Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Iyun”: Deliberations > On the Nature of Charedi Journalism

On the Nature of Charedi Journalism

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Yisrael A. Groveis Deputy Editor of "Mishpacha" Magazine

Charedi journalism was established as a "kosher alternative" to the secular press. It distanced itself from internal conflicts, and refrained from engagement in delicate political matters. But today, rather than presenting a reasonable alternative to popular non-Charedi press, Charedi newspapers have become a mouthpiece for partisan politics and for sectorial rabbinic proclamations. If the original vision can still be realized, it seems this can only happen in the nonsectarian Charedi weeklies. But this will require them to articulate a journalistic vision and ethical code that remain sorely absent.

Kislev 5780, December 2019

“Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” In today’s Charedi community, if you tell me which periodicals you read, I will hasten to tell you who you are, who you associate with, and what views you hold on a wide range of topics. In broad terms, one can categorize the Charedi community, particularly in Israel, by its subscribers to four daily newspapers — Hamodia, Yated Neeman, Hapeles, and Hamevaser. If you know which of these daily publications one reads, you no longer need to ask which Rabbinic authority or “Gadol” he follows and whose views he considers to be authoritative.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance the Charedi community attaches to these publications and, most importantly, to the differences between them. Their significance has grown to such a point that the very subscription to, to saying nothing of closely reading, a particular publication has become a deeply ideological, perhaps theological statement. So embedded have partisan newspapers become in Charedi society, that the matter has even received halachic attention. Some Poskim, for instance, have suggested that one may purchase a newspaper using ma’aser money, premised on the notion that doing so serves to strengthen one’s Torah values. Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz writes his Minchas Tzvi:

“Thus, if the Gedolim of the generation saw that in order to inculcate proper hashkafa based on Da’as Torah it is necessary to publish a newspaper describing current events through the perspective of Da’as Torah […] It is clear that [while] this is not directly supporting Torah, as a talmid chacham will lack for nothing if he remains ignorant of events taking place in the world, since the wider public needs it so they will not search elsewhere and God forbid be weakened in faith and fear of God, it is no less worthy that any mitzvah-related act which may be performed using funds of ma’aser kesafim.”[1]

The above refers to daily publications that explicitly identify themselves along ideological lines. Alongside these publications, which purport to represent Da’as Torah, the authoritative rabbinic position, there also exists a Charedi press that claims the mantle of “non-partisanship.” At least formally, these weekly and monthly magazines are non-sectarian; their content and style, geared more towards leisure reading, are designed to hold broad appeal among the general Charedi public. Most prominent among these are “Mishpacha,” “Bakehila,” “Kav Itonut Datit,” and “Merkaz Inyanim.”[2] The Charedi establishment maintains a complex relationship with these publications, ranging from periodic bans against them (published in the partisan papers, of course) to tacit acceptance. Regardless of their status in today’s community, such entertainment-focused publications were certainly never contemplated in the original intentions of the Charedi press’s founders.

The initial attitude towards Charedi journalism – its founding ethos – was one of necessity. Charedi journalism was neither good nor bad; it was needed. As a result, early Charedi journalism was stubbornly non-partisan and avoided expressing direct opinion on matter of public affairs.

This article examines the legacy of the Charedi press and the evolution of its character and role. I will show that the initial attitude towards Charedi journalism – its founding ethos – was one of necessity. Charedi journalism was neither good nor bad; it was needed. As a result, early Charedi journalism was stubbornly non-partisan and avoided expressing direct opinion on matter of public affairs. Articulation of such positions represented the author’s opinion alone, though such opinion would in any case have been close to the views of the presumed audience. Over time however, the character of the Charedi press morphed from a necessary tool to a platform of partisan ideology. In this article I wish to argue that today, to a large degree, it is specifically the non-partisan weeklies that speak to the vision of the late nineteenth century Charedi press’s founders.

Finally, I will call for the formulation of a contemporary journalistic ethos for the non-partisan Charedi press. While this genre presently occupies a grey area between Da’as Torah and free expression and exchange of ideas, it still tends to share the vocabulary of the partisan, Gedolim-endorsed papers.[3] The goal of this article is not to establish a concrete ethical code for the Charedi press, but rather to encourage a necessary discussion of this broad issue.

 

The Genesis of Haredi Journalism

The evolution of the newspaper from its early days through the current moment is effectively the story of modern society and the development of a public sphere. However, the story of Hebrew journalism, as well as the Charedi journalism which followed, is somewhat different. The first Hebrew newspapers (Hamagid, Hamelitz, Hatzfira, and so on) were a hybrid of Torah scholarship and enlightenment ideology, inspired by ideas emanating from the loosely defined “haskala” movement. Rather than focus on current events and mundane matters, they were platforms for high-minded discussion and ideological debate. These papers employed sophisticated language, preferring purely theoretical topics over contemporary affairs and facilitating robust dialogue that carried over from issue to issue. Yet, over time, the Hebrew newspapers became more popular and accessible to a general audience. Originally a polemical platform, the Hebrew paper became an influential and significant news source, abandoning its flowery language and relatively exclusive style.

The Charedi press, originally formed as an alternative to the haskala-fueled Hebrew press, underwent a similar transformation. Until not too long ago, the term “Charedi newspaper” would have been seen as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The written word, especially in the Holy Tongue, was reserved primarily for words of Torah, not for news reports or other forms of leisure. Rather, in the first years of their appearance, Charedi newspapers were quite like today’s Torah journals. The journal Shomer Tziyon HaNe’eman, published by Rabbi Yaakov Etlinger[4]  in 1846, is usually considered the first Charedi periodical.[5] It was clearly intended as a platform for scholarly Rabbinic analysis: while its contents addressed Torah topics of contemporary interest, it had nothing in common with a news outlet.

However, towards the end of the nineteenth century and into the start of the twentieth, several Charedi newspapers were founded in Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Jerusalem. These were expressly described as “pure” news outlets, untainted by the impure winds of modernity (“al taharas hakodesh“). In 1879, the Rabbi of Krakow, Rabbi Shimon Sofer, along with the Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach, started the Machzikei Hadas newspaper. Several years later, in 1901, Rabbi Eliyahu Akiva Rabinowitz of Poltava started the newspaper Hapeles. Later in 1910, he launched Hamodia[6] with written approbations from the Rebbes of Ger and Lubavitch.[7]

Until not too long ago, the term “Charedi newspaper” would have been seen as an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The written word, especially in the Holy Tongue, was reserved primarily for words of Torah, not for news reports or other forms of leisure.

At that time, the Rabbis who founded these newspapers referred to and thought of the growing Charedi press as an unavoidable necessity. A community that was already taking interest in the general secular press required an alternative. The rabbinic leadership saw a need “To protect people from being led astray by erroneous opinions they read in the heretical publications.”[8] Rabbinic leaders sought to address these concerns by creating their own newspapers, free of the dangerous material available in the secular press, and thus repurposing the “enemy’s” weapon.[9] Journalism, a celebrated tool for subversion and the spreading of new ideas, would be recruited for the purpose of community conservation.

