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Dilemmas in Print: A Mishpacha Symposium

Coordinated by Eytan Kobre

Five prominent figures in the worlds of Orthodox Jewish journalism and communal leadership address some of the challenges and opportunities

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

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GOTCHA JOURNALISM “The frum media doesn’t play gotcha journalism,” says Binyamin Rose. “We can’t, first of all because we don’t have the research tools the major media outlets do. I’m not Chris Wallace with a team of producers who have tape handy of every public comment the interview source has made so they can throw it back in his face on live TV when they find a discrepancy. Researching a story is similar to preparing a legal case. Like any good attorney, you have to be certain of your evidence and 99.9% sure that the person you are interviewing is lying to you now, or lied in the past. And if not, then you’re going to be nonproductive and will spend a lot of time antagonizing sources. To quote a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review: ‘Reporters ask questions not to get information, but to get a reaction. And even with that strategy, they rarely succeed.’ ”

R ecent decades have seen a quantitative and qualitative burgeoning of the Torah-observant community in America, which in turn has led to a growing engagement with the political, business, and certain other spheres of the larger American society. At the same time, this community has developed a robust journalistic sector, featuring numerous daily and weekly newspapers and magazines catering to the entire spectrum of the Orthodox community.

Mishpacha has brought together five prominent figures in the worlds of journalism and communal leadership to address some of the challenges and opportunities that these developments present for the Orthodox world. In considering these issues, our panelists were asked to select from several questions and share their thoughts about these modern-day dilemmas

In what ways, if any, does the role of a frum journalist differ from that of a secular one? What particular strengths and drawbacks does a religious journalist bring to his work?

Is it for the frum journalist to hold institutions of general society such as government, industry and business, media, etc., accountable? Is it for the frum journalist to hold the particular institutions of Orthodox Jewish society accountable?

What news is, or is not, “fit to print” in the Torah view? Does a frum readership have a “right to know,” or perhaps a “right not to know”? Are we aiming for news that disturbs or confirms our previously held views? Broadens or bolsters our boundaries?

It is considered axiomatic that, at least as an ideal, journalists are expected to strive for objectivity. In the case of the frum journalist, who answers to the Torah’s standards, is it indispensable, desirable or perhaps objectionable to allow his Jewish worldview to color the way he reports the news? Could a case be made that news reporting as it currently exists in the world at large, in which G-d is absent from the picture, is inherently at odds with Torah?

The Panelists

Rabbi Sheftel Meir Neuberger, a talmid of Yeshiva Ner Israel since 1959, served as a maggid shiur in the yeshivah from 1973 through 1986, when he became the executive assistant to his revered father, Rabbi Herman N. Neuberger z”l. Upon his father’s passing in 2005, he assumed his position as president and menahel of the yeshivah.

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Jeff Jacoby is a longtime columnist for the Boston Globe and a nationally recognized conservative voice who has received multiple awards for his opinion journalism. A native of Cleveland, Mr. Jacoby attended the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland. He graduated with honors from George Washington University in 1979 and from Boston University Law School in 1983.

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“I wonder whether there is a distinction between exposure of an individual and criticism that targets wrongdoing but mentions no persons’ names,” asks Dr. Marvin Schick. “Are we permitted to write about wrongful policies and activities in segments of our community? If we aren’t, are we not sanctioning that which is wrong?”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, a musmach of Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman and a talmid of Rav Yaakov Weinberg, has served for the past 22 years as Agudath Israel of America’s spokesman and media liaison. He also pens a weekly opinion column for Hamodia, is a contributor to the Forward and Haaretz, and has written five books.

Marvin Schick has served for nearly half a century as the voluntary president of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, which now consists of five schools. Active in communal life since his teenage years, he was the principle founder and first president of the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs. He has written many hundreds of articles for the Jewish Press, Jewish Week, and other publications.

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Binyamin Rose has been the news editor of Mishpacha since its inception in March 2004. He launched his journalism career in the 1970s, when reporters used typewriters and carbon paper, and is still going strong in the digital age, having traveled to over 20 countries on five continents to interview leading politicians and newsmakers.

Be a Voice of Torah Values

Rabbi Sheftel Neuberger

First and foremost, a frum journalist must remain true to halachah. In the secular world, journalists are not circumscribed by the halachos of lashon hara or, for that matter, truth. The frum journalist has a responsibility to understand the Torah perspective on each issue he deals with and to communicate it in a way that people can understand and accept. He should, by all means, allow his Torah world view to color the way he reports the news.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that does not understand the real meaning of daas Torah. Daas Torah is a process, not a position. It is the process a Torah authority employs, using his Torah knowledge and scholarship, to arrive at a position on a given issue.

A frum journalist must avoid the pitfall of thinking his position or publication alone represents daas Torah, thus giving him the right to denigrate a contrary position held by others. Although we have a right to select which gadol b’Torah we consistently follow, we must be cognizant that the opposing view may well be a product of another gadol’s daas Torah. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 655)

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