Tzarich Iyun > “Seder Iyun”: Deliberations > On the Nature of Charedi Journalism > “In Praise of Peace” — Charedi Weeklies as Promoters of Tolerance

“In Praise of Peace” — Charedi Weeklies as Promoters of Tolerance

Response Article To "On the Nature of Charedi Journalism"

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Eliezer Schulman

כדי לחיות יחד, החברה החרדית זקוקה לתכנים מאחדים ושפה משותפת. שלילת זכותו של האחר להביע את דעתו, מגבירה את המחלוקת ואינה מסייעת לאף אחד מן הצדדים. השבועונים, המבקשים לפנות למכנה המשותף הרחב ביותר בציבור החרדי, מייצרים מכנה משותף בין הקהילות השונות. בכך הם מעודדים סובלנות בחברה ומטפחים חיים משותפים לצד חילוקי דעות.

Kislev 5780, December 2019

In his article “With the Permission of God and Community,” Yisrael Grovais discusses the relationship between Charedi weekly magazines and the community’s various daily newspapers. Specifically, he argues that the dailies, which are partisan in nature and content, no longer fulfill the intended role of Charedi journalism as an alternative to the secular press. Rather, according to Grovais, it is the non-partisan weeklies who now speak to the original and authentic purpose of Charedi journalism.

Grovais’ comments are important and they do indeed provide the historic context within which we should understand the development of Charedi journalism. I wish to further this understanding by highlighting an additional contribution the weeklies offer to our community. I refer to a distinct social benefit. The non-partisan weeklies create common ground that can be shared by the various branches of the Charedi community. By developing a common language in which people can talk to each other, the weeklies are drivers of tolerance between groups that may otherwise have difficulty communicating.

 

Creating a Common Denominator

Each daily newspaper, by its own explicit self-definition, promotes the agenda of a single community. Part and parcel of one’s community affiliation is a subscription to the “right newspaper.” The newspaper thus connects members with the community’s internal goings-on, notifies subscribers of significant community events, and messages on behalf of the leadership.

By contrast, the weeklies exist precisely because they do not represent any one group in the Charedi community. Instead, they create a broad platform for the range of opinions throughout the Haredi public. Should the weeklies elevate one group’s voice over another’s, they would become a partisan publication. Their target audience would shrink and they would find themselves in direct competition with the dailies, who possess a clear home court advantage. In their desire to reach as broad an audience as possible, the weeklies give airtime to the many winds blowing through Charedi communities, laying before readers the vibrancy of a multi-hued society.

The weeklies exist precisely because they do not represent any one group in the Charedi community. Instead, they create a broad platform for the range of opinions throughout the Haredi public. Should the weeklies elevate one group’s voice over another’s, they would become a partisan publication.

Grovais also notes that one of the main arguments against the weeklies is that they are motivated for purely economic reasons to reach as broad an audience as possible:

“Such economic bias, claim their opponents, leads the weeklies to cater to the lowest common denominator of the public. The need to appeal to as broad a readership as possible induces writers to attempt to appease everyone and engage the more open margins of Charedi society. Such journalistic openness, concludes the argument, is unacceptable to a community of people who are diligent about their children’s education and who wish to insulate their homes from foreign influence.”

All the same, the desire to “appeal to as large a group as possible of audiences,” even if economically driven, results in a net benefit to all. Each week, the magazines are put to test in the marketplace of readers from all sectors of the Charedi population. The weekly publications, if they wish to remain in print, must either find or invent a common language for the totality of their readership.

Thus, these publications embody an ethos of acceptance or tolerance within the larger framework of a Torah observant community, not unlike Halacha’s recognition that communities have distinct customs .[1] The weeklies offer a platform for each group to express its opinion and hashkafa on issues of the moment, insofar as the Gedolim have not already reached a definitive conclusion on the given matter. Indeed, even if the relative tolerance of the weeklies is a result of their business interest, the outcome is a heightened respect for each of the communities and opinions on the Charedi street.

 

The Benefit in Presenting Different Positions

I believe that debates are natural and even constructive. Surfacing the differences between communities helps each community better understand its own uniqueness and shape its own path forward. Discord that is not for the sake of Heaven is ugly; differing opinions can help all parties grow. Moreover, even if we strive for some ideal future in which there are no disagreements, today they are simply part of the way we live. If we wish to live in peace with neighbors who are a little bit different rather than in a state of constant hostility, we must develop a common language to facilitate such harmony.

If we wish to live in peace with neighbors who are a little bit different rather than in a state of constant hostility, we must develop a common language to facilitate such harmony.

The weeklies, by representing all Charedi groups, promote tolerance within our camp, a community that unfortunately does not have much of this to spare. I often encounter those who criticize us (i.e. Mishpacha) for providing a platform for different opinions. Such criticism characterized an understanding that someone who holds a different opinion should not be given the right to express himself. Critics who hold this position fail to appreciate that denying one’s opponents right to express their opinion will not change that disputant’s views. It simply fuels the flames of hostility and misunderstanding between communities.

Our weekly magazines help reduce some of this tension between our various communities and subgroups. Rabbi Yitzchak of Vorka taught, in the context of Yosef and his brothers: “And they saw him from afar and before he came near they plotted to kill him.” When one only sees his adversary “from afar” he can contemplate doing terrible harm. Come a little closer and your perspective will change. Even if you still do not agree with your opponent, you no longer wish to kill him.

The weeklies are not trying to educate the public, nor do they claim to be the community’s lighthouse. They recognize that everyone in Charedi society has a unique spiritual world, a Chassidic court or Yeshivish community; a Lithuanian or Sefardi yeshivah. Each has its own Rabbi, nusach, and distinct halachic rulings and practices. The weeklies celebrate the unity that lies beneath this surface diversity. We may not all be cut from the same cloth, but we can come together in the pages of a magazine.

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I believe that the weeklies represent a more mature stage of Charedi journalism. These took a step forward in realizing the goal set by the Gedolim who established Charedi journalism. The weekly magazines are an excellent resource for those curious to look outside their own circle and learn about activities and ideas beyond their immediate surroundings. They are an outlet for people who are willing to hear the opinions of others and affirm that others indeed have a right to express their views. Their audience respects members of other communities and understand that there are different groups within our circles. The weeklies, while not educational in nature, do nevertheless teach tolerance. The reader will discover that his neighbor who dresses differently also learned in a yeshiva, even if the style of learning is different, and he also spent time with his own Rabbis and mentors. He also absorbed Torah and yiras shamayim from them, and he is thus a part of the Charedi community, even if he thinks a little differently and davens another nusach. Thus, thanks in part to the weeklies, our Charedi society can indeed see itself as a single community.


[1] “Each river flows according to its own direction” – נהרא נהרא ופשטיה


photo: Bigstock

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