This profound shift in the Charedi leadership’s view of newspapers can be seen in the diametrically opposed positions of two Rebbes, father and son. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Alter, the Gerrer Rebbe commonly known as the Sfas Emes, was resolutely opposed to newspapers of any sort. He issued a pronouncement calling for his followers to distance themselves from the “impure” press, and reportedly opposed even such “kosher” newspapers as Machzikei Hadas of Belz.[10] On the other hand, his son and successor Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the Imrei Emes, was personally involved[11] in establishing a Charedi paper as an alternative to the secular outlets of the time.[12]

The Imrei Emes was not spared criticism and denigration, both within his community and beyond it, for these efforts.[13] At a gathering of political activists in which the Imrei Emes raised the idea of founding a newspaper, one of the older Chassidim stood up and objected that the Rebbe’s proposal conflicted with the position of his father the Sfas Emes. The Rebbe responded with the Talmudic precedent of King Chizkiyahu who “concealed the Book of Cures”—a far-reaching step that the Sages approved of (Brachot 10b). “Thus,” he explained, “every generation has its diseases and its cures, and cures from previous generations cannot heal the diseases of our generation.” The Rebbe concluded, “The spiritual disease of our day has a powerful remedy in the form of a Charedi newspaper.”[14]

In a letter to his Chassidim in Poland, he described his efforts to establish a “journal” (a newspaper) “in the Jewish spirit”:

“I have worked and made such an effort to ensure the founding of a journal that will be in the Jewish spirit and in a manner that will avoid heresy and profanity. Some of you have spilled great tears in my home seeing sons and daughters distancing themselves, straying to other nations, because they read the lampoons and journals that can affect the body and soul. Now, a journal is published called Judisch Wort, whose publisher fears the word of God may He be blessed and our Holy Torah. I wish to ask you to support this journal with everything possible […]”[15]

The Rebbe of Sochatchov, author of Shem Mishmuel, expressed similar sentiments:

“My father the Holy Gaon (the Avnei Nezer) already proposed this [the founding of a newspaper] decades ago. How much ink has been spilled [over this matter], and how many pens broken—and still we remain hopeful. It is clear that many have fallen prey to the free press, and all acknowledge now the need for a clean newspaper. […] I am not among the believers that it will now bring as much benefit as if would have done decades ago, before the poison had spread among the people and especially those young of years […] nevertheless, one who preserves a single soul in Israel is considered as though he maintains an entire world, and so long as it can save anyone from falling all the work and effort is worthwhile.”[16]

As soon as a Charedi press emerged and offered a viable alternative, the Gedolim reinforced the early ban on reading newspapers that are “liberal and heretical,” full of “profanity, slander, and other abominations,” and called to support the Torah-oriented alternatives.[17]

Still, even after the Chassidim of Poland and the lamdanim of Lithuania were enlisted to help establish these newspapers, the accepted attitude was that this platform was merely an acceptable necessity, one that was neither praiseworthy nor objectionable. Its function, and value, was simply to prevent people from reading secular newspapers.[18] In principle, a significant number of Gedolim warned against turning the newspaper into a holy object and becoming too absorbed in its contents. They feared that doing so would interfere with Torah study and spiritual growth overall. For instance, alongside his support for Das Yuddishe Wart the Imrei Emes noted:

“Lest you think my intention is that reading the journal should be considered an obligatory Mitzvah, this is not the case. If there is among our brothers, the Sons of Israel, anyone who protect his eyes and avoids looking beyond his four cubits, the four cubits of Torah, and does not read any journal, how much the better! There should be many like him in Israel! However, according to what we hear this is a rarity. My intention is rather for the readers of foreign journals […].”

Even after he fought to establish the Charedi newspaper Yod, the Imrei Emes again published a letter, this time addressed to “the gaba’im and managers of the Batei Chassidim,” in which he wrote:

“I may indeed be among those who maintain and support the publication of the journal Yod. Nonetheless, I have heard that it has become a regular practice in some Batei Chassidim to read the journal in the shtiblach, and from this I request you to refrain. The Batei Chassidim are a miniature Temple, sanctified for Torah and prayer and matters of holiness. This is true even concerning reading at home during on holy occasions, on Shabbos and Yom Tov.”[19]

Similarly, the Chafetz Chaim wrote in his book Toras Habayis:

“Even if (the newspaper) does not have a mixture of heresy and frivolity, merely reports from France and Ireland and the like, one who gives himself over to this and neglects Torah is like one who exchanges precious stones for forged bills – ‘woe to the shame woe to the embarrassment.’”[20]

In other words, the first goal of Charedi journalism was to provide an alternative to existing secular media. The Rabbis of the time saw that in the absence of a proper Charedi option the younger generation was flocking to secular newspapers, becoming exposed to their harmful influence. In response, they wished to offer an outlet that was free of these corruptions.  But they never imputed any inherent value to reading it. Not only did they not encourage people to read the new newspapers, they even expressed clear reservations about doing so.

the primary distinction between the Charedi press in its early days versus today was its non-partisanship. At the time of its establishment, one of the main fears awakened by the appearance of a Haredi press was the possibility that disagreements and sectarianism would deepen as a result of the new platform.

Another marked difference between the Charedi journalism of then and that of today is the former’s hesitation to adopt a political stance. In the early days of the Charedi press, its newspapers consciously and deliberately avoided positions on political issues. At play was a concern that one writer’s views or positions would be taken by the (non-Jewish) authorities as representative of the community’s, thereby potentially exposing the larger community to risk should these views be deemed unacceptable. Thus, the Imrei Emes wrote to his Chassidim that despite his endorsement of a Charedi press, the newspaper should not be taken as a medium reflecting his personal views, and certainly not on political matters:

“Second, lest you think that my intention in approving this journal means I agree and call upon others to agree on the politics of a matter involving other countries [= foreign policy], a path which the publisher has paved or will pave. I hereby announce that I do not intervene in this at all, and this is merely the publisher’s individual opinion. My principal aim is that there should be no profanity and other foreign things, while in matters of politics we must not intervene. When I heard in the name of one tzaddik […] the interpretation of the words of Chazal: ‘If you see kingdoms provoking one another — await the feet of Messiah.’ That is, you the Jew, do what you should do in Torah and observance, and with this you should look for the feet of Messiah.”[21]

However, the primary distinction between the Charedi press in its early days versus today was its non-partisanship. At the time of its establishment, one of the main fears awakened by the appearance of a Haredi press was the possibility that disagreements and sectarianism would deepen as a result of the new platform. In fact, R. Shmuel Bornstein, the Shem Mishmuel of Sokatchov, identified this concern as a reason for the delay in realizing the idea of the newspaper:

“In any event, there were many who recoiled, for fear lest [the paper] become the property of one of the sects to be used for its private benefit and for realizing its desire to trample the leadership. Now, however, we have reached universal agreement to establish a paper that is public property, so that no single sectarian hand should wield control over it.”

