Sunday, May 22nd | 21 Iyyar 5782

March 21, 2022 11:27 am

New York Times Enrages Readers With ‘Ridiculous’ Subheadline on Obituary of Rabbi Kanievsky

avatar by Ira Stoll


A Haredi Jewish man prays ahead of the funeral ceremony of prominent rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who died at 94, outside his home in Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 20, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

A New York Times obituary of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky is drawing furious complaints from the paper’s readers.

A subheadline emphasizing what the Times says was the rabbi’s initial response to the COVID-19 virus was one main source of reader anger.

“He initially insisted, ‘Canceling Torah study is more dangerous than the coronavirus.’ But he had a change of heart, even before testing positive,” the Times subheadline said. It struck many readers as snide or flippant.

“Phenomenally absurd subtitle,” tweeted Tzvi Alperowitz, the Chabad emissary on Martha’s Vineyard.

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“A ridiculous subheadline in @nytimes obituary for an acclaimed Rabbi and leader of Orthodox Jewry,” tweeted Joel Petlin, superintendent of the Kiryas Joel School District.

“This subheadline from the @nytimes is absolutely despicable. At a certain point, we have to have an open conversation about the absurdity & Jew hatred that frequents this rag. Any Jewish person, or any person of good conscience should be embarrassed to work there or subscribe,” tweeted Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, chairman of the Kentucky Jewish Council.

Another source of reader complaints was the obituary’s closing anecdote: “Once, when asked on the spot how many times the name of Moses is mentioned in the Torah, Rabbi Kanievsky performed a mental tabulation and answered: 97. When he was told that a computer had counted 99 mentions, Rabbi Kanievsky pointed out that the extra two words used the same Hebrew letters as Moses but that they had completely different meanings.”

In fact, the name of Moses is mentioned in the Torah far more than either 97 or 99 times, so as an illustration of Kanievsky’s mental prowess, the story is nonsensical. I did a quick count and got more than 200 times just in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. “This legend had been garbled,” Gershon Klapper tweeted. “There are more than a hundred mentions of Moses in the first few chapters of Exodus alone.”

As of Sunday afternoon, the Times hadn’t corrected the obituary. If it does, it would be the most recent in a series of Times corrections on matters of Jewish literacy. The author of the Times obituary, Joseph Berger, referred an inquiry from The Algemeiner to a Times spokesperson.

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.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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