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Technology, the Move to the Right and The Jewish Press

I hope that the Jewish Press stays the paper of record for Orthodox Jewry. If it were to fold - the loss would be a devastating blow to moderation.
Hachnasas Orchim Flip

We live in a world of great technological flux. When I was growing up, life was fairly predictable. Things hardly changed at all. Decades would go by and a newspaper stayed pretty much the same… reporting news, commentary, sports, and entertainment. TV was about network broadcast. TV news was the most widely used method for people to get the news.Telephones were land lines and used exclusively to make phone calls.

Then… at the tail end of the 20th century – along came cable TV, the VCR, the mobile telephone, and the internet. That changed everything. The world as we knew it then no longer exists. With the advent of these things and improvements to them occurring in near rapid fire fashion – the only thing that seems constant now… is change. The moment you buy one item, a new improved one comes along making the one you just bought obsolete. It’s truly hard to keep up. And it’s expensive to buy all these new items all the time. Not to mention the expense of data plans required to use most of them.

The most stable items of the past are now running the risk of extinction. Telephone calls are giving way to text messaging. Books are giving way to e-books. Newspapers are giving way to internet news sites.

As a lover of technology I used to be able to keep up on new developments. But things are happening so fast that I can no longer do that without spending time on it that I don’t have. Which is a bit distressing for a technophile like me.

One of the industries that seems to be suffering the most is the newspaper industry. Giants like the New York Times are struggling to stay alive. Weekly periodicals like Newsweek have already conceded defeat and have gone entirely electronic.

As it affects me and other observant Jews the idea that newspapers and books are becoming obsolete is not a good outcome. That is because of Shabbos. On Shabbos observant Jews turn off their electronics. It is a violation of Halacha to use electronic devices on that day. The reasons for that are complex and beyond the scope of this essay.

The elimination of electronics on our day of rest assures the continuation of the publication of Seforim and books that interest the observant reader. Like those published by ArtScroll. And it gives a reprieve from extinction to Orthodox newspapers and magazines. My observation is that there has never been a better time for them than right now.

Which brings me to three publications worthy of discussion. The Jewish Press, Mishpacha Magazine, and Ami Magazine. The two latter ones having debuted relatively recently. They both seem to be flourishing. With Ami, the newest ‘kid on the block’ catching up to rival Mishpacha in circulation.

These two magazines are quite modern in terms of design. With its glossy paper, good photography,state of the art layout and graphics they are easily on par with any secular counterpart like Time and the now defunct Newsweek. The articles are for the most part well written… and an easy read on a Shabbos afternoon. And for the most part pretty informative.

And then there is the Jewish Press. I believe they must be suffering a loss of readership because of competition from these magazines. If that is true, it is very sad although understandable. It’s hard to complete with a couple of ‘glossies’ who have some very talented regular columnists writing for them. Like Jonathan Rosenblum, Avi Shafran, Eitan Kobre, and Emanuel Feldman among others. They also try to cater to a broad based observant readership including Modern Orthodox Jews by featuring articles about Rav Hershel Shachter, the Rav, Rav Aharon Soloveichik and other non Charedi figures – placing them all in a good light forthe most part.

Although these glossies do a good job in attracting readers, they do not represent in any way a moderate all inclusive Hashkafa. Nor do they have the broad representation of Hashkafos as does the Jewish Press.

The truth is that the Jewish Press is really the best of the three in terms of what really counts – content. Even though I do not always agree with their editorial positions. The only thing missing is the ‘glossy’ look of its competitors. But on every other level it is better than both Ami and Mishpacha. There is no doubt in my mind that they represent every Hashkafa in a fair and unbiased way, They feature columnists from all segments of Orthodoxy. And they refuse to cater to the extreme right by not publishing pictures of women. Something both Mishpacha and Ami do. The Jewish Press is definitely fair and more balanced.

It was once the object of ridicule. Especially by the right who did not often like the way news was reported about them. There is an old joke about the Jewish Press. Since it publishes some Divrei Torah there is a question as to whether it may be read in a bathroom. The joke was whether it was allowed to be taken out of the bathroom. It had been accused of yellow journalism and biased reporting. Not to mention the fact that finding the rest of an article in the back of the paper was often an adventure when they would occasionally tell you to turn to the wrong page.

But all that has been fixed years ago and this should be the ‘go to’ paper of record for Orthodox Jewry. I think they have the broadest and fairest coverage of news events in the entirety of the Orthodox world. And they have the widest variety of Orthodox opinion . Whether it is from Religious Zionist rabbis, Chasidic rabbis, or Agudah Rabbis. I used to once in a while have an op-ed published in their print edition myself.

Their internet edition regularly publishes my blog. Even though I happen to know that of late they have received pressure from many Satmar readers who object to their publishing my strong worded critiques about how they are dealing with sex abuse in their community.

I hope that it stays the paper of record for Orthodox Jewry. If it were to fold – the loss would be a devastating blow to moderation. Because it would surely be replaced by Ami and Mishpacha. They will become the ‘paper (magazine) of record’. The last thing Orthodoxy needs right now is for Charedi values (like eliminating pictures of women from their pages) to become the standard for all Orthodox publications.

In a world of rapid fire change… and the push to move everything to the right, the Jewish Press needs to stay strong and fight the good fight. We ought to do whatever we can to keep it that way.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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