Who Is Really ‘Insular’ — Hasidim? Or New York Times Editors?
The New York Times likes using the word “insular” to describe Hasidic Jews. It likes it so much that it uses the term twice in a single news article about a Brooklyn judge:
Ruchie Freier, as friends call her, a 52-year-old Hasidic Jewish grandmother who has blazed a trail in her insular religious community with so much determination that the male authorities have simply had to make room….
Mr. Freier, who is now a mortgage broker, decided to go to college so he could earn money for the family. That was already a groundbreaking decision among the insular ultra-Orthodox, where even for a man to enroll in a secular university was rare.
What is this word, “insular,” that the Times uses to describe Hasidic Jews? My authoritative Webster’s Second unabridged dictionary offers some definitions:
1. of, or having the form of, an island.
2. living or situated on an island
3. like an island; detached; insulated.
4. of, like, or characteristic of islanders
5. of narrow views; illiberal; prejudiced; as, his ideas of government are insular.
If the Times means merely to describe Judge Freier or the Hasidic Jews as island-dwellers — well, the description applies to all New York City residents other than those who live in the Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens, after all, are part of Long Island, while Staten Island and Manhattan are also islands. But somehow I think the definition the Times is getting at is more the fifth one: “of narrow views…prejudiced.”
There it seems to me like a case of the Times projecting onto Hasidim a description that more accurately might be applied to the newspaper’s own reporters and editors. Rather than being “detached,” plenty of Hasidic Jews are out there interacting with the outside world. Lubavitcher Hasidim are serving as Chabad emissaries on college campuses and in far-flung locations such as India, Thailand, and China.
Karliner Hasidim are working as graphic designers, architects, computer programmers, and engineers. Satmar Hasidim run B&H Photo, which is a major electronics retailer and an excellent place to buy a camera.
Lumping all these people together as narrowminded or prejudiced is itself an example of narrow-minded prejudice. If the Times newsroom had any Hasidic Jews as reporters or editors, or if the newspaper’s reporters and editors had more Hasidic Jewish friends, maybe the newspaper would be less inclined to hurl pejorative adjectives at them.
Maybe, in other words, it’s the secular journalists, not the religious Jews, who are really the insular ones.
More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.