Yisrael Valis and the Rush to Judgement

Yisrael Valis, the young charedi man accused of abusing and murdering his son, is now on trial in Jerusalem.

When last I wrote about this, some criticized me for what they deemed an entirely irrational defense. They took it as absolute, unquestioned fact that there was overwhelming physical evidence of a crime. As one blogger put it, “innocent until proven guilty means we entertain the possibility someone else killed the child.” Left unsaid but obvious is that since we know no one else touched the child at the time, the father was the only person who could have murdered him, but we won’t say that officially until the trial is over. That was the sum total level of Havei Dan es Kol Adam L’Kaf Zechus, “judge everyone favorably,” that the commenter thought appropriate.

Perhaps not. The following comment was sent to us — it was originally written as a comment to an article by Larry Derfner on JPost.com, or so the submitter said, but I’m still awaiting a link. Since the comments on JPost are very hard to browse, I am sure even many regular JPost readers missed this, as I did. The comment is from Michael S. BarRon, and was written as a strongly-worded objection to the Derfner article.

How tragically fitting it is, considering the general bend of JPost editors, to post an article that dares revive charges that were proven the most awful setup possible… a setup that was exposed, and the worst charges dropped weeks ago!

As an English teacher in Ramat Beit Shemesh, I am personally connected with close relations of Yisrael Valis. Larry Derfner, you are not only a fellow character assassin of Reb Yisrael, but a character assassin of an entire religious community of Israel—the every aspect of whose lives are a sanctification of life.

I will attempt to share the real story for the few readers who might care to read it: Reb Yisrael is well-known in his community as the most gentle person, a true Torah scholar. Indeed, there is no justification for his falling asleep one night—exhausted after a long day—as he attempted to calm down his crying baby. The treasure of his life, the light of his eyes, fell from his arms, hitting the wall and then the floor.

But a crime that is unequalled is when the parents brought the child to the emergency ward, they were made to wait eight hours with the baby before treatment. Not initially finding brain damage, a CT scan was not taken. Had the child been operated on promptly, it would have been saved. This is malpractice. However, when the staff investigated the father, being in such a traumatic state, the father began to speak on unclearly.

What ensued was a grilling 15-hour typical Israeli police interrogation: the subject, under the influence of drugs, was convinced by the social worker that he was entirely guilty, while the police interrogator convinced him that it was in his best interests to confess to everything. In the end, a forced and unnatural confession resulted.

The result was the opportunity of the decade for a press that feeds off of Haredi-hatred. In an effort to cover up their criminal negligence, the Hadassah ward charged Reb Yisroel with intentionally murdering his son per his forced confession. In the press he was portrayed as the most debase Neanderthal baby killer, claiming the child even had scratch and bite marks!

Yet, what the press was less eager to print, were the results of the forensic investigation by Prof Yehudah Ees, principal of the Institute of family health in Abu Kabir: there was no evidence of mutilation or intentional murder. Other doctors brought in confirmed this. The regional court of J’lem found his confession to invalid, being under emotional duress, and drug induced. He was released from prison and under house arrest.

How dare you spread lies and unbased hatred about observant Jews?! What a desecration of G-d, Torah, our People! You call the Haredim a cult of collaborators?! You have collaborated with character assassins of an entire community before a world audience.

Now if Mr. BarRon finds Derfner’s report indefensible, I wonder how he would react to the bloggers, commenters, and back-office gossipers who claim to be observant themselves, yet immediately treated this as some sort of charedi battle against the truth. He said what we already knew from more rational comments to my previous piece — there are two sides to the story.

I am not sure that the story above should be taken at face value, either. Another doctor’s report seems to imply that a CT scan was done relatively quickly — though he, too, saw no evidence whatsoever (such as tooth marks!) that would prove this was deliberate rather than accidental.

I’m not saying that all of these accounts should be believed instead of the police or the media. What I am saying, however, is that leaping to conclusions is hardly a victimless crime. Even if Valis is declared innocent, countless people will conclude — given the one-sided reports — that this was the result of charedi pressure or legal trickery. They will treat Valis as a murderer rather than a father who tragically lost his son, even if the evidence is entirely as Mr. BarRon describes.

Innocent until proven guilty does not mean “we entertain the possibility someone else killed the child.” Innocent until proven guilty means we leave it to a jury, not media reports — and leave our thoughts open to the possibility that a jury could wrongly convict, as well.

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17 Responses

  1. Sammy Finkelman says:

    I’m inclined to believe the story of the interrogation. Such things – these kinds of false confessions – have been known to happen, especially by people who can be convinced (or naturally are that way) to be unsure of themselves, which the father shouldn’t have been. Possibly he got convinced that maybe he didn’t remember…but things are not that way.

