Yisroel Valis: The Amona Police Ride Again?

A few weeks ago, a Chassid named Yisroel Valis was arrested in Israel and charged with murdering his infant son. Police claimed physical signs of injury, plus a confession from the father, proved his guilt — allegedly the baby had weak neck muscles and other developmental issues, and police say the father could not tolerate his son’s “defects.” Widespread Orthodox demonstrations protested Valis’ innocence, nonetheless.

Thanks to the demonstrations, we were treated to an incredible barrage of anti-Orthodox vitriol. The basic line was that “the Orthodox want a child killer released,” despite the statements from various Rabbis that, simply put, they did not believe he was a killer. What makes the slander especially outrageous is that no credible source doubts the incredible value and love of children in the Orthodox community.

Newspapers confidently informed us recently that Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv and Rav Chayim Kanievsky, two of the greatest Torah scholars alive today, had issued a “psak,” a “halachic ruling” that Valis was innocent.

In our forums, one reader posted what actually appeared on walls:

Israel Valis decree

The text says, in translation:

“Holy Call” from our masters and teachers, great scholars of Israel, may they have long lives. [This is relatively standard.]

Since several of the dearest of our city (Jerusalem), among them the Rabbis of the student Israel Asher Valis, are working with all their strength to bring out the right and the truth to light, and to prove that he is clean of transgression, and to remove him from prison. Therefore we call upon our brethren the Children of Israel in every place to help them, and ever person should do what he can to work with them, and to also help the family because the expenses are great and the family doesn’t have in their hands enough to withstand the expenses. And all who help and assist shall be blessed from the Source of Blessings.

Signed by Rav Elyashiv, Rav Steinman, Rav MY Lefkowitz, Rav Karelitz, Rav Kanievsky, Rav Shmuel Auerbach, Rav G Edelstein, and Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman.

As you see, not a word about a “psak,” rather, “innocent until proven guilty.”

According to Mr. Valis himself, the “confession” was coerced, and the death of his son was a tragic accident. The title of this entry was suggested by the reader who forwarded that article to me. We don’t know if he’s innocent or guilty, but we do know he should have been released on bail before Pesach, not after. The Rabbis are, of course, right — and as usual, the anti-Orthodox media is showing its fangs.

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33 comments to Yisroel Valis: The Amona Police Ride Again?

  • Harry Maryles

    We don’t know if he’s innocent or guilty, but we do know he should have been released on bail before Pesach, not after. The Rabbis are, of course, right—and as usual, the anti-Orthodox media is showing its fangs.

    The rabbis are right? If you read the text (even in translation) it does more than assume innocence. It urges:

    Since several of the dearest of our city (Jerusalem), among them the Rabbis of the student Israel Asher Valis, are working with all their strength to bring out the right and the truth to light, and to prove that he is clean of transgression, and to remove him from prison. Therefore we call upon our brethren the Children of Israel in every place to help them, and ever person should do what he can to work with them

    This is a litle bit …more… than “presumption of innocense”. This is looking only for exculpatory evidence. Just because he has a good reputation, doesn’t mean he isn’t guilty. Nor does it mean he is innocent. Rather than making this unfair criticsm of the police, why not let justice take its course. Maybe he shouldn’t have been held in jail over Pesach… I don’t know. But you can’t balme the police for doing their job.

  • Hershel Goldwasser

    Rabbi Menken write:

    “We don’t know if he’s innocent or guilty, but we do know he should have been released on bail before Pesach, not after.”
    I confess not to understand this. Assuming that he is charged with murder, why should he be released on bail at all. In the US, as a general matter, people who are charged with murder are never released on bail (other than in exceptional situations). The “Rabbis” do not look right at all to me in seeking bail for one who is accused of muder.

  • joel rich

    Let me suggest another title for a combination of the R’ Menken and Rn’ Katz posts – “A possible answer to Rabbi Horowitz” (see prior Cross Currents on the Boro Park “riot”)

    When we tell our children the police, the media, the secular are all against us, how do you expect them to internalize the message?

    In addition, while there may be limited statistics available, I’d not be so sanguine about abuse (and for that matter addiction) in our communities. See R Twerski article as an example http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5758/spring98/shondeh.htm
    KT

  • Menachem Lipkin

    The only thing this story has in common with Amona is that some orthodox Jews threw stuff at police.

