By Larry Gordon
It is difficult to fathom. We are, at times, our own worst enemies. Why is it that so many Orthodox Jewish, Torah-oriented, and fundamentally frum companies and organizations patronize and advertise in publications that are antithetical to Torah-true Judaism? If some of these publications would have their way, they would veritably tear apart Torah Jewry. Why is it then that so many frum advertisements appear in publications whose editorial policies are anti-Torah?
I have to admit that I have always enjoyed the journalism and the subject matter covered in the Jewish Week. It was always filled with professionalism and, more importantly, integrity that has been a rare commodity in too many instances. Lately, however–over the last several years at minimum–the paper has unfortunately lost a lot of that integrity. It has moved in the direction of agenda-driven political expediency with a single-minded focus on denigrating and ridiculing anything that has to do with Orthodoxy.
This is not about the New York Times, which lives and breathes to vilify and disparage Jews and Israel or, even better, Jews in Israel. When it comes to Jewish journalism, there is another factor that requires consideration and that is the matter of kiddush Hashem versus chillul Hashem, which, no matter your position, is unique to our people. It seems, though, that this important factor does not enter into the equation when it comes to the reporting in either the Jewish Week or the Forward, which are both heavily circulated here in the New York area.
Sure, the argument will surface and the contention will be put forward that anything short of telling it like they see it in the extreme is excuse-making, a cover-up, or both. But that hardly reflects the reality. What these two newspapers specifically do–and there are others, as well as a series of websites, that also do the same–is to take the flimsiest of superficial information and present it as hardened and irrefutable fact. When these story lines turn out not to resemble whatever their contentions are, it is weakly confronted or confessed to and just left to eventually fade from the scene, as all stories eventually do.
I’ll cite several specific stories that are intended to shake the foundation of Orthodoxy, but first let’s address the question as to why mainstream Orthodox Jewish organizations and food companies or stores, for example, that depend on the patronage of strictly kosher-observing Jews, are the main supporters of the Jewish Week. The Forward, which features the most absurdly critical stories determined to cast a negative light on Orthodoxy, gave up on attracting advertising dollars more than a year ago and is now largely dependent on charitable contributions to cover its expenses and keep it going. The Forward reduced its publication schedule and, just prior to the summer, announced that it was becoming a monthly publication rather than a weekly.
On the matter of full disclosure, this is not a complaint about these advertisers that might run their ads in other papers instead of the 5TJT. That is not the case at all. The fact is that as far as mainstream groups and companies are concerned, most of the ads that run in the Jewish Week also run in the Five Towns Jewish Times.
Here’s a good example of what is being referred to here. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Israeli government has decided to cancel all ads in the chareidi newspaper Hapeles because of the paper’s stance against chareidi IDF soldiers. The paper has been extremely critical of the so-called ultra-Orthodox who join the IDF and has defended and even praised those who use violence against these soldiers.
The move was approved by the Justice, Defense, and Internal Security ministers. Hapeles is the mouthpiece of the extremist “Jerusalem faction,” which is connected with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach and has been locked in a power struggle with the mainstream chareidi community ever since the death of Torah sage Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt’l, in 2012. The Jerusalem faction considers Bnei Brak-based Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, shlita, to be an illegitimate leader, and has revolted against his authority, splitting the hierarchical chareidi world.
This might be a symptom of the effort to feature a free press, but the government of Israel is also free not to financially support an effort that is responsible for doing so much damage amongst Orthodox Jews and harming the internal mechanisms of Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel.
It was this story in the Israeli press last week that produced the question here about a somewhat similar situation. These new newspapers consistently poke fun of, denigrate, and ridicule Orthodoxy with a relentless effort to illustrate what they like to suggest is hypocrisy.
Torah Judaism is commonly referred to as authentic Judaism; however, in a constantly changing world, the effort with this kind of journalism is to cajole and persuade leadership within this denomination of Judaism to effectuate changes just like everyone else up and down the religious hierarchy, in all religions across the board, but particularly in Judaism. And it runs the gamut from suggesting that most leaders of faith–that is, other than the Orthodox–are fleeing from or withdrawing support from President Trump, to the restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer groups at the Western Wall, the Kotel, in Israel, a longstanding government policy.
And this week, in its online edition, the Forward features an article by a former Obama administration speechwriter, David Litt, that is titled “How Obama Was Our Most Jewish President–And Trump the Least.” It is absurd in the extreme, except for the fact that these folks actually believe that to be the case. The article is just plain silly, as Mr. Litt explains how he tried to get Mr. Obama to verbalize the “ch” sound in “Chag sameiach” but was not successful in doing so. And to think that if only Mr. Obama could have sounded out the “chhh,” the history of this country might have been different. We are left, though, with the question whether Hillary Clinton can do a “chhh” and how that ability, if it existed, might have changed the future direction of America.
As for the Jewish Week, it seems committed to featuring stories that weaken Orthodoxy whenever possible. There is the recent story of an Orthodox woman, Elana Sztokman, who decided to become a Reform rabbi because, as she says, “I’m so happy that women are becoming rabbis in Orthodoxy; at the same time, a maharat cannot count in a minyan–even though she may be more learned than 95 percent of the congregation, she can’t count in a minyan, she can’t say Kaddish.”
And then there is a subject that seems to be a favorite of theirs: same-sex marriage and transgender Jews, usually served up in the context of trying to make the Orthodox look as though we are backward and intolerant.
These are examples of negligence of the highest order that accomplish little in terms of change and only serve to embolden critics and enemies of Jews everywhere, who can be found just about anywhere you look.
So while Mesorah Publications and Sukkah Depot just want to sell books and sukkahs, they are also inadvertently supporting essays and editorials that question their veracity and the genuineness of Torah and the Torah way of living. And that is just a shame.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.