The NY Times and the Siyum of Daf Yomi

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In his pre-Siyum Hashas post which reprises his wonderful op ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein makes reference to the coverage of the last Siyum, including a front page article in the New York Times. Alas, although this year’s event was much larger and although learning Daf Hayomi has become a much larger phenomenon, the New York Times did not see fit to give what occurred last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey comparable prominence.

Of course, we should have no claim on where articles are to be placed in the publication that for American Jews is our newspaper of record. But we should expect respectful treatment. Today’s article in the Times is anything but. Written by Sharon Otterman, it is a negative piece and in many ways nasty. The title is “Orthodox Jews Celebrate Cycle of Talmudic Study,” but what appears in print tells us very little about the celebration of the completion of the study of the Talmud by tens of thousands of Jews around the world. What we get starting with the opening paragraph is a complaint about the place of women, both at the stadium and in the Orthodox Jewish scheme of things. The opening five paragraphs underscore this point.

We then get brief mention of what Daf Hayomi and the Siyum are about, but quickly Otterman returns to the women’s theme and then we are told about Modern Orthodox women who attend a daily lesson at the Hebrew Institute in Riverdale and Rabbi Dov Linzer, the darling of many ultra-Modern Orthodox. Nary an additional word is said about the Siyum.

This is disgraceful reporting, although I am not sure whether what appeared in print should be characterized as reporting. If Otterman were an op ed columnist, she would be entitled to her opinion, as offensive as it may be to Orthodox Jews or any other readers. Her assignment presumably was to be a reporter, to tell readers what occurred at a remarkable event that drew nearly 100,000 participants, a remarkable event that culminated in an extraordinary outpouring of study and scholarship, of people who devoted serious time to ancient texts. But Otterman had an axe to grind and so her bigotry and perverse reporting prevailed.

Readers of the Times still do not have a clue as to what occurred last night at MetLife Stadium.

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24 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Schick deserves a huge Yasher Koach for speaking truth to power-the PC and ultra-liberal agenda of the NY TImes, which has become increasingly read in our house as an example of Dah MaTashiv LApikprus.

  2. Harry says:

    A brief comparison of the Times coverage of previous siyum celebrations (see Mycroft’s August 4, 11:13 post, above) and the recent article make it clear that the Times writer largely ignored all aspects of the siyum except for her personal agenda. This violates all journalistic standards. Does anyone believe that it would be appropriate for a newspaper article covering a gathering of Catholic nuns or of homosexuals to focus on the fact that none of these people will be bringing children into the world? Can you imagine the outcry that would ensue if the Times did this?
    But it’s OK. We are Jews. We are not entitled. So we’ll just quietly sit in the dark. And then criticize ourselves for even raising the issue.
    Sorry. We deserve better. And the Times should be ashamed of itself.

  3. Dan says:

    Maybe I’m just being contrarian, but I can see another tzad to this. First of all: it’s not the NYTimes’ obligation to report on the siyum at all, let alone in a positive light. The last time, it was a front-page, glowing article. This time, not. But they’re entitled to give it the weight they think it deserves; if some editor decided it’s not a story deserving of 18-pt headlines, he is authorized to make that decision. The Times has spilled plenty of ink recently on fluff pieces about the frum community. If they’ve decided that this occasion deserved different treatment, that’s their call. Their only obligation is to report truthfully, faithfully and accurately.

    Second: let’s face it, when you book MetLife Stadium and put all the women in the upper, upper deck and pull curtains around them, you expose yourself to reporting or criticism about that specific thing, potentially to the exclusion of everything else that went on. It kind of sticks out. We can fairly object if a reporter walks into a shul and announces that there’s a subtle discrimination going on there. And indeed, no reporter does that! But when we’re out in a public stadium, 93,000 strong? It’s fair game.

    Third: what’s really bothering people here? I submit to you that people are bothered by this article for one primary reason above all others: because it hit a nerve. Because we know that the NYTimes is not totally wrong about this. If they were, we’d have a good answer to give, we’d give it and we’d be forceful about it. But we know that we don’t, and we’re kind of embarrassed about it, and we don’t like to be reminded of it. All we have is the same old, flaccid “This is the way we’ve always done it and it’s worked for us and our Sages know best.” How many people are 100% satisfied with that answer? I mean, look at that pathetic quote in the article from a girl from Far Rockaway: “‘We have a great view of everyone, we can see the inspiration,’ she said. ‘As women, we don’t have a part in it, but this is our part, to be supportive and show our respect and pride.'”

    I don’t care how frum you are: that sentiment should make you want to vomit. This is what we have to offer our women? And yet, that really is the best we can do. Is it not pathetic? And if it is, is it beyond the pale for a reporter to pick up on that incongruity and make that the story? I don’t think so. And let’s not pretend that we just get a little tongue-tied when we have to explain the separation of genders to others, but that deep inside we really get it and we’re all on board. Maybe some are, but plenty of others — people who are “Mevakshei Hashem” — are not. E.g., my mother-in-law was at the siyum and she was outraged that she had to sit on the moon. I’m sure she’s not the only one. But what do we hate even more than that? To see our dirty laundry aired in public.

    Well, it’s not the Times’ job to avoid touching our nerves or to report how happy we all were. Their observations were fair and they’re entitled to write them.

