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March 31, 2021 1:20 pm

New York Times Corrects Its Error About ‘Grapefruit Juice’ in Havdalah

avatar by Ira Stoll


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

An article in the New York Times reports on a high school baseball player, Elie Kligman, who won’t play games on the sabbath.

In general it’s nice to see the Times portray observant Jews as something other than the source of all coronavirus infections. As is often the case with the Times, however, a clumsy error on a detail winds up illustrating how unfamiliar the paper’s editors are with the basics of Jewish ritual practice.

The article carries a correction: “An earlier version of this article described incorrectly one way the Kligmans mark the end of the sabbath on a game day. They sip grape juice — not grapefruit juice — instead of wine.”

The grapefruit league is a term for the spring training competitions that professional baseball players play in Florida, which has a substantial citrus industry. But grape juice, not grapefruit juice, is a common nonalcoholic substitute for wine in Jewish rituals, especially where young people or children are involved. Grape juice is a kind of fruit juice, so maybe the writer or editor misunderstood an explanation that said grape fruit-juice, and wrote grapefruit juice instead.

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It’s a minor error, but it’s the sort of thing that makes anyone who is familiar with these rituals and practices suspect that the Times just doesn’t have anyone knowledgeable around to catch this sort of thing before it in print, or doesn’t consider it important enough to get right.

The full sentence that was changed, as corrected, reads, “The Kligmans wrap up their sabbath observance with the Havdalah ceremony — a ritual commemorating the end of the sabbath, in which participants sip wine (or grape juice on game day), light a candle, sniff a sweet spice to recall the sweetness of the day, say a prayer — and then Elie and Ari jump in their uniforms and zoom off to a game.”

The Times readership has widespread contempt for such ritual observance, at least judging by the comments on the article, which are venomous. “The Christian way is to sacrifice without making such a show of it. More attractive than this ‘I suffer for my piety’ trumpet-blaring … which sort of undermines the piety itself,” wrote one Times reader, whose comment was upvoted with “recommend” by 15 others. “Just another example of the delusion of religious faith,” was another comment recommended by 201 Times readers. “Sad to see a fine man throw away so much for one religion,” was another comment upvoted by 98 Times readers. “I read this story on the way to work and kind of shook my head and chuckled a little bit that there are still people who believe in primitive superstitions,” wrote another Times reader, upvoted by 43 others.

As commenter Lois from Brooklyn put it, “I enjoyed the article a lot, but my pleasure in it was spoiled somewhat by the hostility of many of the commenters.”

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

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