    The poster that is dipslayed here is unsigned so it’s hard to prove anything from it. (Even signed posters are often forged). The media report about the “psak” was based on a radio interview given by one of these rabbis on Sunday. Maybe someone who heard the interview can give some more accurate information as to what they held.

    The article you linked to from YNET largely discredits your”fangs” assertion in that it was a very fair portrayal of Valis’s position.

    Most of the meida coverage was related to the riots that took place after the arrest. Had there been no riots, it would have been a quiet one or two story media event.

  • Nachum

    Your translation leaves a bit to be desired. The use of bold in the words relating to innocence make it clear what direction it’s headed. There’s also nothing about “until proven guilty.” It says he’s innocent, period.

    I’m also curious about another word you don’t translate: They refer to him as “HaAvrech” (which I suppose implies that he’s learning in a Kollel), as well as “HaRav.” Rav? At nineteen?

    Anyway, to the point: I imagine the Israeli police arrest quite a few suspected criminals, including many Orthodox, every day. Sometimes the crimes are alleged to be “political,” like this guy sitting in jail for shooting at (or in the air to scare away) some Arabs in Gaza. Some are just plain old crimes. Why does Mr. Valis get a kol koreh?

  • Moshe Friedman

    A few points:

    First of all, they don’t say he is “innocent until proven guilty.” Rather, they imply that he is CERTAINLY innocent. The “tzedek” (justice) and “emes” (truth) which they are trying to find is one which they have predetermined, namely that he is “clean of transgression.”

    Second, from what I’ve been able to gather about the political stance of this blog, I’m quite surprised that you advocate releasing on bail an accused murderer.

    Finally, “the incredible value and love of children in the Orthodox community” has no bearing on the pathological actions of one individual, even if it does mean the abuse statistics in general are better.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    I agree that the rush to convict before trial is unjust and un-Jewish. I also point out that suspects in police custody will confess to all kinds of things that they did not do, which is why we continue to need the strong Miranda warnings in the United States and why Jewish law does not give much credibility to self incriminating statements such as Mr. Valis has apparently made.

    But I still remain surprised by the rabbis’ lack of concern for the life of the Jewish child who died! And while the rabbis don’t explicitly say he is innocent, they certainly aren’t taking an impartial stand.

  • Steve Brizel

    I think that many of us are losing sight of the many legal issues involved here-what about a possibly invalidly obtained confession?what other evidence is there besides the confession? what about the rush to diagnose the cause of death by a medical examiner’s office that has poor relations with the charedi world on a variety of issues?

  • DovBear

    Thanks to the demonstrations, we were treated to an incredible barrage of anti-Orthodox vitriol

    Not demonstrations. Riots. And you are right, because of the riots, they brought the vitriol on themselves.

    ding to Mr. Valis himself, the “confession” was coerced, and the death of his son was a tragic accident.

    The old “he fell off the bed” excuse is one that’s very common to investigators of child abuse, but a competant medical examinar can tell very easily the difference between a beating and an accident. They leave different injuries. A child who was dropped on the floor simply won’t look like a child who was beated, or thrown against the wall.

    By suggesting the baby’s death was an accident, you are accusing the medical examiner of incompetance or of framing Valis.

    Are you prepared to do that? And on what basis?

  • Tzvi

    “What makes the slander especially outrageous is that no credible source doubts the incredible value and love of children in the Orthodox community”
    Where does this come in? Have the secular press argued that we don’t love our children? No, they argued that one man who is suspected of harming his child should not be released on bail before a hearing is held. It seems you read more into their argument than actually exists.

  • Micha

    The policewoman says that infant had his bite marks on her neck. This is not just about coerced confession. It’s a case the gemara would call “ikka rei’usa”, there exists something wrong, sufficient reason to remove a chazaqah, a presumption, like that of innocence. A real investigation needs to be done. If it turns out he is guilty, this would not be the first time that the belief that “our people don’t do that” gets in the way of police trying to prevent future crime.

