Tuesday, October 26, 2010

thanks to a progressive reader for sending this along

"In the midst of all the discussion about what The Standard did, undid, didn't do, should do, should have done or shouldn't have done,  ... note that The Standard never quite came clean about what happened in the first place."

Monday, October 25, 2010

So the publisher hopes the story fizzles

Here's a review.

On September 24, the (NJ) Jewish Standard published its first same-sex wedding announcement on its 'Simchas' page.
The next week, October 1,The Jewish Standard published a public apology. It said that "a group of rabbis has reached out to us and conveyed the deep sensitivities within the traditional/Orthodox community" and has "made us aware that publication of that announcement caused pain and consternation, and we apologize for any pain we may have caused..."  The statement declared that the paper has "decided ...not to run such announcements in the future."
 The Jewish Standard received more than 300 comments on its website castigating it for its timidity, its fecklessness and for the pain it has caused to the other segments of the community. The comments ranged from questioning the newspaper's integrity to caustic challenges that it caved in the face of a threatened economic boycott of kosher advertisers who would in turn be threatened to desist from advertising lest their teudot (certificates of kashrut) be revoked. None of these allegations have been proven.
 The following issue, dated October 8,devoted just one page to the controversy. Instead, it chose to run a story on the cover and on two more pages about the 95th anniversary of a nursing home. On page 16, the publisher ran this boxed statement:
It said, in part: "We did not expect the heated response  we got and - in truth - we believe now we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement... We urge everyone to take a step back and reflect on what this series of events has taught us about the community.. . and about the steps we must take to move forward together."
This statement is a sorry example of coy deflection: the publisher is not apologizing for his stance; he is apologizing for the firestorm. And he does not acknowledge his error; instead, he asks the community to reconsider its behavior.
 Worse still, the Jewish Standard printed, not pages of letters they had received, but a total of five letters: the first two denigrating the paper for running the announcement and the next two deriding the apology for running the announcement, as if the mail the paper had received was about even. based on the published comments on the paper's website, however, it received ONLY ONE letter challenging the publication of the same-sex wedding announcement and at least 300 applauding the announcement and decrying the newspaper's reversal. The fifth letter was a signed statement from thirty seven rabbis of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis urging the paper to be inclusive of "the entire Jewish community, not just one segment or another."
The October 15th issue of the Jewish Standard did ostensibly put the story on its front page. But rather than address the issue of inclusiveness or give an explanation of how this issue evolved, (e.g., who called the publisher? Was there an implicit or explicit threat?), the editors made the story about “community conflict” and featured a number of rabbis and community leaders whose focus was about community harmony. The paper also ran an editorial, entitled “Moving forward”, in which it promised “to engage in discussions and to chronicle the ongoing controversy’ and asked “for time to address this matter properly – to do the ‘due diligence’ we should have done from the start.”
An Op-Ed in this same issue appeared on page 16. http://www.jstandard.com/content/item/we_all_have_our_red_lines/15257/     The author,  Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Goldin, expresses surprise and shock “by the depth of animosity directed toward Orthodoxy and toward our community’s Orthodox rabbinate in particular.”Rabbi Goldin explicitly states that “The Jewish Standard was never threatened...  (and that) No boycott ...was ever advocated by the RCBC” (the Rabbinic Council of Bergen County, the association of Orthodox rabbis in the county).  He concludes his essay by calling for “mutual respect and understanding.”
The October 22nd issue carried just two letters, both of which were only marginally connected to the heart of the controversy. One letter was a condemnation of “Orthodox bashing” and the other a rebuttal of Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s biting defense of Orthodoxy.
It seems that Mr. Janoff and The Jewish Standard simply don’t get it. The Jewish Standard capitulated on a matter of editorial independence, most likely in response to warnings from leaders in the Orthodox community. The paper has not declared whether it will again run a same-sex wedding announcement (or a birth or adoption announcement when the parents are same-sex), nor has it acknowledged the overwhelming challenge to Orthodox supremacy in the community, nor has it acknowledged its own responsibility in its greatest misstep in The Jewish Standard’s history.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The RCBC Responds

Below is a statement that was released on Tuesday Oct 12, 2010 by the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County. It denies any threat against The Jewish Standard for running the same-sex wedding announcement. The statement is reprinted here in full:

RCBC Statement

As you may know, The Jewish Standard published an announcement of a forth-coming same-sex marriage in the Simcha section of its September 24 edition. In the following week’s edition, on the editorial page, the paper issued a retraction and an apology of sorts, indicating that they did not accurately anticipate just how disturbed many people in the Orthodox community would be by this announcement, and committing that they would not publish other such announcements in the future. The reaction to this was swift, voluminous and loud, emanating from throughout Bergen County community and way, way beyond, via the print media, radio and television, and, of course, a wide array of internet blogs. The vast majority of comments were negative and highly critical of the newspaper’s apparent change of heart.

To our great consternation, the local Orthodox rabbinate, comprising the RCBC (Rabbinical Council of Bergen County), has become and continues to be the target of much venom presently being spewed, especially on the aforementioned blogs, based on the presumption that the rabbis played a major, and indeed bullying and arm-twisting role in the Jewish Standard’s decision making process. As a result of many erroneous assumptions, unsubstantiated claims and baseless fabrications, the rabbis of our community have been vilified in the most insulting, defamatory and obnoxious of terms.

The following open statement is directed to our congregations in an attempt to accurately present the facts and set the record straight.