Further on in his letter, after exhorting his Chassidim to support the paper, the Rebbe added: “And just as we ask of those who maintain it, so do we ask of the founders that they be carefully on guard lest they reason that a particular sect should controls the paper. This will lead to the ruin of the religious matter, God forbid, into which so much work and effort has been invested.”[22]

The same can be seen in the letter sent by the Imrei Emes (26th of Adar 5677/1917) to the heads of Agudas Yisrael in Poland entitled “A Letter on the Necessity of Agudas Yisrael.” The Rebbe promised to publicly deny a report, promulgated in the secular press (“in the journal of the freethinkers”), which hinted the Rebbe had withdrawn his support for the Agudas Yisrael movement. After denying the rumor, he encouraged them to “publish in my name a forceful denial.” Discussing the appropriate medium for this denial, the Rebbe proposed using the Orthodox paper he himself had helped establish. Nevertheless, he stressed that the paper should not considered an organ of the party or movement, rather only as a kosher and “clean” platform:

“The place of this publication will certainly be in the journal Das Yiddish Wort. Although the journal was not founded by the Union of the Orthodox [=Agudas Yisrael] and is not under their supervision, it is in the spirit of the Orthodox, and you are therefore tasked with enforcing the promise made on erev Shabbos, the 15th of Adar, not to print that which cannot be written and not to insult the honor of an honorable person. Thus, since this journal is clean of all filth, good and blessing will come to our Charedi brothers, the Sons of Israel […].”[23]

The model of a single, nonsectarian paper that catered to the entire Charedi public was adopted in Israel, too, and continued for over forty years. The Charedi paper Hamodia, in print since 1950, published side by side the opinions and writings of rabbinic leaders from across the Charedi spectrum. No single group argued that a dissenting view should not be mentioned.[24]

However, unlike Charedi newspapers of pre-war Poland, which at least nominally succeeded in avoiding falling into the partisan trap, the Israeli Charedi press was ideologically tinged from inception.[25] Even Hamodia, hegemony and all, presented itself (and indeed continues to present itself) as “the paper of the global Agudas Yisrael.” It was established by the movement’s leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Levin, and was published by the movement’s global executive committee. During the 1950s, Hamodia emerged as the primary Charedi newspaper.

Even during Hamodia‘s period of exclusivity, there were repeated attempts to publish other newspapers and weeklies. The Poalei Agudas Yisrael movement was the first to set up a party weekly, She’arim, later becoming a daily at the hands of party leader Rabbi Binyamin Mintz. Tze’irei Agudas Yisrael, the movement that enjoyed the (undeclared) support of the Chazon Ish and the Brisker Rav, later published its own paper, Digleinu. Thus, despite the warnings of the Rebbes of Ger and Sochatchov, Charedi journalism over time certainly assumed a partisan character, with each community maintaining its own official mouthpiece. And yet, these papers refrained from directly competing with Hamodia or attempting to replace it.[26]

 

The Turning Point in Haredi Journalism: Yated Ne’eman

The great turning point took place on July 12, 1985, the day the first issue of Yated Ne’eman was printed. Rabbi Elazar Menachem Shach and Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky (the “Steipler”), leaders of the Litvish Charedi community (i.e. the non-Chassidic community structured around the classical Lithuanian yeshiva model), strongly felt that their position was not properly represented in Hamodia.  At the same time, the Chabad movement and its views — which the Lithuanian faction sharply opposed — were often covered in Hamodia.[27] Their solution was to establish a new publication.

In a letter discussing establishment of the paper, R. Shach wrote: “On account of great sinfulness, writers and maskilim were foolish to introduce into their newspapers an approach that runs against the Torah outlook. By their nature, people do not have their own opinion, but will absorb anything that is written and printed.”[28] And since “without a newspaper we have no influence at all,”[29] Rav Shach decided to start a distinctly partisan paper for the Lithuanian (Litvish) model of bnei Torah. His decision permanently altered the nature and self-image of the Charedi press.

From a “b’dieved”, a genre of journalism intended solely as an alternative to the secular press, Charedi journalism now became a “mitzvah object,” representing a direct conduit for the views of the Gedolim.

From a nonpartisan or pan-partisan effort launched as a necessary evil, almost overnight Charedi newspapers became a medium for representing rabbinic positions on the issues of the day, especially regarding the kind of internal-Charedi squabbles that had led to the schism. In another letter, Rav Shach noted that Yated Ne’eman was needed because “Even in the better newspapers journalists do not express Torah outlook in their articles. Sometimes matters are even distorted, and sometimes they give prominence preference to views of of a particular circle, such that they seize control over what is common to everyone.”[30] Even the nomenclature signifies this change in trend — the name Yated Ne’eman (lit. “secure post”) is based on the verse in Yeshayahu (22:23) “And I will fasten him as a post in a secure place.” In addition, the word Yated hints to the acronym “Yoman Da’as Torah” (diary of Da’as Torah).[31]

Yated Ne’eman created a new standard for Haredi journalism. On the one hand, it is written in a more contemporary and polished style than that of Hamodia, while on the other hand it is headed by a “spiritual committee” whose express purpose is to censor any language deemed halachically or ideologically objectionable. The paper also dedicated energies to classifying and giving titles or superlatives to the names of rabbinic figures, thereby creating a hierarchy of Gedolim, normalizing a taxonomy that reserved the title “Maran” exclusively for the “Gadol of the generation” and providing other titles for those next in line. Another useful turn of phrase they reinforced was the concept “copiers of oral tradition” (ma’atikei hashemuah) to connote the chain of tradition – the mesores they hallowed and legitimized – and spiritual leadership.[32]

Above all, the paper’s “mission” was constantly emphasized. Rav Shach himself appointed Yated’s editors and staff, and they all became agents to publicize and promote his sharp views. From a “b’dieved”, a genre of journalism intended solely as an alternative to the secular press, Charedi journalism now became a “mitzvah object,” representing a direct conduit for the views of the Gedolim.

Yated Ne’eman had an enormous impact on the growth of Charedi journalism. Its establishment also had an immediate effect on the original paper, Hamodia. Freed now of the burden of the Litvish community’s influence, it became the official and acknowledged medium for promoting the Chassidic position, especially that of Ger. But more than anything else, Yated Ne’eman paved a new road for the genre. From here on out, every significant Charedi sector established its own newspaper. To this day, nearly every internal Charedi split produces a new Charedi daily.[33]

The founders of the Charedi press originally intended to create an alternative outlet to the general press. However, with its transformation into a political tool, these publications became an integral and important part of social belonging and sectorial identity. Previously an unwelcome necessary evil, newspapers became the primary marker of membership in a party. To join the Likud party, one signs up on its membership rolls; to show allegiance to United Torah Judaism (Degel Hatorah), one subscribes to its paper.

The apolitical stance of the old Charedi journalism, its pages and articles reflecting solely the positions of its individual writers, was lost with the transformation into a partisan press. Naturally, a range of opinions could no longer be entertained within in a single paper. The newspaper was enlisted in the service of the party and reflected its leadership’s positions, and them alone.