    In the meantime, I guess they saved the reputation of the doctors and the hospital.

  2. S. says:

    R. Menken, would you at least address why you advocated for the presumption of innocence in *this* case ab inition? Is this part of a general pattern for you?

  3. barry says:

    1 I have no idea of the relevance of the father’s religious affiliation or standing as a torah scholar. Everyone (even so-called “secular” Jews loves young children, and torah study is not a defense to someone exhausted and “cracking” if that is alleged to have happened.

    2 Alas, such confessions are not unusual, in Israel or in the United States, and, in the United States at least, people have been executed based upon them.

    3. But I don’t get, from the description:

    “Indeed, there is no justification for his falling asleep one night—exhausted after a long day—as he attempted to calm down his crying baby. The treasure of his life, the light of his eyes, fell from his arms, hitting the wall and then the floor.”

    Let me repeat:

    He fell asleep while trying to calm his baby, and the baby “fell from his arms, hitting the wall and then the floor.”

    I may be very dense, or anti-charedi, or simply very tired, myself…but please explain: you are holding a baby, exhausted, and you fall asleep and the baby HITS THE WALL AND THEN THE FLOOR?

    How is that possible?

  4. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Correction to your post: there is no such thing as a jury trial in Israel. The peers of the accused are not deemed sufficiently expert to make such a judgment. Only the judges can do that. As for Bar-Ron’s comment, it has to be verified. A lot of things are believable, depending on what you want to believe, but they may not necessarily be true. Bar-Ron heard some things which he believes because the people who told him those things are kosher Jews who are expected to be telling the truth. But this merely makes for the presumption of innocence on the part of the person being judged, but does not authorize the story as fact. Unfortunately the police are known for their brutality and the judges and journalists for their bias against Torah-observant Jews.

  5. leonard oberstein says:

    I am glad to have found a site that actually discusses what may or may not have happened.My feeling is that the father should not have been turned into an innocent martyr with the assumption that the hospital’s tests and his confession were all lies. If indeed, he is innocent, it should come out at trial. The presumption that the father is the victim and the misuse of great rabbis’ names for fundraising for his defense fund is a chilul hashem. Why can’t we leave the great rabbis out of such shmutz. A baby died and it wasn’t from being dropped, stop lying to yourselves. Someone threw this child against a wall with such force that he became brain dead . The confession also mentions the fact that the father believed his child had a birth defect and couldn’t deal with it.

  6. Shlomo Nissenbaum says:

    1.I did not understand all of the medical terms in the report but they say that after a whole bunch of tests and a liquid transfusion (“Erui” – this takes time – I know from personal experience!!) they started to give Itrupin (?) then the eyelids reacted less – and only then the child was ‘rushed’ to CT. This does not contradict that the CT was not done immediately. Au contraire mon frere. Or as they say is yeshivos – poom fakert, baby. Mr. BarRon says that no CT was done at the begining – “Not initially finding brain damage, a CT scan was not taken” and indeed in the report cited – we have a whole bunch of stuff onthe state of the child at admission – but only when the pupils started reacting less after the itrupin was asministered – then the CT was done- as a reaction to itrupin slowing pupils reactivity. not as a proactive measure. Now I am in no position to say from a midical point of view when the CT should have been taken – Mr. BarRon implies that its not being administered immeditaely compounded the poor child’s difficulties. Let the doctors discuss that. But a) a contradiction methinks we have not b) I think an 8 hr. wait in the Emergency room to see a doctor in the situation of the Valis’ is enough of an indictment of the hospital. (to any American’s thinking of moving to Israel – yes it is a 3rd world country when you get past the hotels) c) something tells me that Mr. BarRon has a basis for what he is saying as to why the CT should have been performed immediately i.e. he heard this from other sources even though he did not spell this out.

    BTW, do you want me to translate the document from TAU for you so you can analyze it properly?

    2. Mr Friedman and Rabbi Menken, you seem to uphold the possibility that maybe R’ Yisroel Valis is a willful child murederer confirming the vicious accusations of the anti-religious police/press in Israel – after all who is to believe Mr. BarRon’s version of events. Well, it is verily verifiable if indeed the confession was thrown out as well as the most severe charges – I assume manslaughter remains. (not verifiable in the israeli press cuz they are deceitful and only report what they want you to hear – but b’ikaron this info is an easily refutable statement if not true.) I gave Rabbi Menken Mr. BarRon’s phone (02) are code. Call him and ask him how he knows this. Also, I also heard from other sources that the charges were dropped and they are afraid of proceeding as this case can get Hadassah into deep doolittle – hence why the press has been mum on this recnetly and when the trial opened up last Monday it was barefly noticed. So if indeed it is true that charges were dropped and the confessions upchucked. Why do you insist on beating a dead horse? Have you no mercy onthe reputation of a fellow Jew? DOyou enjoy being party to the defamation of haredi Jewry? Or maybe you taynuh Mr. BarRon is flat out lying about the 2 details hanal. gimme a break. Isn’t R’ Valis suffering enough w/o smartypants like you judging him based on the say so of the corrpt anti-haredi police of Israel ?

