Agudah Billboard Ads Condemn NY Times Articles on Orthodox Jews

By Reuvain Borchardt

The ad outside the Lincoln Tunnel. (Naftoli Goldgrab)

NEW YORK — Agudath Israel, upset over a series of articles in The New York Times critical of Chassidic yeshivas, is posting ads on Manhattan billboards condemning the Times and tying the articles to increased antisemitic attacks in New York City.

2X New York City Antisemitic Attacks Doubled,” reads the left third of the billboard, citing NYPD statistics comparing antisemitc crimes in November 2022 and the same month last year. The center says, “12 New York Times articles against Orthodox Jews in 3 Months,” referring mainly to articles critical of Chassidic yeshivas but on other topics related to the Orthodox community, such as Chassidic political influence. And the right side says, “Please stop attacking our community,” with a promotion for, a new, Agudah-run website that purports to debunk the claims made in the Times articles and to introduce people to the Orthodox community.

The billboard is on the West Side of Manhattan, visible to motorists entering the island from the Lincoln Tunnel.

The Times articles depict Chassidic yeshivas as providing a subpar secular education that leaves graduates ill-equipped for life and livelihood in a modern society. The articles also allege that these “failing private schools” are “flush with public money,” and that Orthodox schools and special-education businesses have taken advantage of government funding for special education.

Orthodox leaders have denounced the Times articles as an innacurate smear campaign fed by interviews with disgruntled individuals who have left the community.

The articles were written as the New York State Board of Regents considered – and ultimately passed, in September – a new regulation that for the first time requires private schools to submit to state approval of its secular-studies curriculum, in order to fulfill a longstanding requirement that they offer an education “substantially equivalent” to that in public schools. Agudath Israel and other yeshiva groups have filed a lawsuit against the regulation.

The ad outside the Lincoln Tunnel. (Naftoli Goldgrab)

Agudah officials and other Jewish leaders met with New York Times editors last month, in a bid to put a halt to the series, but after the articles continued, most recently with one last Thursday, Agudah decided to go ahead with the billboard ads.

“This is not a decision that we came to lightly,” Agudah’s chief of staff, Avrohom Weinstock, told Hamodia in an interview Monday. “We tried diplomacy — and hope to continue that — but after the meeting last month was unsuccessful, the decision was made to take this to the next level, to try to set the record straight.”

“The message is not only to the Times,” Weinstock says. “There’s a broader message to other publications  — to think critically about what the Times is writing, look at, evaluate the information, think about whether it is true and how it will impact us – as well as to the man on the street, and even to ourselves.

“While we do our best in advocacy, we know that ultimately our salvation comes from G-d, and we will continue to pray and seek salvation from Him.”

The site has a white paper that seeks to rebut the allegations in the Times articles, and that portrays yeshivas as producing successful graduates who lead productive lives.

In a statement to Hamodia on Tuesday, Times spokeswoman Nicole Taylor said, “Our reporters have spent months seeking to help readers understand what is happening inside some of New York’s lowest-performing schools, speaking to hundreds of parents, students, and educators to explain the inner workings of Hasidic Jewish religious schools, which receive substantial amounts of public money. Interviews with more than 50 people currently in the community showed a failure to provide the basic education that is required by state law, leaving students unable to navigate the outside world. Shortly after our initial article was published, the operators of the largest private Hasidic school in New York State admitted to diverting millions of dollars from government programs in a widespread fraud scheme. We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting.”

Weinstock says the issue is beyond one of allegations over yeshiva education.

“It seems that while everyone agrees antisemitism is bad and rushes to condemn it, there is a sense that anti-Orthodox, to purvey tropes about this one group, is acceptable,” Weinstock says. “In a world that is politically correct and extremely sensitive to cultural sensitivities, at least some of that treatment should be applied to the Orthodox Jewish community and its traditions.”

Weinstock says the purpose of is to educate those who are unfamiliar with the Orthodox community except for what they read in media outlets like the Times.

“Its intended to give people an authentic perspective  of how we live and who we are,” he says. “These are dangerous times for Orthodox Jews. Antisemitic attacks are on the rise, and the vast majority of assaults are against visibly Orthodox and Hasidic Jews – the very same demographic that has been targeted by the Times again and again. We are getting beaten in the streets, and we are getting beaten in the press.”

The billboard outside the Lincoln Tunnel was posted Friday, with the aim of it being seen by partygoers traveling to the Times Square festivities over the weekend. Two more billboard ads are set to go live this week, just in time for the start of the post-holiday news cycle: one in Times Square, and one in a building next to the Times’ headquarters.

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