The newly political stance of the press and the formal rabbinic stamp of approval it carried also forced papers to substantially reduce any democratic impulses they might have had. Newspapers now carried the authority of, and therefore were subject to, the positions of the Gedolim overseeing them. After all, after becoming a “mitzvah object” every word written in newspapers becomes binding and authoritative. The apolitical stance of the old Charedi journalism, its pages and articles reflecting solely the positions of its individual writers, was lost with the transformation into a partisan press. Naturally, a range of opinions could no longer be entertained within in a single paper. The newspaper was enlisted in the service of the party and reflected its leadership’s positions, and them alone.

It is important to note that even after this change, there were still admonishing voices — muted ones perhaps — warning young bnei Torah not to read even Torah-true newspapers. For while the newspapers might technically be “kosher,” they were still vehicles for bittul torah (taking time away from Torah study). A prime example is the following passage by Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapira in his book Zahav Mishva:

“One of the curses of our generation is a creation of the evil inclination; it is called Charedi journalism, in all its variations. It consumes what remains of one’s precious time and occupies the mind with unnecessary matters. What need does a ben Torah, who toils diligently in the tents of Torah, have to know everything that is new at the ends of the world and distant seas.”[34]

 

The Return of the Supra-Partisan Press and Its Discontents

Yated Ne’eman’s existence also generated a significant backlash. To a certain extent, its publication brought about a reemergence and strengthening of a non-partisan or apolitical Charedi press. The first harbinger of this was a subversive, Chabad-oriented tabloid called Panim Chadashot, which sought to provide its readers with sensational headlines, alongside simple facts that Yated Ne’eman omitted from its coverage.[35]

Even before the establishment of Yated Ne’eman attempts were made to create commercially viable publications as alternatives to the political papers. One such example is the weekly Yom Hashishi, which was launched in the early eighties. These papers became known to the Charedi public as “weeklies,” thus differentiated from the daily newspapers — today Hamodia, Yated Ne’eman, Hamevaser and Hapeles — which were all partisan.[36] However, none of these weekly publications ever enjoyed the explicit approval of the Gedolim, meriting only tacit acceptance at first. This sub-genre was always “looked down upon by the sages”; indeed, in recent years rabbis and educators have explicitly denounced these publications. With the establishment of Yated, which led to a flourishing of non-partisan Charedi press, the rabbinic denouncers had their work cut out.

But what really angers the conservative establishment is the democratic spirit reflected in the pages of these weeklies, and the fact that their writers are allowed to discuss matters that are considered the sole purview of Gedolim.

The primary objections to Charedi weeklies stem from their fundamentally different approach to journalism. While the Charedi dailies are openly political and partisan, the weeklies are independent and loosely affiliated.[37] As such, the first objection touches on the very role of a Charedi newspaper. Those opposing the weeklies define the role of the Charedi as providing the bare minimum news coverage. By contrast, the weeklies seek to offer content designed for leisure and enjoyment. Dailies are animated by ideological motivation, while the independent weeklies are commercial enterprises. Naturally, in a conflict between economics and ideology, economic incentives will generally win the day. Opponents claim that such economic bias leads the weeklies to cater to the lowest common denominator of the Charedi public. The need to appeal to as broad a readership as possible motivates efforts to appease everyone and engage the more “open” Charedi groups, those at the margins of society. Such journalistic liberalism, concludes the argument, is unacceptable to a community that is diligent about its children’s education and wishes to insulate homes from foreign influence.

For example, the weekly publications have been criticized for their excessive tolerance and for providing a platform for outside influences. Consistent with their editorial style, the weeklies conduct and publish (photographed) interviews with secular Jews, often casting these individuals in a positive light. Critics point to possible legitimacy thus being given to secularism.[38] A similar concern is voiced regarding the publications themselves: Some writers for the weeklies associate with the more modern fringes of the Charedi public. These contributors, who are not bona fide bnei Torah, may be potential shapers of public opinion.[39]

Furthermore, it is argued that the weeklies report on diplomatic and political current events in accordance with the journalistic tradition of the general press, which includes commentary and analysis of statesmen and their actions as though politicians and world leaders are responsible for the events under discussion. According to critics, this approach runs contrary to the proper Torah approach, and may cool the reader’s belief in Divine Providence.

In addition, it was also argued that the weeklies dilute the Charedi ideal of “histapkus b’muat,” the ascetic desire to make do with as little as possible in order to focus on Torah study. The weeklies, according to this criticism, encourage, implicitly and explicitly, pursuit of academic education and integration of Charedim into the workforce, alongside a general promotion of careerism and material success.

But what really angers the conservative establishment is the democratic spirit reflected in the pages of these weeklies, and the fact that their writers are allowed to discuss matters that are considered the sole purview of Gedolim. Whereas the daily newspapers entirely avoid internal community-facing criticism, the weeklies routinely include discussion of sensitive public issues (such as youth dropouts or Charedim in Israel joining the workforce). Moreover, the weekly publications often expose “sensational” news and internal political activity. Such coverage of internal political intrigue, including some of the goings-on within various rabbinic circles, leaves readers with the impression that Gedolim are subject to political influences and impulses. Critics of the weekly publications argue that offering such material fosters contempt for Da’as Torah and dilutes the awe and deference one must have for rabbis and their leadership. In a speech against the weeklies, a known Haredi Rabbi declared that:

“The very discussion of the leadership and decision making of the Gedolim of the generation is very serious […] When you start to quote ‘this one said this’ and ‘that one said that’ you are putting them on the table, examining their considerations, speculating about what was done and said behind the scenes. All this is an insult to the Torah.”[40]

All these reasons have contributed to the development of a robust opposition to the non-partisan newspapers and periodicals. Opposition efforts are discernable in calls by various rabbis and educators to avoid reading the weekly publications or even allowing them in Charedi homes.

To address these criticism and attempted boycotts, the weeklies independently established their own rabbinic committees. These committees, usually comprised of anonymous rabbis, purportedly oversee and approve the publications’ contents. Such oversight would presumably subject the weeklies to the same “filter” as the partisan dailies. But these committees have done little to silence the opposition. Critics claim that committee members are appointed by the owners of the newspapers, and are therefore nothing more than a rubber stamp, while the real decision-making power remains with the publishers and editors. In addition, they argue that the very concept of an independent Charedi weekly fails to meet the standard for a “kosher” paper, for all the reasons noted above. They cite as simple proof the words of Rav Nissim Karlitz in a letter against the weeklies: “And it is simple that there is no room to give any approval to this sort of newspaper.”

 

The “Weeklies” — A Return to the Original Haredi Press

The campaign against non-partisan publications and the associated bans on reading them has enjoyed a measure of success. Weeklies are indeed avoided in many homes, and some of these publications have subsequently been forced to shut down. However, in most cases, the newspapers survived the attack. Some even flourished in its wake.[41] Opinion polls conducted by TGI research institute show that most of the Haredi public is regularly exposed to non-partisan newspapers.[42] Moreover, it appears that as internal divisions between Charedi groups grow and intensify, resulting in ever more daily papers, so non-partisan publications gain credibility and popularity.