    Unfortunately, it was taken out of the category of being about guilt or innocence, or more importantly, about the safety of other children. Instead, it’s about the fairness of the police and an untrusting community therefore feeling a need to protect one of its own. The case is more about Amona and potests against digging up historical gravesites than the fate of a child. It’s politicized to the point where nothing productive is possible any more.

  • Tzvi

    “The basic line was that “the Orthodox want a child killer released,” despite the statements from various Rabbis that, simply put, they did not believe he was a killer”

    You may have mistated the press. They may have said, ‘the orthodox want an alleged child killer released’. That is a big difference. Even the Rabbis agree to that statement.

    Also, are you arguing that the Rabbis ONLY said was that they don’t believe he is guilty and then the press ‘made up’ the fact that the Rabbis want to release all baby killers? That is not true. The Rabbis or askonim were demanding his release. So were the demonstrators/rioters. It is not at all unfair to state that the Rabbis wanted Vallis released and that Vallis is accused of killing a baby.
    Whether Orthodox people love their children is irrelevant anyway.

  • abcdefg

    Rabbi Menken write:

    1. Like others have pointed out they do not caution innocence until proven guilty. They assert innocence.

    2. A man is alleged to murder a baby and signs a confession. The baby shows signs of abuse. Maybe the abuse is really a father losing his grip. Maybe the confession is coerced. But who hears of a person in such circumstances being released on bail?

    3. People are disgusted with all Orthodox? Maybe, outside our community. But I can tell you there is disgust in the US, both by modern and charedi elements of Orthodoxy, at the protests/riots and the communities that backed them.

  • David Gold

    CC/YM has posted only one of many kol korehs regarding this issue. It is also the mildest.
    He does not post the kol korehs which loudly proclaim this event a blood libel on Erev Pesach.
    This invective and rhetoric is only harmful.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Harry and abcdefg, they say that those with evidence should attempt to prove his innocence. That is not an assertion that he is innocent, merely that everyone should help the Rabbis who are trying to prove it is so. Did you expect clergy to call for help proving him guilty?

    It’s not the police doing their job that is the issue. The counter-assertion is that the Israeli police acted illegaly, and thus failed to do their job.

    Hershel, he was charged with manslaughter and less. The parole service recommended his release.

    Tzvi, I don’t think I misread anything. The articles made it seem as if the police had an open-and-shut case, with the word “alleged” being little more than a pre-trial formality. To date, Ynet is the only news source in Israel to cover the accused’s side of the story (answering Menachem as well).

    Joel, no defense of the riots here. They have no impact on Valis’ guilt or innocence, or upon the media’s responsibility to provide fair and impartial coverage.

    Charles, on what basis do you imagine that the Rabbis are unconcerned about the dead child? Thank you for proving the relevance of my statement about the Orthodox community’s well-known love and concern for children; you’ve unreasonably slandered every Rabbi who signed the Kol Koreh.

    abcdefg, they have a written rather than oral confession, which the signator claims was signed under severe duress. Given the Israeli police this claim is entirely reasonable. Have you seen any of the first-hand evidence reports? Neither have I. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m saying I have no faith in the news accounts, given their accuracy when it came to what Halachic rulings were issued by whom.

    David, I posted the only Kol Koreh which was posted to the Net of which I am aware. If you care to make copies of others available, I don’t have a problem posting something that came from a recognized source rather than some unnamed “Vaad” (consisting of a guy with enough cash on hand to print posters). Jerusalem Kol Koreh’s are low-tech blog posts: some are worth taking seriously, some aren’t.

  • ja

    R Mencken, you haven’t answered Micha.

    Apparently, there were bite marks on the infant. Let’s say the cause of death is consistent with a beaten child or a fall (accident). If there really are bite marks on the infant, isn’t that sufficient reason to investigate the father?

  • Bob Miller

    A general comment on wall posters:

    This might be the time for each Gadol to disavow all future wall posters containing his name, and to announce in a Torah newspaper of record which secure/accurate communication methods he will now use to express his exact positions.

    I’m tired of hearing that a Rav’s name is on a poster, but that, nevertheless, some insider knows that this Rav really objected to the presence of his name or to some wording in the poster.

    Totally remove the “power to distort” from all intermediaries!