    ALso, see Brachos 5b for a similar situation (R’ Huna and his sharecropper) – I cannot explain the full dimyon now it will take too long hoefully u figger it out yerself.

    3. One more pint that should be addrfesed is – if the Haredi community knew what Mr. BarRon at long last (that somebody) disclosed – doesn’t that shed light on how we undersatnd the rioting? Can all of the high holy people who called for a cheshbon hanefesh come doen from your trees and imagine how you would feel if the governknet wehre you live framed someone from your community? and used that as part of an ongoing (almost 100 years wirth) camoaign to deligitimize your society as cannibals or worse. Aside from being dan ‘khaf zkhus’ there is also an inyan one al tadun ad shetagia limkomo – no one living inthe freedom of the US has the right to pass jusdgement on people who are living b’mesiras nefesh mamesh in there plight against this 3rd world governmnet that has the gall to cal itself ‘israel’. U think that israel is the same as the US. Sorry honey – try living here for just a few months and then you can join the 60% of americans idealistic enough to move here only to be disillisioned very fast and run back home to Uncle Sam and his noraml sytem government.

  7. Shlomo Nissenbaum says:

    Leaonard Oberstien, did you bichlal read what Mr. BarRon said? Maybe the 8 hour wait in the hospital to recieve trweatment killed the baby? Sheesh. Such a hatemonger.

  8. Shmarya says:

    So the injuries are consistent with the baby being slammed against a wall and beated. He had teeth marks on his body and clear signs of past abuse. The haredi community reacts by accusing Hadassah Hospital and police of anti-Haredi/antisemitic bias. It also riots to prevent an autopsy, which, if their charges against the police and Hadassah were true, may have exonerated the father.

    You can’t have it both ways. If the autopsy had any chance of exonerating the father, normative halakha would mandate the autopsy.

    Yisrael Vales may be innocent until proven guilty, but the preponderance of evidence is against him.

  9. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Shlomo — I did not make any presumption of guilt. I made the opposite case — that the halachic requirement to avoid saying lashon hara is based on a presumption that the people involved are kosher. That still doesn’t doesn’t generate any facts or turn hearsay into fact. There is a need to get the true facts by means not muddied by the unkosher bent of the police, judiciary and journalists. A knee-jerk reaction by the frum community to decide that our side is always right is a way to lose credibility and create chillul hashem.

  10. David Litke says:

    To Shlomo Nissenbaum: you wrote “to any American’s thinking of moving to Israel – yes it is a 3rd world country when you get past the hotels”.

    What a shallow and viciously false declaration! The level of medical care in Israel is superb, and I speak from personal experience. Please employ some intellectual honesty in your future posts.

  11. leonard oberstein says:

    I think you guys have it backward. It is not an indictment of chareidi Jewry for one chareidi to be accused of a bad deed. No group is perfect.The indictment is the refusal to deal with the possibility that there is abuse in the chareidi community , to immeidately accuse everyone but the accused of evil. We cannot continue to live in denial. The indictment of chereidi Jewry is that that handlers manipulate and misuse the signatures of a whole slew of great men whenever there is an issue. No, I am not ready to close down Hadassah Hospital or accuse them all of hating frum Jews. In fact, all the gedolim go there when they are sick and have great respect for the doctors. There is too much “holier than thou” in this issue.

  12. GB says:

    In Israel: my neighbor’s 8 yr old child held her 3 mo. old baby brother. She slipped and dropped the baby. Understand that an 8 yr old is not very tall, so the baby did not fall very far. However, because in Israel the floors are stone/terazzo tiles and not padded carpet, this short fall resulted in a skull fracture for the infant (who recovered completely, thank G-d). Israeli ERs see this type of thing frequently.

  13. HILLEL says:

    The Government that brought murder charges against Valis–and then withdrew them–is the same Government that brought you the comapssionate policies of “disengagement” from Gush Katif/Amona and, now, “Covergence” from Yehuda and Shomron.

    Think about it!

