Fisking Larry Derfner, Part II

Continuing from yesterday — those who have not yet read it will probably want to begin with Part I.

But here’s what you really need to know: Larry Derfner submitted a column claiming stood by his claim that haredim think “these two young victims are irrelevant,” with Jonathan Rosenblum’s column called Lessons from a Tragedy in his hand. Details follow.

But has anyone in the haredi community spoken up publicly for these two deceased infants, Refael Valis and Malka Sitner? In the haredi war against the “Nazi” police, these two young victims are irrelevant. The real victims, in the haredi view, are their parents.

Is this a constructive suggestion, or a rhetorical club? If the former, one wonders what he would like someone to say, and why in this case.

Just a few weeks ago a Palestinian laborer murdered a young child in a dreadful and depraved fashion. In that case there is no ambiguity to the evidence; it is conclusively known that she was murdered, and given comments to his friends as well as DNA, we know who did it. No one has “spoken up publicly” for this child, certainly not in the Palestinian community. Yet, strangely, Larry Derfner has yet to write his editorial condemning this unquestionably horrific crime, and calling for a public statement.

The Valis child died either as the result of a tragic accident, or frightful abuse. If the former, there is nothing to say. If the latter, there is also nothing to say. The father will, in the latter case, be punished through the courts. The contribution of the charedi community to abuse statistics is disproportionately low — not slightly, but much lower — on a per-family basis, much less a per-child basis, despite a lower median income and larger family sizes. I’m hoping a commenter can fill us in on the legal mandates for reporting in Israel, but I know that in New York it is impossible to assert a “charedi cover-up” when the ER doctors and nurses are mandated reporters and predominantly not Jewish.

The Sitner child died of natural causes, the only question being whether her death could have been prevented by appropriate conventional medical care. It is certainly appropriate to point out, in public fashion, that most conventional practitioners are open to alternative practices when blind case studies have proven them effective, and that perhaps some in the community possess “too great credulity about ‘alternative’ treatments that are founded on no empirically tested scientific theory and buttressed by no clinical tests.”

Strangely enough, that was already done, by Jonathan Rosenblum, in the specific context of learning from this tragedy. It was published in Mishpacha and on Cross-Currents before Derfner’s article, and has now also appeared in the Jerusalem Post itself. In fact, Jonathan Rosenblum says that he shared his column with Larry Derfner, and the latter stood by his claim. His response to Jonathan Rosenblum was that Jonathan is “not charedi!” Apparently, Mishpacha isn’t a charedi journal, either.

[UPDATE: Originally, when Rabbi Rosenblum said he shared his column with Larry Derfner, I misunderstood this to mean before it was published, and so stated in the previous paragraph. It was my mistake, and thanks to RJR for correcting me in the comments. While Rabbi Rosenblum was published in Mishpacha the day before Derfner appeared in the Post, this means that Derfner failed to read the charedi papers and/or investigate what people were saying before accusing them of silence — but not that he deliberately ignored an article of which he was aware.]

Valis’s grandparents’ home in Mea She’arim, where he is under house arrest, has become a pilgrimage site; the place is reportedly filled with haredi yeshiva students coming to study and pray with him. The big-name haredi rabbis put in obligatory appearances.

Isn’t it awful that people would visit the home of someone they think is unjustly accused?

By now Valis has retracted his April confession – that he slammed his son against the wall because of the boy’s birth defect and incessant crying – but even before he wised up and claimed the police coerced him into confessing, the people of Mea She’arim had made him their new martyr, their new cause celebre, and were setting streets on fire.

According to Shlomo Nissenbaum, the Jerusalem Municipal Court has already thrown out the confession. Do we have that straight? R’ Shlomo repeated it three times in a comment to me. Apparently, the Jerusalem Municipal Court has been taken over by charedim, willing to give credence to the ridiculous idea that a confession extracted from a sedated father, after 15 hours, complete with the threat that he would never see his dying son alive unless he confessed, was coerced! What sort of society is this, where we can’t have our show trial and string him up already?

Oh, that’s right. The civilized world and all that jazz. Derfner would have been so much happier in Idi Amin’s Uganda.

If the police reports do say anything about teeth marks, then there are now a pair of medical examiners’ reports that as much as say that they were lying. Anyone remember the police who claimed excrement was thrown at the Western Wall? Anyone remember Amona, or the typical behavior of police towards charedim from Meah She’arim? I’m not willing to dismiss the police report out of hand, but those who do have a mighty strong set of legs to stand on.

WHAT IS there to make of all this – that the haredim don’t love their children as much as other parents love theirs? That they have so many kids, and have them at least in part out of religious obligation, that they don’t really care that much about them as individuals?

A lot of secular, anti-haredi Israelis believe this; I definitely don’t.

Oh, I don’t believe that sort of ethnic hatred… I just see all kinds of reasons why others could. Very good, Larry. Even at his finest, Joseph Goebbels was rarely so polished in his careful use of hate.

As far as basic, instinctive parental love goes, I see no evidence that haredim have any less of it than the ordinary run of mothers and fathers. (Yisrael Valis, however, seems to be a different case entirely.)