I wish to argue that despite the criticism against the weeklies — some of which does indeed require the attention of their editors and writers — these publications actually preserve, to some extent, the original ethos of Charedi journalism as it was in its early years. At the very least, they are precisely the forum that can and should preserve the original model.

We showed above that the Gedolim who founded newspapers in their day did not intend to express views on political affairs, and even feared the possibility that the newspaper would take a side in matters of internal politics (as demonstrated by the letter of the Shem Mishmuel of Sochatchov, cited above). In their eyes, the Charedi paper was nothing more than a viable alternative to the general press, with clean language and acceptable content. As described above, over time the non-partisan publications were overtaken by a politically oriented press intended to function as the mouthpiece of this or that party. Accordingly, I argue that today’s non-partisan papers, the weeklies published largely for entertainment, are more representative of Charedi journalism’s historic goals than their partisan counterparts. This is true in several respects.

Firstly, precisely because it is intended for leisure, and thus less conservative and more open, the non-partisan press offers a more viable alternative to contemporary secular journalism. The partisan press, as a platform for a conservative agenda, presents itself as a vehicle for spiritual and educational messaging. Little effort is thus expended on the part of these papers to provide entertaining or lighter content such as interviews, personal stories, or the like. Such mission-oriented focus, for all its benefits, does not necessarily present an alternative to a marketplace of competitive secular press. As described, the original intent behind the Charedi press was to prevent people from “wandering in the foreign fields” of the secular press; to some extent this design is uniquely preserved by the weeklies.

Despite the criticism against the weeklies — some of which does indeed require the attention of their editors and writers — these publications actually preserve, to some extent, the original ethos of Charedi journalism as it was in its early years.

However, beyond the entertainment factor, there is a deeper and more significant sense in which the weeklies can serve as an alternative to the secular press. The non-partisan weekly publications offer a broader view of the community and its multiplicity of opinions, particularly with respect to various internal Charedi issues. The readers’ desire for a broad, complete picture, even to hear all sides of an argument, is one of the catalysts for the growth of the weeklies.

Those opposed to the weekly publications will argue that this effort, at worst, mimics the modern secular press, or, at best, is inspired by it. They refer of course to the journalistic ethos of pluralism and openness, whereby multiple opinions are recorded, even those that may run counter to the worldview promoted by the publication itself. And yet, even if the “full picture” approach does indeed originate in the impulses of liberal secular journalism, today’s Charedi press must adopt its secular “competitor’s” conventions if it is to serve as its replacement. In failing to do so, the Charedi press will be seen as inferior to its secular counterpart. Into this vacuum will step the secular publications, to which readers will turn to for reports on and critique of the Charedi community. Ultimately, more harm may be caused to the Charedi public, and the credibility of its leadership will be severely undermined.

The non-partisan Charedi press also engages, albeit gently, in public criticism, bringing forward into the public consciousness various societal struggles. This is particularly relevant in Israel. The general, secular Israeli press often addresses challenges facing the Charedi community, issues which can be serious ones for the State of Israel as a whole, including core curricula for Charedi education, dropout youth in Charedi society, Charedi integration into the workforce and IDF, and so on. These issues are entirely verboten in the partisan Charedi press. When they are mentioned at all, it is only to voice a protest or public outcry against the “decree of the draft” (or, in the more radical formulation, “decree of spiritual destruction”), to decry any attempt to integrate Charedim against their will, or to detail the dangers of academic institutions. By contrast, there is a certain openness in the non-partisan newspapers, albeit within rather narrow parameters, to raise serious challenges facing the community and discuss possible solutions from an internal Charedi perspective.

Beyond the entertainment factor, there is a deeper and more significant sense in which the weeklies can serve as an alternative to the secular press. The non-partisan weekly publications offer a broader view of the community and its multiplicity of opinions, particularly with respect to various internal Charedi issues.

Ironically, it thus seems that the non-partisan press, nominally less conservative, better answers to the original purpose of a Charedi journalism — to offer an outlet devoid of political interest and whose sole purpose is to provide a kosher alternative to secular newspapers. It is important to stress that notwithstanding the desire for a viable alternative to secular journalism, great caution, and even a degree of concession, are needed to preserve a distinct boundary between the Charedi newspaper and a secular one. The Imrei Emes, in a letter regarding the founding of Das Yiddishe Vort, addressed the potential sacrifice required of Charedi papers in the name of preserving Torah values:

“I am referring to readers of foreign journals who although they may find in them knowledge of the matters of the world more than in this journal (referring to Das Yiddishe Vort, which had difficulty keeping up with secular papers in its first stages), it is nonetheless worthwhile to preserve our Holy Torah by sufficing with a little less. When this journal will become more advanced, it will certainly contain all sorts of needed news just as other journals.”

His son, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, the Pnei Menachem of Ger, discussed this in greater detail in an article he published in Hamodia “to mark 35 years since the appearance of the newspaper Hamodia” (Elul 1985). As he put it:

“There are some who will rally against Hamodia, precisely because of its welcome approach to avoid anything questionable, that after all it lacks perhaps some reports, maybe it needs more pictures, more news. But regarding such things the Sages said in the Mishnah (Eduyos 5:6): ‘Better to be called a fool all one’s life than be considered wicked one hour before Hashem.’ Or their statement (Niddah 13a): ‘Better one allow rumors about his sons rather than be wicked for one hour.’ Here, too, it is better that there be those who say of Hamodia that they are lazy, rather than God forbid be caught in an improper statement or an inappropriate publication.”[43]

That said, even the founders of Charedi journalism acknowledged that Charedi journalism must strive for a high a level of journalism. In this vein, it is worth noting the words of the Imrei Emes to his son in law regarding the publication of Der Yid: “And I wonder about you that you think that they will throw out the Moment [a secular paper published in Warsaw]. [For] as long as the paper Der Yid is not really worthy, it seems to me that even bans will not be effective.”[44]

The very fact that there is clear community demand for non-political weekly publications demonstrates that readers see them as a viable alternative to secular periodicals. As such, rather than stagnate, this demand is a call for publications to grow and develop, maintain relevance, and serve as an appropriate alternative to the secular press in all aspects. Below, I wish to address the unique challenges facing today’s non-partisan Charedi press in further detail.

 

An Ethics for Charedi Journalism

Non-partisan Charedi journalism continues to exist and is even growing in popularity. But due to its unique circumstances, it is straddling the fence. One the one hand, it is committed to a Charedi character and a framework that includes subservience to Da’as Torah, while on the other hand remaining untethered to any particular partisan agenda. It will seek the broadest possible common denominator on any controversial issue, and navigates a fine line between the desire to appease and an obligation to provide an objective report.

Alongside the print non-partisan journalism (the weeklies), a Charedi internet media has arisen. Such media are unacceptable by their very nature to Charedim who are fully beholden to the instructions of community leadership, according to which internet use is entirely forbidden for anything but the most pressing needs. However, despite such formal prohibitions, one can find online a number of very active, popular Charedi websites. These sites publish news of particular interest among Charedi society alongside general news. Galleries with visual media from events in Chassidic courts are thus posted alongside news items, and somewhat ironically, video footage of demonstrations and speeches, including those opposing Internet use, are found on these sites.

