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November 2, 2018 2:39 pm

New York Times Columnist Slurs Orthodox Jews as ‘Semiliterate’

avatar by Ira Stoll


The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Even when it’s trying to stand up for Jews, The New York Times somehow manages to find a way to insult us.

Ginia Bellafante, a New York Times columnist last observed smearing observant Jews as ignorant welfare sponges, has a new piece out noticing that there’s lots of anti-Jewish hate out there and that not all of it comes from the far right. Her latest column appears under the provocative headline “Is It Safe To Be Jewish In New York?”

Her concern is welcome enough, I suppose, except that toward the end it veers off with this passage: “Sympathies are distributed unevenly. Few are extended toward religious fundamentalists, of any kind, who reach the radar of the urbane, ‘Pod Save America’ class only when stories appear confirming existing impressions of backwardness — the hordes of children delivered into the world whom families refuse to vaccinate and keep semiliterate.”


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The yeshiva students to whom the Times columnist is apparently referring are highly literate, most of them, in biblical, mishnaic, and prayerbook Hebrew and in the Aramaic of the Talmud. Some of them also speak or read Yiddish. So on the basis that their English isn’t Oxford-level, the Times is going to insult them as semiliterate? By that standard, Bellafante herself is semiliterate if she can’t read Rashi.

Imagine the cries of “racism” and bias if a politician or Times columnist were to refer to the caravan of asylum-speakers approaching the US southern border, or even to some professional baseball infielders, as “semiliterate” merely because they are literate in Spanish but not in English.

In trying to critique elite condescension toward Orthodox Jews, the Times columnist winds up reinforcing it.

Is it safe to be Jewish in New York? It would be safer if the Times columnist asking this question could manage to do so without issuing her own slur along the way.

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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