July 26, 2004

by Reb Yudel
What if the NYTimes didn't cover Orthodox Jews as quaint curiosities?

Protocols and others are linking to the NYTimes' ombudsman's confession that as a "liberal" newspaper, the Times covers groups such as "Orthodox Jews" as "strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide."

No doubt, Orthodox media maven Avi Shafran will make this the center of his next weekly piece.

The question is, what if Orthodox Judaism were to be taken seriously by the New York Times? I can guarantee you that Avi Shafran will find his tzitzis in a twist faster than you can say ombudsman.

Taking Orthodox Judaism seriously means accepting, at least in terms journalistic assignments, its claim to be the authentic and sole representative on earth -- or at least in the tri-state area -- of the creator of the universe. That means scrutiny, not hagiography.

Imagine if the New York Times were to start reviewing piskei halacha the way it reviews Supreme Court decisions. Heck, imagine a critical review of new ArtScroll books? How about full profiles of up-and-coming members of Moetzes Gedolei Torah, featuring frank analyses of their strengths and weaknesses?

Imagine if the New York Times treated Orthodox Judaism as seriously as it treats the pharmeceutical business. I think it would be good for the Jews. But I'm not so sure Avi Shafran would agree. Because when it comes down to it, Orthodoxy doesn't want to be treated seriously as a journalistic subject; it wants its claims of inerrancy to be treated unskeptically.

And that, as the Catholic Church can tell you, is not part of the New York Times business model.