  14. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Havei Dan es Kol Adam L’Kaf Zechus, “judge everyone favorably,” doesn’t mean that if Yisrael Valis confessed we assume that the confession was coerced by the anti-Charedi, criminally corrupt police. Kol Adam, everybody, includes police interrogators too.

    It’s wrong to prejudge Yisrael Valis. But it is also wrong to prejudge the police who interrogated him. The best thing to do is probably to avoid rushing to judgement.

  15. Ori Pomerantz says:

    May I ask a question about Beit Din procedures?

    Assume that before this comes to trial Mashiach comes, and now all courts in Yerushalaim are rabbinical Batey Din.

    1. What is the Halachic status of a confession that may have been coerced?

    2. What is the Halachic status of forensic evidence?

    3. If a crime appears to have been committed, but there aren’t two witnesses, does a Beit Din pronouce the accused innocent? Or does it pronounce the accused guilty, and imposes a lesser punishment?

  16. Yaakov Menken says:

    Several comments asked for my reply, so…

    S., I have never advocated for an accused person to be considered guilty in advance of his or her day in court. This being a Jewish rather than general interest blog, I didn’t see why I should comment upon a number of well-publicized criminal cases in recent months with no “Jewish angle.” But were you to ask, you would find my position the same as in the Valis case.

    In this case, advocacy on behalf of the father has been used to excuse tarring the entire charedi community with a broad brush. I’ll be posting a link to the Derfner article itself (and dissecting it) later today, iy”H. Stay tuned.

    Yehoshua, I agree with you. Presuming the innocence of the father does not mean we should believe the charge of negligence against the hospital.

    Shlomo, please do go ahead and translate some or all if you have time. Given the misinformation flying around, it would be helpful. I myself didn’t know that “ishunim” are pupils, nor did I successfully parse the Hebrew term “Bradychardia” (/sarcasm) until the third or fourth go. But the report implies that he was admitted to the trauma department and treated immediately. I suppose it is not clear when his pulse dropped (Bradychardia) requiring the administration of atropine.

    However, my overall point is not to confirm anything. It is, of course, possible that the accusation against Mr. Valis is true — my point is, to the contrary, that it is also very possible that it is not, and we are required to suspend judgement rather than leap to conclusions. I’m not going to call Mr. BarRon because his statements may or may not be true. The verification will come through the courts, but see below.

    Shmarya, your brief comments fly in the face of everything said thus far, and all the facts that we know.

    the injuries are consistent with the baby being slammed against a wall and beated” — no. The injuries are consistent with blunt-force trauma. The only medical report that I have seen posted anywhere indicates that “it is impossible to say conclusively” whether this was deliberate or accidental.

    He had teeth marks on his body and clear signs of past abuse” — so says… whom? Not the medical report to which I just referred. According to Mr. BarRon, Prof. Yehudah Hiss, principal of the Institute of family health in Abu Kabir, said that “there was no evidence of mutilation or intentional murder.” That would mean that there were no teeth marks nor any signs, clear or unclear, of past abuse.

    Do you know otherwise? Have you spoken with Prof. Hiss? Have you access to any other medical report, and if so, why have you not shared it?

    If the autopsy had any chance of exonerating the father…” except that it didn’t. If all we have is evidence of blunt force trauma, then an autopsy would determine nothing that we cannot see from the outside.

    When I wrote “the bloggers, commenters, and back-office gossipers who claim to be observant themselves, yet immediately treated this as some sort of charedi battle against the truth,” I was not thinking of you. Don’t race to slip on the shoe to see if it fits — wait for the trial.

    Rabbi Oberstein, any such indictment is inaccurate. The charedi community refuses to string up Mr. Valis before the trial is over. A declaration by charedi Rabbonim that anyone with exculpatory evidence, or who can help the defense, should come forward, is not a declaration that he is innocent. It is in accordance with every clause of Jewish and civil law that a defendant should be afforded every possibility to prove his innocence. As Mr. Valis was of no danger to anyone, and not a flight risk — as the courts rapidly concluded — there was no reason to jail him over Pesach.

    Think about the possibility that he is, indeed, innocent. Then think about what has been done to him. And you call it “holier than thou” to want to defend him from further abuse? If he is guilty, then send him away. But don’t you think the trial should be over before they prepare the noose?

    Because I’ll be posting about the Derfner article later, iy”H, I’m closing comments for this thread in deference to the new one.

  1. November 1, 2006

    […] Unfortunately, such a lawsuit would go nowhere. The son would need a dozen witnesses to even begin to counterbalance the willingness of Israeli police to circumvent the law when it suits them. This happens all the time. […]

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