People familiar with the situation in Teaneck, NJ, the home of the NJ Jewish Standard, caution that it is extremely unlikely that the publisher of the newspaper, James Janoff, will reverse his policy of refusing to publish same-sex union announcements.
After much deliberation, the newspaper ran the announcement — the first in its 79-year history for a same-sex marriage — in its Sept. 24 issue. Then, in its next issue, citing complaints from Orthodox rabbis and a “firestorm” that resulted, it issued an apology for the “pain and consternation” the announcement had caused members of the Orthodox community. It promised not to run similar announcements again
The publisher has been meeting with many rabbis to discuss the matter. On Thursday, 6 October, he met with a group of 35 Northern NJ rabbis. Conservative Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El in Closter organized Thursday’s meeting along with Rabbi Randall Mark of Wayne, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis. The gathering brought the paper’s leadership together with rabbis from the four main branches of Judaism – Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox. While the Orthodox generally oppose to same-sex marriage, some rabbis from the other branches are supportive.
Kirshner said that during the meeting, James Janoff, the Standard’s publisher, did not reveal whether the paper would start publishing gay marriage notices again. In a statement on the Standard’s Web site earlier this week, Janoff conceded that the Teaneck-based paper “may have acted too quickly” when it decided not to publish such notices, “responding only to one segment of the community.”
As reported, the publisher stopped publishing the same-sex union announcements after local orthodox rabbis complained that they were were suffering from having to read such matters. They say that the newspaper is not following Jewish law in reporting these unions which are sanctioned by NJ law. Some observers have noted that the very same rabbis who are so upset about the one notice that was printed have never once complained about the regular notices for non-kosher restaurants or activities which violate the Jewish Sabbath which regularly appear in the paper. Apparently, their wrath is reserved for celebrations of commitment and love between same-sex couples.
“It is our hope that these meetings — such as the one held this morning at Temple Emanu-El in Closter — will be ongoing, leading to public discussions of the issue and enhancing respect among the many groups that coexist in our community,” Janoff said. “We are pleased with the candor and integrity of what we are hearing.”
He did not say whether the paper would reverse course again and start printing gay marriage notices.
“This is one where they almost couldn’t win,” said Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor in chief of The New Jersey Jewish News, which serves a much less Orthodox readership. Mr. Silow-Carroll said his publication ran its first same-sex wedding announcement in January and received no response. “The Orthodox community has huge economic clout,” he said. “If they put out the word that their members shouldn’t be reading or advertising, it could be crippling for a newspaper that size.
According to the NY Times, neither the Orthodox rabbis contacted nor the newspaper responded to phone calls. And on the streets of Teaneck, businesspeople preferred to speak anonymously, rather than risk offending. Still, there was widespread speculation that the economic clout of the Orthodox gave them outsize influence.
“This decision didn’t reflect the whole Jewish community,” said Rabbi Steven Sirbu, of Temple Emeth, a Reform congregation in Teaneck, where nearly all the other Jewish congregations are now Orthodox. “It looks like the newspaper was held hostage in some way by a small group of Orthodox leaders.”
Another rabbi, David Kirshner, of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative congregation in Closter, said that while critics of the same-sex announcement couch their argument in terms of Scripture, the newspaper contains numerous elements that can be seen as impious — like ads for nonkosher restaurants.
“Make no mistake about it,” Rabbi Kirshner wrote in a public letter. “This is homophobia masquerading as religious piety. Pure and simple.”
“It’s time for the Jewish Standard to wake up and smell the chicken soup,” said Steven Goldstein, head of Garden State Equality and a Teaneck resident. Goldstein, whose engagement to his partner in 2002 was the very first such announcement ever printed by the New York Times, added: “The paper has thrown three movements of Judaism — Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative — overboard in an effort to mollify some Orthodox.”
Mr. Goldstein who lives within sight of the newspaper’s offices in Teaneck says that he is still waiting for the publisher to contact him about this matter. He noted that he doesn’t expect the newspaper to resume its former policy of printing same-sex union announcements.
Andrew Silow-Carroll, writing in the NJ Jewish News, NJ’s other major Jewish newspaper, notes, “For example, some Orthodox readers and leaders tell me they can’t have our newspaper in their homes, or their schools, because of the subjects we treat as normative. Some are disappointed when we profile or merely report on a public figure whose own religious practice is obviously thin or non-existent, is intermarried, or whose accomplishments are in fields considered immodest (e.g., risque entertainment) or antithetical to their halachic values (e.g., the environmentalists who push an ”eco-kashrut” that is more organic than it is technically kosher).
Other subjects likely to give offense are the liberal movements’ more welcoming attitudes toward interfaith marriage, the Reform movement’s adoption of patrilineal descent, the ordination of gay rabbis, and gender egalitarianism. It’s not merely that some readers disagree with these positions — they see it as our responsibility as a Jewish newspaper to either ignore them or condemn them.
But there does come a point when, after respectfully hearing all sides of an issue, you have to make a decision, and someone is bound to feel disappointed that their position has not been adopted. And to the chagrin of the Orthodox, our commitment to pluralism leads us to treat as normative things that will offend them. ”
As the days pass and this story gets buried and eventually forgotten by the media, it seems likely that the publisher will make a decision based purely on business factors.
The orthodox are the only ones who have the clout to shut down his advertisers by removing kosher certification. Everyone knows this in Teaneck. Many observers believe that this implied threat is being used to get their way. The telling point was that the publisher specifically asked each non-orthodox rabbi if they would continue to read the paper if it decided to refuse to print the announcements. To date all of them said that they would.
What is a freedom of the press to the orthodox?
A joke when it doesn’t serve their own purposes.
In that, they reveal themselves to be little better than the Taliban or other fundamentalist bullies who use religion to disguise thuggery.
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