Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, comments on the Teaneck same-sex wedding announcement story. I admit I was looking forward to his comments — Gary is the dean of Jewish journalism, is Orthodox, and lives in Teaneck.
Unfortunately, Gary doesn’t say what he would have done were he heading the Standard — but let’s hear him out first.
Gary, like me, thinks the Jewish Standard — in publishing and then immediately “retracting” a same-sex announcement — “mishandled this communal hot-button issue every step of the way.”
He also eloquently lays out the dilemma:
When it comes to the role of a Jewish newspaper, in addition to practicing quality journalism, there are two principles here. One is to be as inclusive as possible, building community and seeking out and appealing to all types of Jews, strengthening bonds between them. The other principle is to uphold and transmit Jewish values and traditions.
But what happens when those two admirable goals clash? Is it the primary duty of the paper to reflect the community as it is, or to set standards for it?
But he sees the debate over same-sex announcements as different than past debates over accepting advertising from non-kosher restaurants or even interfaith wedding announcements:
[What's'] different about the same-sex commitment announcements is that it reveals a level of fear, even repulsion, among some elements of the Orthodox community, and a failure among liberal Jews to appreciate why listing a gay union as a simcha — a cause for communal celebration — is seen as particularly offensive to traditionalists because it seems to flaunt the very behavior that is proscribed by Jewish law.
He includes a plea to treat “the other” with compassion.
As to whether a Jewish newspaper should publish the announcements, he quotes a “leading rabbi”:
“[I]t comes down to community standards” of appropriate and acceptable norms. In San Francisco, same-sex unions are standard fare for J., the local Jewish publication; not so, as seen, in northern New Jersey.
I might have written, “not so, as seen, among the Orthodox community in northern New Jersey.” The non-Orthodox community in northern NJ has come to terms with same-sex marriage. Which raises, I realize, a key question I’m not sure any of us can answer: How do you measure communal norms? Is it a numbers game? A matter of engagement or cultural influence? Or maybe it is pure economics – if a paper is in synch with its readership, that will be reflected in its bottom line.
Gary’s essay ends, disappointingly, on a non-committal note:
Where does that leave us? Only with the thought that the answers lie within.
Well, yes and no. The answers “lie within” only if you’re not the editor and publisher of a Jewish newspaper, and you don’t have to make a very public decision one way or another. The Standard did not have that luxury.
I would love to read what Gary would have done were he running the Standard (he knows the community and has edited Jewish newspapers for 40 years), or what he would do or how he would have gone about it at the Jewish Week (which doesn’t print lifecycle announcements of any kind).
To be fair, the great unkown here is what any of us would have done in the Standard’s place. I’d like to think I would have done the right thing and published the announcement — because I think a Jewish newspaper should reflect a normative practice of the Reform and Reconstructionist movement and I believe the great majority of Jews accept same-sex commitments (just as I think those who are offended by such things can, well, turn the page).
And yet, because no one is really saying, I don’t know the pressures that were brought to bear on the Standard, financial or otherwise, and whether I would have risked the livelihoods of my staff in defense of principle.
And forget business for a second, and let’s imagine that the only risk The Standard ran is that it would stop being read in hundreds if not thousands of Orthodox homes. The goal of any newspaper is not just to make money, but to be relevant — to be part of and spark a communal conversation. It’s easy to say “good riddance” when someone cancels a subscription, but it’s also painful to be written off.