Our non-partisan press is doubly beleaguered. The print, partisan press representing the establishment, challenges the legitimacy of the non-partisan publications, while Charedi websites question their credibility. To properly confront this quandary, the non-partisan press must define its goals and form a “journalistic ethos”.

Charedi websites are also much more likely, relatively speaking, to directly criticize phenomena in the Charedi society, up to and including establishment institutions that are endorsed by the Gedolim. Essentially, the very existence of these websites is a subversive act of defiance against the exclusive authority of the Charedi leadership, whose directives are published only in official channels, i.e. the partisan press. Accordingly, these sites publish voices of a wide range of writers, including some that may extend beyond the Charedi mainstream. In addition, these websites do not shy away from calling out public injustices and institutional corruption, even if only partially.[45]

Online journalistic efforts challenge the veteran non-partisan print press and are partially responsive to the need for internal social criticism. However, the Internet media does not function as an alternative to print media, for two reasons: First, exposure to online media is still relatively low within the Charedi community. More importantly, online media, by their very nature, cannot replace print journalism. Professional journalism, the higher calling of which produces robust, in-depth investigations, interviews, and long-form articles, is not well suited for online consumption, which usually focuses on short news items.

In this environment, our non-partisan press is doubly beleaguered. The print, partisan press representing the establishment, challenges the legitimacy of the non-partisan publications, while Charedi websites question their credibility. To properly confront this quandary, the non-partisan press must define its goals and form a “journalistic ethos” that is informed and inspired by Torah sources. It must develop a framework in which it can successfully navigate the challenges and questions it faces.

The ethical questions we refer to are directed at these publications as journalistic enterprises. Whereas the partisan Charedi press need only consider such questions within the context of the role it took upon itself – to promote Da’as Torah – the non-partisan publications must broaden its introspective effort. Willfully or not, the non-partisan press serves a different purpose than its political counterparts; it must therefore identify the parameters of its role and the consequent opportunities and challenges. To a large degree, the partisan press is free of the main dilemmas associated with journalism. Its published content, form and substance, is subject to the direct oversight of each platform’s recognized Da’as Torah, and to whose authority the newspapers surrender all editorial control. Precisely the openness of the non-partisan press burdens it with a much greater measure of ethical agency and responsibility.

For example, a major function of the press is to call out, and where possible prevent, abuses of public power and authority. In a democracy, newspapers — or the media in general —perform a central role in the system of checks and balances that limit the power of government. The Charedi public never embraced the democratic ideal and its “official” press therefore never assumed a watchdog role. It rather serves as the mouthpiece of the community’s power players, with the tacit agreement of the readers themselves, who knowingly subscribe to a newspaper that represents a specific party platform.

On the other hand, the non-partisan Charedi press has yet to adopt a clear position on its role, which affords its writers some wiggle room. Naturally, such an ambivalent posture opens up the possibility that a publication might be incentivized to silence a particularly unpleasant affair or promote a given political agenda. The fact that such scandals occur in the general press in no way exonerates the Charedi press of responsibility for doing the same. On the contrary — there is an opportunity for Charedi publications to assert their moral superiority, as should be expected of a journalism claiming to be a worthy, values-based alternative to the secular variant.

Public sector corruption is another topic in which there is room for this discussion. The modern secular press has taken this mission upon itself and is today the primary vehicle for exposing such problems. It does so largely by directing disinfecting sunlight at various issues.[46] By contrast, the partisan Charedi press, which is supposed to be the mouthpiece of the community leadership, does not take on this role. In fact, as noted above, one of the critiques of the non-partisan press is its indelicate discussion of internal political intrigues.

Religiously observant journalists must avoid chasing sensational stories for their own sake. They must remain mindful and cautious in all areas relating to the prohibitions on public embarrassment, Lashon Hara, and gossip. But journalism is not the same as the actions of a private individual, and there are cases in which a journalist must warn of a public injustice.

The power of criticism in and of itself is not foreign to Torah values. For one, there is an element of Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place, by effectively deterring evil actors. There is also an important educational value in doing so. As the Gemara in Yoma (86b) teaches, “We publicize the hypocrites due to the desecration of God’s name.” Rashi explains: “[The hypocrites] are wicked and make themselves appear as righteous. If there is anyone who knows of their actions, it is a mitzvah to publicize them because of the desecration of God’s name, as people learn from their actions, believing they are righteous.” And yet, were it not for these benefits to calling out corruption and injustice, it is certainly improper to publicize the actions of others, whether due to Lashon Hara limitations or generally to “Distance oneself from ugliness.”

For these reasons, religiously observant journalists must avoid chasing sensational stories for their own sake. They must remain mindful and cautious in all areas relating to the prohibitions on public embarrassment, Lashon Hara, and gossip. But journalism is not the same as the actions of a private individual, and there are cases in which a journalist must warn of a public injustice. The halachic parameters governing these laws will depend on the role of the press and its potential influence on society and can only be formulated in the context of a clearly identified mission. It seems that the time has come for the non-partisan Charedi press to meet this challenge and develop concrete guidelines for halachically acceptable journalism.

It seems that, owing to its fight for survival in the face of the constant competition and criticism, the non-partisan press is disorganized and lacks strong internal motivation. It is time for the Charedi non-partisan press to define itself, its role, and its positions.

An additional area in which there is room to develop the role of the Charedi press is its positioning vis-à-vis contemporary matters such as diplomacy, the economy, and environmental issues. Publications that exclusively represent Da’as Torah deal very little with these issues. Little if any halachic guidance exists on these topics, and the feeling is that they are functionally irrelevant to the community. When they are mentioned, it is usually done in the context of lashing out against secular politicians, while contrasting them with the worthy efforts of the Charedi representatives. A non-partisan press that aspires to be a relatively open platform for public Torah-informed discussion and a viable alternative to the secular press would do well to raise these issues in the public consciousness and foster an honest and genuine dialogue on these questions.

***

The initial aim of Charedi journalism was to offer a kosher and worthy news platform, one that was clean of profanity and other negative influences. Looking back, it is striking just how necessary these newspapers were as a critical tool for protecting the Torah community. The newspaper functions as a vehicle for preserving the community’s pride and as a weapon to defend against distortions and misrepresentation. With its help, the Charedi community has been able to flourish within the secular state and despite a pervasive secular media. What at first appeared to be a compromise in fact reflected the clear vision of the Imrei Emes and other Gedolim of his time. Their actions did much to ensure the continued cohesion of the Charedi community and avoidance of the general media and its dangers. In fact, the only criticism voiced was that their solution came too late, after much of the damage they were attempting to prevent already became visible.

In a slow evolution, Charedi journalism shifted to become the voice of Da’as Torah and, later, the exclusive representative of a particular side in internal Charedi politics, leading ultimately to its splintering and inevitable loss of credibility on internal issues.

The non-partisan Charedi publication, the weeklies, enter this void and can offer a broader discussion of those questions which the partisan dailies avoid. This is an unintentional return to the intent of the Charedi press’s original founders. However, if the non-partisan press wishes to be a true alternative to the secular offerings, it must develop a Torah-based position on a variety of issues which have arisen over time and construct a proper ethical framework for its work.