  • abcdefg

    Rabbi Menken:

    1. There are really two stories here. The first, is whatever happened between the father and the baby. Whatever it was, it was clearly not good, the question is whether it was criminal. The second is the reaction of the community.

    2. In terms of the first issue, young Mr. Valis advocate’s version, at the end of the day, is that he (innocently) dropped his baby, the hospital did not treat the baby, the hospital and coroner misdiagnosed the cause of the baby’s death, the police are out to make an example of him regardless of facts, coerced him into signing a confession and the press just wants to bash hareidim.

    The other side is that this is a case of abuse of a baby due and, now, denial, the police want to put away a baby killer and the press loves to report on unusual and gripping stories like a baby killed by an abusive hareidi father.

    2. When we come to the story of the communal backing of Valis, which was fairly immediate. The rabbis – or clergy, as you called them – are not supposed to be the father’s advocate. They should be advocating for what happened to come out, not his innocence. They were the babies clergy too! If he killed that little baby, they should want that evidence out too. Yet they call for only evidence of innocence. If they really are open to

    [BTW, are you 100% sure they acknowledge the right (as opposed to the ability) of the secular authorities to try Mr. Valis in the secular Israeli court systemm? I think those that call this a 'blood libel,' a gross misuse of the word, may not. In other words, potentially they think the State should stay out of this even if he is guilty. (I've personally seen this suggested by a haredi rabbi in the US concerning a serious crime that potentially occurred.)]

    3. Truth be told, not enough evidence one way or another is public that a person really knows what happened. People are applying their own common sense test.

    4. On what basis do you assert that the police did not do their job here? Amona? Because they did bad things in one place they are therefore utterly untrustworthy?

    You think the NYPD has that much a better reputation? Wasn’t resentment the supposed cause of riots against them in Boro Park right before Pesach? So now all their arrests are no good? Are *probably* bad?

    You really think the Israeli police are so bad that it is MORE reasonable to think they falsely arrested and then somehow forced this man into a confession after a bad medical diagnosis, rather then the reverse?

    5. Concerning accuracy, you said the rabbis called for ‘innocence until proven guilty.’ The ad clearly did not say that.

    At the end of the day, I don’t even think the media was that wrong – the ad, while it appears more like a letter given to a poor person, arguably is a psak – they made a ‘holy call’ for people to do something – and they did basically say he is innoent.

  • DovBear

    Innocent until proven guilty means we entertain the possibility someone else killed the child. His mother, perhaps, or a sitter or even a home intruder. It does not mean that we spread baseless, and ultimately damaging ideas about the credibility of the police. Again, an ME can easilly tell the difference between a baby that was dropped and a baby that was beaten (and what about the bite marks?) To say that this death was an accident is to call the police a bunch of liars. That’s irresponsible.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    Dear Rabbi Menken,

    Please provide a translation of any Kol Koreh that expresses the concern of the rabbis for this particular child. I will be very happy if I can retract my statement.

    Charlie

  • HILLEL

    I think it all boils down to a question of “Whom do you trust?

    If you believe that the Israeli Police are boy-scout-honest impartial professionals, then you accept them at their word.

    If you believe that they are a corrupt gang of anti-Orthodox thugs, you will be skeptical of anything the say.

    Based on what I have seen the Police do against Orthodox Jews, Hareidim, and the settlers at Amona, I incline to the latter view.

  • abcdefg

    The two story element, is, of course, what Toby Katz has already observed and which I momentarily forgot.

  • SephardiLady

    >>>What makes the slander especially outrageous is that no credible source doubts the incredible value and love of children in the Orthodox community.

    It is true that the Orthodox community shows an incredible amoutn of love for children. But, that certainly does not and should not preclude the possibility that a child can be beaten to death by an Orthodox parent (only the medical evidence can begin to tell the story), nor should it preclude the possibility that an Orthodox parent can loose his or her temper, which can be deadly if even for a moment.

    None of us can know if the father is guilty or innocent without seeing and understanding the evidence, even if we believe the confession may have been coerced. But, if any of us believe that abuse (even of short durations) cannot take place just because you are part of a certain community, than it is quite clear that you are living in a different world.

