The New York Times’ Vendetta Against Our Community

An ad campaign by Agudath Israel on Manhattan billboards, criticizing The New York Times for its articles on the Orthodox Jewish community. (Naftoli Goldgrab)

Imagine a major media outlet running a series of prominent articles highly critical of Black communities and institutions, or of Islamic or Hispanic or Asian ones — articles rife with hearsay and innuendo, devoid of balance and exhibiting a striking lack of objectivity. Articles that painted a warped and ugly picture of one of those groups, that charged that the parents within it choose to foster their children’s ignorance and poverty, that accused the groups of being sinister pilferers of public funds.

There is a good reason you can’t. Because most people, and, in particular, progressive members of society, would howl in outrage — and rightly so. Ethnic and religious communities deserve to be treated fairly, not targeted for unwarranted disparagement and slander.

But when it’s The New York Times, famously and fatuously self-described as “the paper of record,” and the victims of the hatchet jobs are the Orthodox community and its institutions, things are different.

There have now been more than a dozen articles in less than four months in the Times that, in one or another way, disparaged Orthodox Jews.

And, predictably, the public reaction, at least judging from many hundreds of comments posted on the paper’s website in response to its relentless, biased and unfair attacks, has been enthusiastic applause and unbridled expressions of animus for the articles’ targets.

The paper’s offerings have not only been demeaning and hatred-generating but also containing numerous inaccuracies. They rely heavily on claims and narratives provided by once-observant Jews who have left their Orthodox communities and bear ill-will toward them.

And the pieces lack any counterbalance. Alternate chareidi experiences and views — of which, of course, there are many thousands — are nowhere to be found in the Gray Lady’s soiled pages.

Many of the objectionable articles target yeshivos, calling them irresponsible and squanderers of public funds. 

One article, for example, charged that “Jewish religious schools have benefited from $1 billion in government funding in the last four years,” without so much as a mention of the fact that a sizable chunk of that money came from a one-time stimulus COVID-19 payment that countless institutional, business and individual recipients received during the pandemic. Or that the remainder was for school lunches for qualifying children, transportation costs, mandated service reimbursements and a city voucher program that helps low-income families pay for child care. 

That same article accused yeshivos of — apparently a crime in the Times’ world — censoring texts. As if a private school, meeting parents’ expectations, has no right to edit material that Times reporters find unobjectionable.

The Times even saw nefariousness in yeshivos encouraging parents to vote (which, of course, the paper itself does as well).

Last Thursday brought the most recent Times vilification posing as reportage. The 5,000-word “exposé” implied, largely through the words of others and context-free numbers, that yeshivos are abusers of government special education funding.

That our community is, baruch Hashem, blessed with many children, and that each year sees more students in its yeshivos, are facts entirely ignored by the Times. As is the great sacrifice those children’s parents make to self-fund the education of their young. The Times twists the astuteness and determination that yield yeshivos’ obtaining of entirely legitimate government funds, to which they and their students are legally and ethically entitled, into a dark picture of shrewd underhandedness — in a manner little different from how haters over generations have misportrayed Jews.

Absent from the Times’ offerings is the salient fact that parents in our community save taxpayers billions annually. And the fact that our yeshivos overwhelmingly produce Jewishly-knowledgeable and observant, law-abiding, successful citizens.

The Times’ pathological obsession with our community is not only unhealthy, it is dangerous. 

Antisemitic attacks specifically targeting the visibly Jewish in New York City have risen exponentially. Unstable cultural figures (each with tens of millions of fans) have accused Jews of controlling the world. The Times, with its anti-chareidi preoccupation, only fuels such fires.

Much well-deserved criticism of the Times’ chareidi-bashing has been offered in an assortment of other media, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Sun, Commentary, Religion News Service — even Haaretz.  

But it would be starry-eyed to expect the slanders to cease. After all, this is the same New York Times that downplayed the Holocaust — for which, decades later, it apologized — and that has repeatedly characterized the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom as a showdown between rival urban groups.

Maybe one day the Times will apologize for mischaracterizing chareidim in 1991 and vilifying them in 2022. Maybe one day it will note things the chareidi world in fact lacks: gangs and violent crimes. Maybe it will even record the fact that our community ranks exponentially lower in rates of substance abuse and homelessness.

Maybe. But we’re not holding our breath.

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