These publications are presently locked in a continual defensive struggle to preserve a place in the Charedi community, in the face of criticism from the partisan press. However, it seems that as a result it pays no attention to its own values and the role it has taken upon itself. It seems that, owing to its fight for survival in the face of the constant competition and criticism, the non-partisan press is disorganized and lacks strong internal motivation. It is time for the Charedi non-partisan press to define itself, its role, and its positions, to cease its toggling between partisan rhetoric on the one hand and modern openness on the other, and to be faithful to its readers. Primarily, it must be faithful to its foundational ideal — to be a worthy alternative to the general press, al taharas hakodesh.


[1] Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, Minchas Tzvi, Jerusalem 1987, chelek 3, siman 13, se’if 17. See also article by Rabbi Yitzchak Mordchai Rubin in the collection Mibeis Levi: Psakim Ubeirurei Halacha Mibeis Midrasho Shel Hagrash Vozner (1997).

[2] For readers outside Israel, we might also call out publications such as Ami and Bina in this genre.

[3] Important methodological clarification: Some of the processes and dilemmas which we will lay out later on do not reflect a reality unique to Haredi journalism, but it does seem that the moral and social questions which arose are worthy of being looked at from a Torah perspective. Also, the selection of the Imrei Emet as the pioneer of Haredi journalism in the modern era has quite a bit of support in the research (e.g., Dafna Schreiber, Bein Hasiduyot Lepolitika: Ha-Admor Migur Ba’al Ha-Imrei Emet Vehamifneh Hatziburi Behassidut Polin, MA thesis, December 2013). I chose it not just because of my admiration of him and my familiarity with his works, but also because to the best of my knowledge, there was no other Gadol in that period who left behind such an enormous corpus of instructions and letters directly related to the structure and purpose of a Haredi paper.

[4] Rav of Altona, Germany and author of Aruch LaNer

[5] Cf. Yitzchak Levin, Otzar Kitvei Et Toraniyim, New York, 1980.

[6] Paper published in Poland for five years. Not to be confused with Hamodia of Agudat Yisrael which started publishing in Israel in 1950.

[7] Shmuel Rothstein, Itonut Yehudit Shehayta, Ha-Igud Ha-Olami Shel Ha-Intona’im Ha-Yehudim, Tel Aviv 1973, p. 130-148.

[8] A common saying in publications of that time.

[9] See Shmuel 2:23.

[10] When Rabbi Yehoshua of Belz turned to the Sfat Emet and asked for him to subscribe to the paper, he did not refuse — but he did order it destroyed upon arriving at his house, so that his sons not be distracted from learning Torah. Cf.: Avraham Mordechai Ringel, Rava-Rouska, Memorial Book for the Community of Rava Rouska and Surroundings (Hebrew), Organization of Rava Rouska and Surroundings in Israel, Tel Aviv 1973, p. 113.

[11] A year after becoming rebbe in 1906, he along with his brother, Rav Mendelei Alter of Fabianz, founded the newspaper Hakol. This paper failed and closed after a year. He was also a partner to the founding of the paper Hamodia in Europe (1910-1915, cf. note 4). He also supported the paper Dos Yuddishe Vort (1916) and the newspaper Der Yod was founded with his blessing. Cf. Rothstein, ibid.; Dafna Schreiber, Bein Hasidut Lepolitika, above note 2, p. 61-63.

[12] In one of the letters sent in 1922 to his son in law, Rav Levin, the Imrei Emes wrote: “And I wonder about you that you think that they will throw away the Moment [a secular paper which came out in Warsaw]. So long as the paper Yod [Der Yod] is not really proper, it seems to me than bans will also not help.” A copy with his handwriting preserved with his papers was published by Aharon Sorski and Avraham Mordechai Segal, Rosh Golat Ariel, part 2, p. 152.

[13] Cf. also by Schreiber, a harsh quote from a biting maskilic article published in Hatzfirah against the Imrei Emet: “[…] A Rabbi comes and a newspaper is in his arm […] And the Rabbi is not just any Rabbi, but the greatest and most exalted of all the Rabbis. If all the Hassidim in the entire world were on one of the scales and the Hassidim who listen to this Rabbi on the other, they would win out. […] Maran R. Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur. And the honor of holiness of the name of that paper under the arm of this Rabbi is Dos Yuddishe Vort […] And here this Rabbi, wherein tens of thousands of Jews yearn for any sound his mouth makes, comes and declares Dos Yuddishe Vort, buy, help the publisher of this paper […] in a period in which the dayanim are increasing. […] And here this Rabbi comes to his dear people and he says […] just Dos Yuddishe Vort […] That’s all the Rabbi, the greatest of all the Rabbis in the world, has to say in these days to his Hassidim.”

[14] Rothstein, ibid. Cf. also p. 131, on how already in the previous generation, immediately after the appearance of Hamagid (1856), the head of the Ger dynasty, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Hiddushei Harim (the grandfather of the Imrei Emet) said that “If they’d listened to me, they would have immediately come out with a Haredi paper of our own.”

[15] Pinchas Yaakov Hacohen Levitt, Osef Michtavim Mc”k Ha-Admor Ha-Imrei Emet Mi-Gur, Jerusalem 1967, letter 71: “On the Matter of a Haredi Paper ‘Dos Yuddishe Vort.'”

[16] From the letter published in his biography: Yehoshua Uziel Zilberberg, Malchut Beit David, Bnei Brak 1991, p. 103.

[17] There are many writings on the prohibition against reading secular newspapers. In the book Emet Ve-Emunah, by Rabbi Yisrael Yitzchak Moshe Turnovksy, one can find letters from the Gedolim of Poland and Lithuania on the prohibition against reading secular newspapers (these include letters by the Hiddushei Ha-Rim of Ger, the Avnei Nezer of Sokatchov, and Rav Hayyim of Brisk. The book was reprinted in Bnei Brak in 1971, by Rabbi David Kleinfaltz ob”m (who devoted his life to fighting the reading of secular newspapers) and which received the approbation of the Kehilot Yaakov, Rav Shach, and others.

[18] To an extent, one can point to an internal Haredi split on the matter. At least in the first and second generation of Haredi settling into the country, the Haredi paper was seen as a communal and “baalabatish” matter. There were rebbes — primarily from Ger and Vizhnitz — who were involved and who guided its path, but the Lithuanian heads of yeshivahs and their students didn’t see fit to deal with the issue. Only around 1984, with the establishment of the Lithuanian Degel Ha-Torah party, did Lithuanian leaders begin to speak of the necessity of a newspaper, and a chronicle of the yeshivah world began to be published on their instructions. Its appearance marked a new stage of the transition from a post facto effort to one which supported the matter from the outset.

[19] Osef Michtavim, letter 78.

[20] Rabbi Yisrael Meir Ha-Cohen, Toras Ha-Bayis, Pietrekov 1906, p. 29.