    When we became parents, my parents were quick to warn us that if we ever got the least bit frustrated with the baby, to put the baby down and leave the immediate premises for a small time to regain our calm and composure. It is just too easy to loose control of our own emotions, if only for a moment, when dealing with an infant.

    While we may never know if Yisrael Vales is guilty or innocent (and I am disgregarding the comments in the media by all parties because I can only believe that they were taken out of context given how terrible they came off sounding), at the very least, we should remember that we are human, have emotions, and can loose control, and that it is important to address these facts with all parents before they take home their baby from the hospital.

  • Ori

    Does the presumption of innocence also extend to the police accusing Valis? Should we assume they are doing a responsible job rather than trying to frame an innocent man, an action that is also criminal?

    The cops investigating the case have an interest in getting a conviction, and that gives them motivation to coerce a confession. Valis, having confessed (regardless of why or under what circumstances), has motivation to retract his confession. Which motivation is stronger?

    Until the evidence is presented in court, it’s too early to pass judgement, on either side.

  • Yaakov Menken

    ja, at the end of the day all I saw was the father’s confession that he bit the infant — which he now says was coerced. I have not seen any ME report. It’s time to stop the rush to judgement and to stop imagining the press has the whole story right. We already know they got huge sections of it wrong.

    Charlie, why do you imagine that a Kol Koreh is required to prove the Rabbis’ concern for the child? That’s ridiculous, and your conclusion slanderous. A Kol Koreh is always intended to motivate something, not merely to announce that “the Rabbis care.” Go find me any example of a Kol Koreh that merely announces the obvious and doesn’t intend to get the reader to do something — be that attend a levaya, protest, not protest, buy something, not buy something, etc.

    DovBear, I take it you’ve read the ME reports? Seen the photos? Examined the information yourself? If not, you are hardly in a position to rule out the possibility of accidental death.

    abcdefg, the police have done little good, and plenty bad, in Meah Shearim. Unfortunately the thought that the ME could misconstrue the injuries, and that on that basis the police could coerce a false confession, is not an unreasonable conclusion for one who has witnessed the police behave as I have.

    At the hespedim in Baltimore for Rabbi Herman Neuberger zt”l, they told the following story. A father was playing with his infant son, rolled the wrong way, and the child’s arm was broken. At the ER they called Child Protective Services because the break was typical of abuse situations. This would have been a travesty; fortunately, thanks to Rav Neuberger’s personal, late-night involvement, the child went home with his parents — to be raised in his loving, normal family on Yeshiva Lane.

    SephardiLady, it is undeniable that abuse occurs. The low incidence of abuse in the Orthodox community, however, increases the likelihood that any particular suspicious injury was of accidental rather than deliberate origin. Those claiming that the data is always overwhelming, that ME’s can always tell accurately, are speaking from ignorance. It’s simply not so, and if the ME reached the wrong conclusion, it is, again, not difficult to believe that the Israeli police responded by using unreasonable means to coerce a confession that would be laughed out of a court in this country.

    As far as the police force is concerned, Israel is a third-world country. So Yoram Hazony, Senior Fellow and past Director of the Shalem Center, and former aide to Bibi Netanyahu (he co-authored a book with Iddo N. on their brother Yoni’s command of the Entebbe Raid), told me nearly 20 years ago, and little has changed.

    Amona was a symptom, hardly the entire disease. Thus I suspend judgement, await cooler analysis, and think those who leap to presume his guilt are foolish. Even should he end up proven guilty, that evaluation will not change. Ori has it exactly right.

  • Sarah m

    Why are so many people saying that the rate of abuse is lower in the Jewish community? Can anyone bring a statistic?
    The only statistic I have found says otherwise- “Yes, domestic abuse occurs in Jewish families at about the SAME RATE as in the general community – about 15% and the abuse takes place among ALL branches of Judaism and at all socio-economic levels.” (emphasis mine) http://www.jcada.org/abusejewish.shtml

    Does anyone here have any statistics or studies that say otherwise?

  • Jewish Observer

    “normal family on Yeshiva Lane”

    I have never heard it put quite this way

  • ja

    “ja, at the end of the day all I saw was the father’s confession that he bit the infant—which he now says was coerced. I have not seen any ME report. It’s time to stop the rush to judgement and to stop imagining the press has the whole story right. We already know they got huge sections of it wrong.”

    http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/708305.html

    “The baby was hospitalized at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, in serious condition, with brain hemorrhaging, edema, signs of violence and bites on his body.”

