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July 17, 2019 8:03 am

New York Times Touts ‘Gay and Once Divorced’ Rabbi

avatar by Ira Stoll


The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times, having recently devoted its “Saturday profile” slot to an admiring profile of a Palestinian diplomat that pushed an Israel-apartheid theme, went in a different direction this past weekend with a long article about a rabbi.

What is newsworthy, exactly, about this particular rabbi? The Times headline has it as “Gay and Once Divorced, a Canadian Rabbi Broadens Judaism’s Tent.”

That isn’t exactly unique; the Times article quotes the rabbi, Lisa Grushcow, as saying, “You can’t go 10 city blocks in New York without running into a lesbian rabbi.” That may depend on where you are in New York, but there’s probably some truth to it in at least some neighborhoods.

The article, as is often unfortunately the case with New York Times coverage of Jews and Jewish issues, promotes some misconceptions. It reports: “The rabbi recalled that a stranger recently made an appointment to ask her to adjudicate a family inheritance dispute. When the bemused rabbi asked, ‘Why me?’ the woman replied, ‘Rabbis are free, and I didn’t want to pay a therapist or a lawyer.’”

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It’s not entirely accurate that rabbis are “free.” Rabbis have to feed their families and put a roof over their heads somehow, and often that involves somehow getting paid by donors or dues-paying members of a congregation. Sometimes with “free,” you get what you pay for. Temple Emanu-el Beth Sholom in Montreal, Canada, Rabbi Grushcow’s employer, has congregational membership dues and, in addition to that, a mention on its website of a $5 million capital campaign.

The Times article reports, “Her success at expanding Judaism’s tent was evident at a recent gala evening at the synagogue honoring her seven years’ service. Mark Fishman, a rabbi in the Orthodox tradition, which historically does not sanction gay relationships, observed that when it came to his own spiritual health, ‘Rabbi Grushcow is my rabbi.’”

It’s not clear to me how winning the endorsement of Rabbi Fishman is evidence of “expanding Judaism’s tent,” since Fishman was Jewish before meeting Grushcow. There is reference to an audience that included “several Muslim leaders,” but if Grushcow has expanded Judaism’s “tent” to include them it’s not entirely clear how, beyond having them attend the gala. The word “Israel” doesn’t appear in the Times article. It’s not at all clear, either, how the Jewish state or Zionism fits into Grushcow’s success, which is a question plenty of Times readers might be curious to know the answer to.

I suppose it’s nice to see the Times writing about Jews in a non-hostile way, but having read the profile over two or three times, I still don’t quite get what the Times imagined rose to the level of international news here.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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