[21] Osef Michtavim, letter 71 (emphasis added). Cf., also, Itonut Yehudit Shehayta which quotes the Haredi journalist R. Shmuel Rothstein ob”m (one of the first writers for the Warsaw paper Dos Yuddishe Vort), according to which “The rebbe had reservations from the outset regarding the pro-German policy trends expressed in Dos Yuddishe Vort under the influence of the German Rabbis.” (ibid.)

[22] Malchut Beit David, ibid.

[23] Osef Michtavim, letter 18.

[24] On a number of issues on which the Gedolim were split, both sides were represented — perhaps not equally — in articles and opinion columns. The option of entirely erasing one side of the argument seems to have emerged later, after the resignation of the Lithuanian block and the establishment of Yated Ne’eman.

[25] The development of Charedi journalism in Israel is a long and fascinating issue in and of itself. The papers mentioned in this article were preceded by the press of the Old Yishuv which was largely zealous, but which failed during the “language wars.” Cf. Kimmy Caplan, “Rabot Reu”t Tzadik”: Kavim Le-Toldot Ha-Itonut Ha-Haredit Be-Yisrael, Le-Me’afyenehah Ve-le-hitpathutah, Herzog Institute for Media, Society, and Politics, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 2003, from page 22 onward.

[26] Kimmy Caplan, ibid., p. 28. See also note 12 above on the question: “Did the parallel papers even try to present a challenge?” Kaplan leaves the question open.

[27] Some claim that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the arrangement between the Ger rebbe — the Lev Simcha — and Bank Leumi in the Ganei Hamat Hotel affair (which was alleged by the Haredim to have been built on an ancient Jewish graveyard). According to this argument, Hamodia, which was subject to strong Ger influence, refused to publish the opinion of the Lithuanian Rabbis even in a paid advertisement. When the Steipler was informed of this, he stated sharply: “We need a newspaper,” and Yated took off. Cf: Binyamin Brown, Likrat Democratizatziya Be-Manhigut Ha-Haredit? Doctrinat Da’at Torah Be-Mifneh Hame’ot Ha-Esrim Ha-Esrim Ve-Ehat, Israel Institute of Democracy, Jerusalem, April 2011, Policy Study 89, p. 42.

[28] From the letter of Rav Shach, published in Yated on 7/14/1989.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Letter dated February 4, 1986, published in Yated, memorial supplement in memory of Rav Shach, 9/11/2001 (emphasis added)

[31] See Binyamin Brown, “Ha-Aviv Ha-Lita’i,” Israel Democracy Institute, May 24, 2014. Retrieved from www.idi.org.il/articles/9773

[32] Likrat Democratizatziya, p. 43-44.

[33] A fascinating mention of a similar phenomenon can be seen in a letter sent by the Hafetz Haim to newspaper editorial boards. The letter written originally in Yiddish was published in the newspaper Yiddishe Leben in 1924, and was afterwards send in translation to Hebrew to the Jewusalem Kol Yisrael (a weekly published by Tze’irei Agudat Yisra’el which began to be published in 1922) alongside the request of the Hafetz Haim “to print in your honorable newspaper my article attached here, which I am sending to all the newspapers which stand for the glory of our religion”: “It greatly pains me that dispute has become prevalent in Israel, and it is renewed every day by sides and sides of sides, and all in public by publishing many issues for each side and send to each and every corner … The entire exile has become like a bonfire, and you have no day in which I do not receive against my will, newspapers and issues from each side pouring contempt on the other side, and it greatly greatly pains me that the work of Satan has also succeeded in our Holy Land, and it has also fallen prey to dispute, and I do not know who permitted them the sin of slander and the sin of dispute which is a great and terrible sin.” (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Hacohen, Zachor Lamarim, Jerusalem 1958, p. 109).

[34] Rabbi Hizkiyahu Moshe Shmuel Shapira, Zahav Mishva, Yeshivat Beer Yaakov, Beer Yaakov 2006, part 1, p. 98.

[35] Benjamin Brown in his aforementioned study identifies in the activity of this tabloid — a successor to the mythological tabloid Panim El Panim which came out in the 1950s and edited by Shmuel Avidor Hacohen — as a reaction primarily aimed at Rav Shach. He reasons that although this newspaper was a “black sheep” in Haredi journalism, “in retrospect it is hard to doubt that it made a contribution, even if modest, to cooling the reverence towards Gedolim and the cultivation of cynicism towards Da’as Torah.” Panim Hadashot died in the nineties, at the same time that Rav Shach left the public stage. Brown explains this as follows: “The opposition to the ‘Rosh Yeshivah’ (Rav Shach) was the source of the newspaper’s vitality, and when that ended — so did the newspaper.”

[36] To this we should also add the Sefardic Haredi weekly Yom Leyom, which turned from a daily into a weekly, as well as the Belz publication Hamachane Hacharedi, both of which are also considered platforms “overseen by a Gadol.” Their influence over the Haredi public sphere — based on the number of readers and subscribers — is fairly marginal.

[37] Unless noted otherwise, the following arguments are based on the aforementioned study by Kimmy Caplan.

[38] In the winter of 2010, seventy principals of Talmud Torah schools published a letter to teachers against the Haredi weeklies, in which they also made this argument: “They even dared to increase their wickedness, in erecting platforms of honor for those who head the campaigns against the holies of Israel, who even exploited this platform with methods of flattery to introduce their poison and venom.”

[39] For instance, at one of the anti-weekly conferences, Rabbi Michal Zilber said: “Slaves now rule us! Who are those who write, who are those who speak an opinion? Empty, youthful youths!” (from the Wiki entry on “The struggle against Haredi Weeklies in Israel”).

[40] From the speech of Rabbi Michal Zilber referenced above.

[41] The two most common weeklies, Yom Hashishi and Hashavu’a were forced to close in 2003, in the wake of a kol kore [proclamation] of the leaders of the Haredi public (including Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Vozner) which drove away their readers. We should note that while Yom Hashishi was forced to close, Hashavu’a sufficed with changing its name to Sha’ah Tovah, and by hiding the identiyty of its editors. On the other hand, weeklies such as Mishpacha, Bakehila, and others are prospering.

[42] Israel Cohen, “TGI Poll for the Haredi Media: Slight Strengthening for Newspapers, Radio Has Weakened a Bit,” (Hebrew), published on Kikar Hashabbat on 5/10/2016. www.kikar.co.il/208959.html

[43] Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter, Otzar Michtavim, Pnei Menachem, Jerusalem 2010, vol. 1, p. 254.

[44] Cf. note 10.

[45] An example of this is the investigation of the Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat on the matter of the salary of kindergarten teachers in the “Beis Yaakov” network. Cf. Haim Avni, “Sachar Mashpil, Pegi’ah Bavetek: Kach Ne’enashot Gananot Harediyot,” published on Kikar Hashabbat on 24/2/2015. www.kikar.co.il/153028.html

[46] There is of course room to discuss just how much the modern press actually serves as a fair and objective “watchdog,” especially given the processes of privatization of the press. In any event, it does seem that from these perspectives, it still contains a great deal of benefit.


photo: Bigstock

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