  • S.

    >As far as the police force is concerned, Israel is a third-world country.

    If so, then the same is true as far as Israel’s chareidim are concerned: Israel is a third-world country.

  • Moshe

    Ori wrote:
    The cops investigating the case have an interest in getting a conviction, and that gives them motivation to coerce a confession.

    I don’t think this is correct. When there is an obvious murder, there is an intrest in the police getting a conviction – because if they did not get a conviction, there is a murderer running around on the loose. They look bad, as they are not doing their job.

    When a case of abuse arises, there is a chance of the injury being accidental as well. If the police let the parent go on the grounds of the injury being accidental, they have not failed in their job. In such an instance, I do not know if there is any inherent interest in getting a confession from the father.

    Lastly:
    I have seen the medical reports (here: http://hydepark.hevre.co.il/hydepark/topic.asp?whichpage=9&topic_id=1867614) of the professor brought by the family to check the infant, a”h. The professor concludes his report by saying that it is possible that the injuries were not caused intentionally. He also writes that he cannot rule out that the injury was intentional. As such, it would seem that there is at least enough doubt that the police can investigate the crime, and that it may not be so clear that the father doesn’t belong in jail.

    In short – I don’t know what happened – and neither does anyone else. Let the police investigate and let the father have his day in court.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Moshe,

    Thank you for posting this very important link. But “it may not be so clear that the father doesn’t belong in jail” flies in the face of “innocent until proven guilty.” The examiner writes: “when it come to single injuries, it is impossible to distinguish between an intentional and accidental injury.” That is why he makes no conclusion — because none can be reached.

    What is obvious is that he found no bite marks — so, ja, HaAretz or the police need to explain where that came from. Was it so long ago that police claimed that excrement was thrown at the Western Wall plaza?

    All those who claimed undeniable, obvious evidence of abuse have now been proven wrong by this report. Let the police investigate and let the father have his day in court — but don’t claim the community was wrong to wonder why he sat in jail throughout Pesach.

  • Moshe

    Yaakov,

    What the community has failed to do is to show that the treatment of this investigation was different than any other investigation of possible child abuse leading to the death of the child. If the community would have shown that in suspected child abuse cases that lead to homicide the suspect is let free to house arrest — and in this case that did not happen, I would fully agree with you.

    I think it is perfectly logical to hold a suspect in jail when there is suspicion of murder — even though one is innocent until proven guilty. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t quote any fancy latin law terms, but I’d presume that in cases with due cause, suspects are allowed to be kept in jail until it can be determined that they will not cause more damage to society or impede on the investigation of the case. I have not been shown any reason to believe that Mr. Vallis has been treated any differently than other suspects.

    Is the system rotten? Most probably.

    Does that mean that there is a blood libel against chareidi Jews? Not necessarily.

    Regarding the bite marks:
    The fact that they were not noted in the report does not mean they didn’t exist – the baby was brain dead when he was examined, and as such I’d presume that the professor examining him couldn’t move him to do a full body exam. He was hired by the family, so to expect him to write a report that has bite marks noted is absurd. Even had he seen them, he would have left them out of the report — as he can always claim ‘I didn’t see them’. A lot of money is at stake here — all of the possible income from charedi medical askanim.

  • David

    Moshe:

    Your link is the first real evidence offered in this affair!

    The report stated that there were “no signs of chronic or acute abuse on the skin of the child.” He did not say that he couldn’t examine all of the baby’s body. He was careful, though, to mention he had not yet seen x-rays of the long bones. That implies to me, at least, that he would have mentioned it if he couldn’t examine the entire body, especially since he knew there was an accusation of child abuse, and that the newspaers were reporting bite marks, etc.

    Therefore, a professor who is the Head of the Department of Neurology in Tel Aviv hospital and a professor at T.A. University has tesified in writing there were no bite marks or signs of previous abuse.
    Have the police or social workers shown any evidence of their claim from medical examiners?

    As an aside, this is my first post to CC, I find the exchanges extremely thought provoking, mature, and well-considered.