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.
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.