A newspaper is not a bible even when its audience is culturally constructed and especially when it purports to speak to the total community. I read the Jewish Standard because I am interested in everything that is happening in the Jewish world. I read several other Jewish papers, including Hamodia: “the newspaper of Torah Jewry”, so that I have an additional window into and an appreciation for the compelling issues, and matters of concern for the Haredi community.
More than 25 years ago I heard the late Gershon Jacobson, then the Editor of the Algemeiner Journal, a Yiddish paper with ties to the Lubavitch and Chassidic communities, recount the tensions and frustrations he regularly contended with; his struggles to report on events and developments in the “frum” world as they were, and not on how they were supposed to be, sanitized and filtered to keep everyone believing that all was good. A gruesome suicide in Lakewood, he felt, was important commentary on the mental illness that reached even into those protected precincts. And when President Reagan was pictured receiving the gift of a menorah from Chabad representatives, it was important for the historical record to reflect that he spent no more than six minutes with that delegation. It was by no means part of any great Chassidic summit at the White House. Against cries of “it’s a boushah”, Mr. Jacobson argued that even papers that serve affinity groups and religious communities need to be a reflection of what really is happening in a given community and not the wishful thinking of the masses in denial.
As a member of the Editorial Board of an independent Jewish paper in another community we dealt with the issue of life cycle announcements involving gay marriage almost a decade ago. I felt then as I do today that it is a community paper’s responsibility to be a mirror of its community and all of its currents. This extends to all sections and services provided by a paper. While I as an Orthodox Rabbi remain unable to personally endorse Gay marriage, I do not need or expect my local community Jewish newspaper to become my Beit Midrash and build “mechitzot” to protect my children or congregants. Those lessons need to be studied and discussed in our schools and shuls, where I dare say we have yet exhausted the opportunities to ‘perfect’ a curriculum on issues of sexuality, ‘tzniut’, and dating ethics.
Once again we have aimed our piety pistols at the wrong target. “Tachlis”, seriously, we have enough difficult lessons to still master about kavod habriot/human dignity and creating some model for a modicum of “unity in diversity” than to allow ourselves to be drawn off course by the social announcements. How many of us have stopped reading the New York Times and keep it from our children on account of its Sunday Styles section? The Jewish Standard is a community paper and that entails all that is and will be in and around our community and contemporary Jewish condition. The way to help those we disagree with is not to deny their reality but to love them more, learn with and on some acceptable, possible level, live and engage with them in greater incidence.
I hope the Jewish Standard can maintain its commitment to cover the events of the Jewish world as they are and not as we wish them to be. And I only pray that we can realign our energies for the battles we have far too long ignored, and use our energies for the many cases of shame and suffering, want and hunger, that continue to be borne in silence.