The Media’s “Cultural Autism”

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The chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch, in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed, question the failure of Israel’s dominant media outlets to cover “happenings which could appeal to audiences coming from different cultural backgrounds.” They point out that none of the major TV stations (channels 1, 2 or 10), nor Israel HaYom the following morning, bothered to cover the funeral of HaRav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg zt”l.

It’s not as if the funeral could have been missed. The website of the largest bus company, Egged, reported “disruptions of the bus service due to the funeral procession of 300,000 of his Hassidim.” Neither Rav Sheinberg nor his students were Chassidic, but that’s at least an understandable error, especially given the passing of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe just a week earlier (which was at least mentioned by most media outlets — but, they say, perhaps because “Netanyahu’s office as well as Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin communicated to the press their sorrow and condolences”).

When a haredi reader complained to Israel Hayom, Mr. Gonen Ginat apparently responded that “This is a spiteful, redundant and baseless complaint.” Of course, the fact that the complaint was “redundant” is precisely because it was neither spiteful nor baseless.

To the writers, the fact that Channel 1 TV covered the inclusion of an Orthodox Rabbi and his wife on Stylecaster’s list of “most stylish New Yorkers” is “a relative exception to the rule.” In this, I disagree. What made the couple worthy of coverage was their inclusion in a style magazine — which, to the media, is “close to them culturally and with which they easily identify,” the very criteria used by the writers to identify the media’s limited field of vision.

There is no question that Rav Sheinberg’s life was far more influential upon Israeli life than that of Whitney Houston, but you wouldn’t know that from the media — which is exactly the point. Like an ostrich in the sand, the media minimizes burgeoning charedi growth by ignoring its existence.

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9 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    YM: There are eight million people in Israel.

    The 300,000, by the way, are part of a voluntarily self-segregating society. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too: You can’t declare that you aren’t part of the greater society and then complain when the greater society ignores you.

  2. YM says:

    In a country of 5.5 million or so, 300,000 is a little less than 5 1/2 percent of the population. If 5 1/2 percent of the population attended someone’s funeral, I think it would be “news” to inform the readers of who the person who died, because to have an impact on 5 percent of a nations population is something that everyone should know about. I would think that any event in Israel that attracts 5 percent of the population is “news”.

  3. Tal Benschar says:

    There is a bigger issue at the moment dealing with media. If indeed the heads of the chareidi news site Chadrei Chareidim were arrested for blackmailing members of the chareidi community , we won’t publish bad things about you if you bribe us, then it shows two things. There is corruption among those who dress and talk like pious and super observant Jews and also that the ones who they are blackmailing have a lot of flaws to hide. That is a far worse indictment of the chareidim culture than anything Haaretz could invent.

    L. Oberstein: Do you realize how utterly outrageous these statements are? Because a gang of criminal blackmailers have been operaing (that is what the Israeli Police have now claimed in court), that necessarily means that the people threatened must have “lots of flaws to hide.” As though blackmailers never resorted to lies and exxaggerations to accomplish their blackmailing? Or that people might have things they want kept private (about their past or their families) that do not rise to the level of “flaws” but are still fodder for the blackmailer?

    Suppose someone once suffered from depression and sought psychological help. They then got over it, and be chasdei Hashem have lived a normal productive life for the past decade or two. That is nothing to be embarrased about klapei shemaya, but I can easily see how for some people that would make them an easy target for blackmail.

    Sometimes I wonder if some people have a girsa in the Mishna in Avos that says “Heve dan ko adam le kaf zechus chutz mi Charedim.”

  4. SA says:

    I hate to say this, but sometimes the problem could be as prosaic as what else happened in the news that day. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s death did get coverage — I know, because I translated some of it for the English edition of Haaretz.

    Rav Scheinberg’s funeral was the same day as that of the Toulouse shooting victims. If you were the general press, which would you have been focusing on?

  5. DF says:

    First of all it WAS mentioned, perhaps just not as much as the op-ed writers would have liked. I read about R. Schennberg’s death, in fact, from Ynet, Yediot Acharonot’s website.

