The Conspiracy

We did not pressure Jewish Standard, NJ rabbis say

Following the controversy over the Jewish Standard’s same-sex wedding announcement last week, Jewish publications (irresponsibly, in my view) published unproven allegations that the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, one of northern New Jersey’s largest Orthodox rabbinical authorities, pressured the New Jersey Jewish standard in a variety of inappropriate ways. In particular, Tablet Magazine reported that:

Internet comments—which obviously we also can’t substantiate—have blamed financial pressures or even threats for being behind this. “It is my understanding that the Jewish Standard was basically being blackmailed,” a commenter on our site said. “The RCBC, the Orthodox Rabbinate threatened to take away the hechsher, the certificate of kashrut, from any restaurant that continued to advertise in the Jewish Standard if they did not announce that they would never publish another gay wedding announcement.” Andrew Silow-Carroll found something similar elsewhere.

Failed Messiah, a blog that covers the shadowier parts of the Orthodox world, also alleged–without citing any definite sources in particular–that the Bergen County rabbis threatened the paper’s financial base. The blog detailed those threats as:

1. The rabbis told the newspaper that they would stop advertisers dependant on the Orthodox rabbis’ kashrut endorsements from advertising in the Standard.
2. The Orthodox rabbis then told all kosher restaurants, caterers, etc. that anyone who advertises in the Standard will automatically lose their hechsher (a rabbinic seal of approval stating that the food is kosher).
3. The Orthodox rabbis also told that Standard that day schools, yeshivot and seminaries would not advertise in the Standard if any more same-sex announcements or ads are published by it.

Now the RCBC has issued a statement saying that none of this actually happened. In particular, the statement says:

- At no time did this rabbi or any other RCBC rabbi express to the newspaper any threat whatsoever or imply anything about “consequences,” financial or otherwise.
- At no time did anyone from the RCBC ever contact any proprietor of a food establishment under RCBC Kashruth supervision about pulling advertising from the paper or about anything else to do with the Jewish Standard in connection with this matter.
- At no time did anyone representing the RCBC attempt to coax or force anybody to boycott the newspaper.

Failed Messiah did report on this, without comment. Tablet, unless I missed something, has not. Jewish Daily Report, another blog active on this issue, doubted the truthfulness of the statement.

So now the issue is, who do we believe? The Standard clearly stated that they spoke with a group of area Orthodox rabbis. It’s possible, as JDR suggests, that those rabbis weren’t under the “official” aegis of the RCBC but still made the threats.

Either way, it seems to me that we have no definitive, or even substantiated, evidence that these threats happened, so I would humbly suggest that Jewish publications, blogs or not, stop accusing people of extortion before verifying their reporting.

What happened with the Jewish Standard is bad enough. There’s no need to conduct bad journalism in order to make it seem worse.

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5 Older Responses to “We did not pressure Jewish Standard, NJ rabbis say”

  1. Hershl
    October 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Is it bad journalism to report what people in the community , the JDR, while wishing to protect their jobs and remain anonymous?

    Yesterday we again received a lengthy letter from an insider who refuses to go public because of the local repercussions that will create.

    What would you do in such a case?

    Recently, as you may know, several gay men were beaten and sodomized with a baseball bat in the Bronx, NY. The police called it the worst anti-gay hate crime in recent history. Because they are terrified of local bullies and are defenseless, most of the victims did not go to the police. Finally, when their security was assured they spoke out.

    Can you protect the innocents whose lives would be ruined by these homophobic rabbis who are trying to force their views on the Jewish community?

  2. Ben Sales
    October 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Hershl,

    I’m very sympathetic to that concern, and I would suggest that you identify the “insider” beyond their being an insider–while still not giving their name. Do they work for the Jewish Standard? Did the editors of the paper tell them this? Did the rabbis tell them this? We need to know that the source is credible, even if it’s anonymous. If we don’t have those standards, anyone could send you a letter claiming anything to be true.

  3. Hershl
    October 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Ben

    Very good points.

    The letter writer is very close to one of the staff. I have had enough contact with this person to believe that they are honestly attempting to speak out while protecting all the people involved who might otherwise be adversely effected should their identity be discovered.

    As you know, the rabbis, with one exception, have all chosen to remain anonymous. How do we know who they are, whether they are credible? In their statement they make it clear that most of their orthodox colleagues do not share their view. However, even in this situation the other colleagues are unwilling to speak for attribution. No one wants to “get involved”.

    The media will find other stories to cover. Then life will return to “normal” in Bergen County, NJ. Those who risk losing their jobs want to continue working. They are telling us via this person that they don’t believe that sympathetic outsiders will still be around when the sun sets. They seriously wonder whether it is worth sticking their necks out when those making the threats will still be around later on.

    The simple, undeniable fact is that a small group of orthodox rabbis have successfully managed to pressure a secular Jewish paper to follow their dictates. Don’t you wonder why the paper caved so easily? What clout could these rabbis ever have that would bring such a decisive response from james Janoff, the publisher, a non-orthodox Jew?

    Meanwhile, the newspaper stands by its policy change; no more same-sex union announcements will be permitted.

  4. Michael
    October 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Before a credible news outlet will publish an anonymous tip, the information must be verified. In many cases, the editor must know who the source is and how they got the information. It is not enough that a person know someone who would know. There are people in the employ of the paper who would, no doubt, like to blame the orthodox community for the editor’s decision and making up or exaggerating threats of boycott would play very well in some communities. Sorry, I just do not think that your information has enough credibility such that it justifies the violation of (a) professional journalist standards and (b) Jewish rules against defamation simply because you have a preconceived belief that orthodox rabbis (and perhaps all orthodox Jews) are “homophobic” without a scintilla of evidence to support such a belief.

    It is ironic that those who profess to believe in celebration and tolerance of diversity cannot bear the idea that someone would have a POV opposed tho theirs. Thus I have to support the idea of gay marriage while you get to call me a hate monger if I don’t. In today’s NY Times, NYC Council Speaker Quinn talked about “wrong beliefs.” Is this the tolerance of the left? Those of us who believe that the Torah is God’s law and that there can be no religious sanction to prohibited relationships (intermarriage, gay marriage, etc) find these announcements to be very painful, even as we acknowledge the rights of those who do not share our beliefs. There is, among those I know in the Teaneck orthodox community, no hate or fear. But we approach life from the perspective of halacha, and not from a “whatever makes you feel good/happy is all right” approach to life. It is not who you are, but demanding that I accept everything you do as moral that is the problem.

  5. Ben Sales
    October 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Michael,

    You’re responding to Hershl and not me, right? Because as you see, I agree with many of your basic points.

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