New York Times Escalates Its War on Yeshivas With New Focus on Children of Divorce
The New York Times is escalating its ongoing war against Jewish education, devoting a front-page article and two pages inside to the not-exactly-earthshattering news that when parents get divorced, sometimes they have conflicts over their children’s education.
In classic Times fashion, the newspaper makes it out so that the real problem for the children isn’t the parents’ divorce, but the yeshivas. Instead of framing this issue to also include non-Jewish divorced parents disagreeing over what school their children should attend, the Times chooses to focus exclusively on Orthodox Jewish schools.
In so doing, the paper displays the sloppiness and tendentiousness that has characterized its coverage of ultra-Orthodox Judaism all along.
The Times can’t seem to decide how divorce works in Judaism. First the Times writes, “The dynamic plays out most vividly in cases of divorce, which in the Hasidic community are conferred by a rabbinical court known as a beth din.” Later on in the same article, the Times writes, “Hasidic women can find themselves at a disadvantage when negotiating in the beth dins, as only husbands can confer religious divorces.” Who confers the divorce, the beth din or the husband? The Times offers its readers conflicting, and unreconciled, accounts. (The paper already published one correction on the general topic of Jewish divorce, unrelated to this latest yeshiva article, in January 2022.)
The Times also doesn’t seem to understand that religious divorce, and the bet din, is not limited to Orthodox Judaism. The article says, “Rooted in centuries-old legal tradition, beth dins serve as an alternative to civil courts for Orthodox and Hasidic Jews worldwide, by mediating business conflicts and divorces, among other disputes.” Actually Conservative and Reform Jews also have beit dins for divorces. Some years ago, when I was a member of a Reform synagogue, I served on a beit din that witnessed the issuance of a get, as a Jewish religious divorce document is known. The Times inaccurately makes it sound like only Orthodox Jews have religious divorces, or have beit dins.
Many of the people featured in the story are from the Yaffed (“Young Advocates for Fair Education”) and Footsteps advocacy groups. The story feels like a megaphone for agenda-driven advocacy groups rather than an organic reported piece. The character pictured on page one and described in the lead of the article turns out to be the new head of Yaffed, a fact the Times only discloses towards the end of the story.
The Times offers no explanation for why its divorce-related education conflict coverage is limited to Orthodox Jews. If anything, divorce-related conflict over children’s education is less prevalent among Orthodox Jews than in the general population. A psychologist who has studied the issue, Yitzchak Schechter, says the overall divorce rate in the Orthodox Jewish population is about 10 percent, compared to 48 percent in the general American population. Sure, maybe Orthodox Jews have more children and are more likely to send them to private school, but even so, of all the education or divorce-related issues for the Times to seize on, this seems a strange obsession.
The Times online comments section serves as a platform for Times readers to make hostile comments toward Orthodox Jews, incited by the Times journalism. “These people vote in blocs,” was one reader comment, upvoted with recommendations from 612 Times readers.
“These people” who edit the Times don’t seem to be interested in objective journalism on this topic, alas. At a moment when both the mayor of New York and the White House are taking major actions to fight antisemitism, a Times campaign to portray visibly Orthodox Jews as ignorant welfare sponges seems more likely to contribute to the problem of violent-Jew-hatred than to counteract it.
That was a point made by Agudath Israel of America, a group that represents Orthodox Jews. “The paper has consistently shunned any narrative that does not portray the Orthodox community as backward, societal leeches, controlled and persecuted by their own religion,” the group said in a statement. “At a time of rising, alarming antisemitism, from celebrity statements to thuggish attacks in the streets, the New York Times is investing significant resources to contribute to an atmosphere of hate against those most identifiably Jewish.”
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.