in regard to religious Jews that the media take a police report at face value. Had an accused Arab signed a confession under police interrogation, you may be sure that the press coverage would have been quite different.)
The truth in the meta-story is that charedim are mostly innocent of the horrendous domestic abuse and violence which the secular media habitually ascribe to them. The truth in the instant case is that this time, the particular man accused of abuse and violence may in fact be guilty.
Meanwhile, it is still the law in America, in Israel and in halacha that a man is innocent until proven guilty. The rabbanim who have become involved in the Valis case have called upon anyone with exculpatory knowledge or evidence to step forward. My own hope is that he is innocent and that it will be so proven. But I will add that IF he is guilty, then I hope he will NOT go free. If it was an accident, his own grief and guilt will torment him for the rest of his life. If it was an act of rage and violence, it would be a terrible miscarriage of justice for the killer to escape punishment.
In any case, R’ Menken linked to an article which stated that the young father’s friends were jubilant when the police released the young man to house arrest. They may well be relieved, but jubilation is not called for: the baby is still dead, and a young couple’s life shattered and shadowed forever by this tragic loss.