Haredim and the mainstream

Too many US Jewish periodicals ignore what ultra-Orthodox Jews have to say.

haredi 88 (photo credit: )
haredi 88
(photo credit: )
The fact that you are reading this means that The Jerusalem Post cares to provide a traditional Orthodox Jewish point of view. But there are many Jewish media - including the largest-circulation Jewish weekly on the east coast of the United States and its counterpart on the west - that seem to not consider traditional Jewish writers' views worth even a handful of column-inches on any regular basis. To be sure, they occasionally report on their respective haredi, or "ultra-Orthodox," communities, although usually when something shameful - some shandeh, to use the Yiddish word - has happened. Or was rumored to have happened. But among those papers' potpourri of opinion columns, a haredi viewpoint is a rare bird indeed. To be fair, most readers of those periodicals are not Orthodox. But if part of the publications' mandate is - as they all readily claim - to present the gamut of responsible Jewish viewpoints, what difference should that make? What is more, and worse, shameless generalizations that would rightfully evoke charges of prejudice in other contexts are nonchalantly embraced by some regular writers in the mainstream Jewish press. Earlier this year, for instance, a columnist in the New York Jewish Week dedicated her allotted space to a session at a conference. "Some Orthodox," she synopsized, "label secular Jews 'Amalek' [the evil, would-be nemesis of the Jewish people, whose utter destruction is ordered by God in the Torah - A.S.] and some extreme Orthodox use the same term for the Modern Orthodox." The long-standing but absurd canard that "some Orthodox" do not recognize the Jewishness of less-observant Jews must no longer be working. The ante had to be upped. So now, it seems, we bad guys in black hats regard other Jews as deserving of annihilation. Does the columnist really believe that? What could possibly fuel such fever dreams? Certainly not reality. Unsavory epithets may well have been heard in the loud; unruly dialectic of Israeli politics and uncouth individuals exist in every community - a shandeh, to be sure. But to imply that any definable subset of Orthodox Jews is wont to identify other Jews as evil incarnate not only ignores a thousand demonstrable facts (like the abundance of haredi-administered-and-funded outreach organizations, hospital services, free-loan efforts and study projects like Partners in Torah, which benefit Jews without regard to their observance level), but is ugly, incendiary and irresponsible. THERE MAY be any of a number of reasons for the ignoring (or worse) of haredim in the mainstream American Jewish press these days. There is plain-vanilla prejudice, of course, and nervousness over statistics that show Orthodoxy - and in particular, the haredi community - on the ascendant. (The Orthodox share of the Jewish youth population in the United States is 38%, larger than both the Conservative (25%) and Reform (32%) - and the haredi sector is by far the most "youth-heavy.") But whatever the reasons behind the dearth of haredim in the larger Jewish newspapers, it is something that should change. There may once have been a time when high-quality writers in English were a rarity in the haredi world. But that time is long gone. Not only are there many accomplished top-notch writers in the haredi world today (a few of my favorites are Jonathan Rosenblum, Shira Leibowitz Schmidt - who both write for the Post - and Sarah Shapiro in Israel; and Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Eytan Kobre, Rabbi Nosson Scherman, Dr. Marvin Schick, Rabbi Nisson Wolpin and David Zwiebel in the US), but there are many more who may not have been widely published but who have ample talent to be harnessed. A haredi press thrives, to be sure. In the United States, there are several national weeklies servicing the haredi community, and even a respected Aguda-affiliated haredi daily, Hamodia, that arrives on the lawns of thousands of Jews each morning. But those papers are a different breed from the general Jewish press. They do not attempt or claim to cover the breadth of the larger Jewish community, nor to provide anything but a Torah-based editorial stance. They are designed for Orthodox Jews who, already confronted regularly with the more widespread "general Jewish" papers and their attitudes, want to read news devoid of prurience and providing opinion based on Jewish tradition. The Jews who are losing out are those who see only the general Jewish periodicals, those whose sources for Jewish information and ideas at best ignore what emerges from the vibrant, growing and unabashedly traditional Orthodox community; and, at worst, misrepresent it. And that's a true shandeh. The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.