Moving (The) Forward

As regular readers have probably figured out, I get a decent amount of my Jewish news from The Jewish Daily Forward. That’s not to say I wholeheartedly endorse every story they run, or every editorial position they take.

And now, I’m going to bite the hand that feeds a bit.

As, I think, part of a year-end wrap-up, The Forward posted this page, which had excerpts and links to articles from earlier in the year debating the position HUC-JIR should or shouldn’t take on rabbinical students dating and marrying non-Jews. That’s interesting content, and it bears reading. (For what it’s worth, the Reform movement might do well to note that its ambivalence on some central questions of modern Jewish life isn’t too different from the Conservative movement’s difficulties on similar points. Should Reform rabbis–some of whom will eventually officiate at interfaith ceremonies–be allowed to intermarry? Yes; because good luck training rabbis to counsel that couple through life-changing events that often take on religious dimension if you have no experience at an institutional level with the issue. Next question, please.)

It’s not those articles that have bothered me. It’s the opening to the little wrap-up article, which says that the topic exposes a problem: that Reform Judaism “embrac[es] modernity more than any other denomination yet [does] not want[] to break all connection to Jewish tradition.” (The emphasis is my own.)

That line, readers, is hogwash. And The Forward knows it–or should know it. It knows it because The Forward knows that Humanistic Judaism exists, unless it’s just sticking its proverbial fingers in its ears. Try a search on The Forward’s website for “society for humanistic judaism.” You get a lot of results.

(And while we’re fighting over superlatives, what, exactly, is Reconstructionist Judaism? Seems like a pretty modern-minded approach to the tradition–certainly more so than Reform Judaism, which has had leaders pushing oddly traditional lines recently, like Eric Yoffie’s shot against non-religious Jews.)

So I’m calling B.S. on The Forward.

I recognize that the word is not especially widespread about the Society for Humanistic Judaism. But SHJ leaders have contacted staff at The Forward when, e.g., the Olitsky-Cohen article about “cultural conversion” came out. Because, you see, Humanistic Judaism has had this sort of thing since the 1980s.

Why am I offended? Because journalism shouldn’t shape the narrative. And it seems that The Forward is behaving like a journalistic outlet that ignores what it knows about Jewish life to favor institutional allegiances and predispositions. And when that happens, you’ve moved from conveying the narrative to making the narrative.

I’m not the first person to raise such concerns. Check out Shmarya Rosenberg’s Failed Messiah blog for any number of articles challenging The Forward’s coverage of issues related to Jewish life in the Orthodox world. Or, hey, just start here. (I don’t know that Rosenberg’s criticisms are accurate–only that they’ve occurred and at first blush have seemed plausible. I couldn’t–and don’t–say more than that.)

Shaping the narrative may be journalistic. Is it journalism? I’m not so sure.

So, to The Forward, I say, in the words of another Jew (Aaron Sorkin, through the mouth of Leo McGarry on The West Wing): “Go do a job!”

And take your fingers out of your ears. We’ve been talking to you. Sit up and listen.

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  1. Pingback: “The Forward” Considered Harmful? | A secular Jew in Indianapolis

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