Thanks for the generosity, Larry, but a more careful eye would have noticed that charedim are, on average, more involved parents — not less, not equal. It’s amazing. When it suits the secularist voices to mock charedi women as “barefoot and pregnant,” they do, but then when they aren’t thinking of the superior child care offered by stay-at-home moms, they say the charedim are merely their equals. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Charedi society prioritizes child-rearing as one of the most important activities in which we can engage, and acts accordingly. The jury is still out on Yisrael Valis, whether or not Derfner cares to read the reports of two medical examiners that say there was no evidence of abuse.

But I also believe that the mothers and fathers at Jonestown loved their children, even as they gave them cyanide-laced Kool Aid to drink. The problem with the parents at Jonestown wasn’t a lack of love for their children, the problem was that they belonged to a crazed cult, and had been brainwashed by a messianic leader and by group hysteria into thinking they were “saving” their children from an evil regime, the US, that in fact was coming to rescue them.

Ah, so the charedim are a crazed cult. I knew it would come to this.

Just so it’s clear, I am not equating the canonization of Yisrael Valis or the omerta being enforced in Ashdod with the mass murder/suicide in Jonestown. The haredim aren’t lining up to kill their children – you obviously can’t equate the two.

How very kind of him. How gracious. We’re not lining up to kill our children, we’re just crazed cultists.

(Incidentally, these people are innocent until proven guilty only in the eyes of the judge; everyone else is fully entitled to form any opinion he wants.)

That is true to an extent. Derfner can form any opinion he wants, in the face of whatever evidence he chooses to ignore. It is beyond disgraceful, however, when he uses the pages of the Jerusalem Post to spread his hatred among those similarly ignorant of the facts.

The haredim aren’t guilty of evil on the scale of Jonestown, but they are guilty of evil.

There is a famous and wise saying in the Talmud: Kol HaPosel, B’Mumo Posel. When you see someone make a ridiculous accusation against another, the most likely explanation is that the first party is engaging in projection — placing his or her own defect upon the other.

Honestly, I would never use the term… except that Derfner did himself, and the Talmud tells us what to look for.

Once we start looking, it’s really not hard to find. To ignore exculpatory evidence in order to prematurely denounce not only a father, but an entire community, is evil. To declare guilty until proven innocent in the pages of a national newspaper, is evil. To convict all those unwilling to ignore the evidence and leap to a similarly premature conclusion, is evil. To equate a foolish devotee of homepathy with a child-killer, is evil. To tar an entire community based upon the actions of a condemned few, is evil.

The haredim aren’t guilty of evil. But Derfner suggests that he is, through his use of such a word to describe his targets.

They’ve made heroes and martyrs out of parents who give any normal person the chills, and made villains out of the police trying to do justice in the name of the victims.

No. They’ve declared one parent innocent until proven guilty, and called the other, foolish parents foolish — not heroes, not villains. And as for the police, that was not up to the charedim. There are two medical examiners’ reports that say there was no evidence of abuse. Any police report saying otherwise is a lie. Is someone who lies in order to condemn the innocent, not a villain? I am not claiming that the police reports say that — although many media sources have said precisely this, I haven’t seen the reports. I am not claiming that either party is the villain here — it is premature. It is Derfner’s rush to judgement that is both irresponsible and stemming from the most base motives.

What sort of message about child abuse are the haredim sending to young haredi parents? What sort of message about child abuse are they sending to haredi children?

This is almost too appalling to think about. But Israeli society had better start thinking and doing something about it, for the sake of the helpless haredi children if nobody else.

Uh, no. Try again. Charedi children are receiving more TLC from their parents, more hours a day. And the message being sent is that an accusation should be investigated before the rush to convict. The message Derfner would send? That the Salem Witch Trials are good enough for us — all we need is an extorted confession and a lying cop, and we’ll put your Dad away in prison so he can’t watch you grow to adulthood.

Thanks, Larry, for the advice. That would be just great. Fortunately Israel isn’t Stalin’s Russia, so we’ll choose other options.

Their parents have good hearts, they love their kids, but they are brainwashed members of a cult – a very large, ancient Jewish community, but one led by absolute spiritual rulers, one that insists on utter conformity, that holds fanatical beliefs, and that views society at large and its instruments of power as demonic. In short, a cult.

The jury may be out on Valis, but concerning Derfner’s evil intent there is no question. If Derfner represents society at large, as he claims — and he surely writes for one of its instruments of power — then demonic has it just about right.

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2 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    These excerpts show that Derfner has engaged in what can only be called group libel of Charedim. A column that ignores the factual context of the actions of the Charedi leadership in Ashdod as well as the suppression of a confession by an Israeli court can fairly well be accused of reeking with bias against Charedim. Many years ago, RYBS mentioned that the secular Israeli press reminded him of Der Steurmer. The years have passed, but the attitude of the Israeli secular press towards Charedim remains one of bigotry and ignorance. Can one imagine mainstream US papers writing in this manner against a minority?

  2. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I must make a correction here. I sent my column to Larry Derfner in response to the publication of his article, and not prior to it. (My article was written first, but he would have had no way of knowing of its existence.)

    Also, I don’t think the Vallis family claims that no examination was done on the infant for eight hours. Only that the examination was inadequate and the infant kept under observation with no treatment for eight hours, at the end of which a second x-ray found the brain filled with blood.

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