In the days following the appearance of this marriage announcement, a number of RCBC rabbis spoke with each other either in person, on the phone or through email. There was never, as suggested in one report, any special rabbinical meeting convened to deal with this matter. The reactions among the rabbis varied. Some stated that they had been approached by numerous congregants who were very upset by what they saw in the paper; others said that only a few in their synagogue seemed to care. Some held that the RCBC should send some kind of response to the newspaper, either orally or in writing; others contended than in as much as this paper does not conform, and does not claim to conform, to Orthodox standards – they do, after all, advertise non-Kosher food establishments and announce communal events which take place on Shabbat – this is not an RCBC problem. In light of the lack of any consensus, and in light of the fact that all this was taking place in the middle of the holiday of Sukkot, when the minds of most rabbis are understandably focused elsewhere, it was decided that any official RCBC reaction would wait until a full discussion could take place at our next regularly scheduled meeting, already planned for the week after Yom Tov.

One single RCBC rabbi, who has been consulted by the Jewish Standard on a number of occasions in the past about issues relating to the religious sensibilities of the Orthodox community, did go, with the approval of the RCBC leadership, though not representing the RCBC, to meet with the executive staff of the Jewish Standard. The meeting was characterized by calm, civility and mutual respect. The rabbi communicated that there were a significant number of Orthodox Jews who felt that the Standard had crossed a line by publishing this wedding announcement, and that if the leaders of the paper are concerned about the opinions of these members of our community, they should reconsider their position on this matter for the future.

- At no time did this rabbi or any other RCBC rabbi express any threat whatsoever, financial or otherwise, to the newspaper.
- At no time did anyone representing the RCBC ever contact any proprietor of a food establishment under RCBC Kashruth supervision regarding anything to do with this matter or with the Jewish Standard.
- At no time did anyone representing the RCBC advocate any kind of boycott of the newspaper or force, urge, encourage, coax or cajole anybody else to do so.

Any reports, allegations or accusations implying the contrary are outright lies. They remain outright lies regardless of how loudly they are proclaimed or how often they are repeated.

It is a source of embarrassment to the greater Jewish community that there are various Jewish blog sites, claiming that they accurately report on the Jewish world in general, or cover the Orthodox world in particular, or something of the like, who seem, at least in this case, to have felt no need to display any sense of professionalism, journalistic integrity or even common courtesy. Any one of these values would dictate that all relevant facts should be thoroughly checked and rechecked before launching a nasty verbal attack on others, but that clearly did not happen here. Instead, the sites fed off of one another, built on the uncorroborated posts of others hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name and “protected” themselves by inserting words like “allegedly” and “supposedly” every once in a while. And so the Orthodox rabbis of Bergen County have this past week been labeled thugs, Ayatollahas, Mafiosos, Taliban and who knows what else. All, of course, in the name of tolerance, decency and sensitivity to the feelings of others, and all based on falsehood.

It is our hope that the above will allow our community members to gain greater clarity about what actually transpired here and to avoid being influenced by the many untruths and distortions currently being promulgated.

May Hashem bless us all with the strength and wisdom to serve Him in accordance with His will.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The New York Times piece from October 7

Our Towns:  Whiplash Can Follow a Car Crash or a Wedding Announcement
A furor erupted among Orthodox Jews in Teaneck, N.J., over the publication of a same-sex wedding announcement.

"... After much deliberation, the newspaper ran the announcement — the first in its 79-year history for a same-sex marriage — in its Sept. 24 issue. Then, in its next issue, citing complaints from Orthodox rabbis and a “firestorm” that resulted, it issued an apology for the “pain and consternation” the announcement had caused members of the Orthodox community. It promised not to run similar announcements again.
Then, after firestorms from other corners, the newspaper released a statement on Tuesday reconsidering its reconsideration. It said the paper may have acted too quickly and listened to only one segment of its readership, which includes Bergen County and beyond, Orthodox and non-Orthodox.
What it says about Teaneck, a community with a history of diversity, a contentious civic culture, a Muslim mayor and an increasingly dominant Orthodox Jewish community, is worth an entire rabbinical commentary in itself. But coming at the same time as the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student, it played out like a Talmudic variation on contemporary themes."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Responsibility of a Newspaper to Its Community

I am very disturbed, both by the Jewish Standard’s decision to withhold any subsequent wedding announcements of same-sex couples and also by its craven apology following the publication of an upcoming same-sex wedding in its Sept. 24 2010 issue. http://www.jstandard.com/index.php/content/lifecycle/C11/P8/

It is remarkable to think that in the few days of Sukkot when it was not yom tov, the Orthodox rabbis in the Teaneck community and Bergen County found the time to rally over this issue and that, in this same time frame, the editorial board reached this abrupt decision. Additionally, while the publisher’s statement acknowledged a “firestorm” as a result of running this announcement, the editorial board chose not to run a single letter received on this matter.

The Standard yielded abjectly to the pressures of one side of this issue and surrendered its own editorial integrity.

It is important to acknowledge that the publication of the announcement caused nowhere near the “pain and consternation”  it is now causing among those of us who love and respect our gay family members and friends. 

The Jewish Standard is the paper of record to a large Jewish community here in Bergen County and should not – dare I say, may not – yield to any one constituency. The speed in which this issue was reversed smacks of a threat of a boycott by those rabbis who control the RCBC and whose restaurants advertise in the pages of the paper. A newspaper must resist the pressures of any one faction if it is to claim journalistic integrity.

The publisher and editors have surrendered to intimidation and censorship at the cost of their integrity. Either they hold themselves to the standards of journalistic integrity or change the paper’s name to the Jewish DoubleStandard..