    The ope-ed writer’s complaint is also not realistic. Funerals of 300,000 charedi followers [“chassidav” simply means “followers”, not chassidim as distinct from misnagdim] are commonplace in Israel, and not really worthy of note. It is basically the expected turnout when a senior rosh yeshivah dies. If a politically active rabbi were to die, such as was the case when R. Shach passed away, the coverage would be more extensive. [In that regard, R. Scheinberg was hardly “influential” on Israeli life, as you assert.]

    It is indeed unfortunate, as the op-ed writer’s say, that so much attention comparatively is given to the deaths of pop stars like Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston. I feel the same way even about American media. But how can you expect anything different? The media are writing for the general public. The public – which also includes the religious, just not charedi – is not interested in reading obits about charedi rabbis. The charedim have their own media for that. Moreover, aside from the dreary sameness of all charedi bios, these figures have zero connection to the public. Unlike the chief rabbi, or NRP rabbis invovled with the military, Charedi rabbis never interact with any people or community other than their own. With pop stars, at least, however we may dislike it, the public listens to their music and watches their shows, and hence feel a connection to them. I am myself a yeshivah graduate of both Israeli and American yeshivas, and yet I barely feel any connection to these figures, such that I’d be interested in reading about them, and I am far from alone. Can anyone blame the Israeli public for feeling the same?

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    You correctly oint out that the secular media is culturally insensitive and often antagonistic to chareidi news.I think that the large turnout at the funeral of Rav Shlom Zalman Auerbach was also a surprize to the media which never heard of him. There is a bigger issue at the moment dealing with media. If indeed the heads of the chareidi news site Chadrei Chareidim were arrested for blackmailing members of the chareidi community , we won’t publish bad things about you if you bribe us, then it shows two things. There is corruption among those who dress and talk like pious and super observant Jews and also that the ones who they are blackmailing have a lot of flaws to hide. That is a far worse indictment of the chareidim culture than anything Haaretz could invent. It shows the rot beneath the surface of a group that while not serving in the army and not providing secular job training to its boys, is far less holy than it pretends to be. Shuldn’t that make us all sad. If the chilonim see the rot beneath the surface of the chareidi world, they won’t need to look for things to condemn. It is before their eyes.
    Rather than ignore this comment because it raises uncomfortable issues, perhaps we can see if anyone can analyse how Chadrei Chareidim and its ilk got this way.

  7. Nachum says:

    Yisrael HaYom had a brief item- all their items are brief, it’s that sort of paper- about his passing. The funeral wasn’t really news, I suppose, so it didn’t make it in. Nu?

    As a friend of mine pointed out in response to a specific complaint, it’s not like the charedi papers reported the death of Amy Winehouse. :-)

  8. lacosta says:

    while the haredi community would like kudos and recognition from the Zionist secular society that they at best despise , if not outright hate, i think we all would have to agree that such an idea is wishful thinking. while no doubt in the end the forces of evil will lose , the souls will have to be won one at a time– and certainly not by slapping them in their face. [how can one blame the media one is disconnected from, from being disconnected back?]

    the LRebbe , i believe emphasizes that the avoda of the day did not begin by a trip with holy incense to the inner mizbeach, but rather with a heap of ashes [ the dregs of the sinner’s atonement?] , which were devotedly raised from next to the outer altar, and removed to a Holy Place, and that’s the spiritual beginning of the day of the Kohen…. maybe if that could have been the attitude to the Other in Israel over the States 1st half century, maybe the balance sheet spiritually would look different today….

  9. Shanks says:

    I can agree with Rabbi Menken on the concern about being culturally insensitive. I think it speaks to a broader question of censorship. I don’t think we should be censoring what’s going on in communities of folks who disagree with us. I think we should tend toward greater inclusivity and openness to what’s going on in the wider context of the communities around us. Otherwise, we’re just foisting our talking points/vision on the public, and that’s not proper for dialogue.

    That being said, my brother is diagnosed with PDD-NOS. I don’t appreciate Rabbi Menken happily citing the authors’ gleeful bashing of the media by accusing the media of “autism” of a cultural variety. I know in today’s culture, we like to jump all over people for being too “PC,” but it really is insulting. My brother is a kinder person than almost anybody I’ve ever met, and certainly sensitive to folks of all different shades of perspective.

    [The term “Cultural Autism” was created by the same authors, as seen in the article; I think they make a reasonably good case for its use as a respectful (to those with autism) and relatively accurate analog to autism itself. — YM]