  4. DF says:

    Most coverage of the siyum hashas was perfectly adequate. It was only the New York Times, with its peculiar liberal obsessions, that chose to write about it in the laughable way it did. For those who defend that bias by saying orthodox’s position on women learning is “strange” and hence newsworthy – give me a break. It is not all that strange at all, as most news outlets in this country realized. Orthodox Judaism is not some brand new religion that suddenly fell from the skies. The Times itself has spent the last six months bashing it (trying to get Romney to distance himself from them and lose their advantage)and so it is nothing new to that paper’s readers. Moreover, a paper that trumpets “diversity!” at every given moment should seize the moment to write rapturously about orthodoxy’s differences, rather than try to pick fights with it, as one more element in the multi-cultural mosaic.

    Bottom line – the Times’s day in the sun in over. On any given day, the Drudge Report alone is read by twenty times more people than New York Times subscribers (many of whom dont even read their delivered copy) and newstand purchases. Their diminished statutre is not entirely their fault, as surely a great chunk of the blame/credit goes to the Internet, which has devestated the media industry. But they have shot themselves in the foot with their noticeable biases, too. Their reporting and editorials preach exclusively to their choir, and are dismissed entirely by the other side. To the exent they are read by their idealogical opponents, it is only to be attacked. [A mistake, as I said before. The right should learn from the left, and spent the same amount of time indulging the left in debate as the left devotes to debating the right – none. You do nothing to advance your cause by worrying about the hypocrisy of those who disagree with you. For the most part, thankfully, the Agudah usually does focus on promoting its own cause withotu worrying what “yenem” says.]

  5. Dr. E says:

    Hat:

    There were actually a couple of groups of women in Israel who made Siyumim last week. Now that’s a WOW!. While this is certainly not for the masses, there are certainly women in Klal Yisrael who are capable and motivated to take this on, even if it is a number of less than 100 in the world. Seven and a half years will certainly filter out those who are sincere from those who are doing it to simply make a political statement. Any Maggid Shiur or attendee should be sensitive and non-judgmental and accomodate any woman who comes to a shiur, using whatever seating arrangement that will show respect for the Torah and the woman. I heard one Rosh Yeshiva respond when asked what he would do if a woman showed up at a Gemara shiur that he was giving, “Well, I would walk over, give her a Gemara and show her the place”. We need not get into a whole pilpul of the concept of “tiflus” and the like, and should just live and let live. A woman attending a Gemara shiur should be the LEAST of our problems.

  6. langer says:

    thanks to Marvin for his comments. as always they are on point.

    if we think of the hundreds of ou shuls that have massive daf yomi programs–i would think that the times would also have noted the lack of representation on the program of any leaders of that sub-division of the learning community. opportunity to reach the greater jewish population was indeed missed by the forum organizers.

    perhaps that is why main media coverage was so limited in scope and depth. more than the “extreme” are stakeholders in the learning enterprise. reporters misssed the nuance.

  7. Hat says:

    My friend who is a woman has been going to a daf yomi shiur (east coast of US) for eight months now. Today, she was asked to leave as it might make the men uncomfortable. The issue of women’s exclusion is very much apart of the daf yomi story. What percentage of daf yomi shiurim would allow women to participate?

  8. YM says:

    As Rabbi Frand distinguished at the siyum between real life and falsehood, something that is full of real life is not going to be interested in something that is bedavka made up of falsehood and fakeness.

  9. Mr. Cohen says:

    This incident and countless others like it, demonstrate why
    I stopped reading the New York Times in 1982, and never went back to it.

    The New York Times is grossly prejudiced against:
    the Jewish people, the Jewish faith and the Jewish State.

    Most Jews would never buy or read a newspaper that made unfair criticisms
    of their children or grandchildren, but those same Jews continue to
    buy and read the New York Times, despite its countless unfair criticisms
    of everything that is authentically Jewish.

    When I ask my fellow Jews to stop buying the New York Times, the excuses
    they give me are so illogical that I am more convinced than ever before
    that buying the New York Times is unjustifiable and inexcusable.

  10. L. Oberstein says:

    Pardon me if I seem presumptuous to even write about the Siyum Hashas.

    There are hundreds of people in Baltimore far more qualified to comment.

    When we arrived at MetLife Stadium and I saw the thousands of people entering the stadium from numerous entrances, one thought came to my mind. I wish my father, Meyer Oberstein, were able to see this. When I would come home from yeshiva with stringent practices, like not shaving during the summer mourning period, my father would invariably say ,”there is nobody in Montgomery who does this”. My father left a city full of Torah learning, Tiktin, Poland and came to the Deep South in 1924. He used to tell me when I was a little boy how his father, Elchonon, had been a “masmid,” who learned his whole life and was chosen to marry the daughter of a rich man who promised him lifetime support. He also told me that the rich man lost his money in the Russian Revolution, then his mother died of blood poisoning when my father was an infant, and how he and his siblings made their way to America to escape poverty and neglect

    His father had tried America but decided it was impossible to be a frummer yid (an observant Jew) in the Treife America and sailed back to Poland where he re-married and lived out his days . One story that my father told me was how his father had challenged the Tiktiner Rov on some fine point of Talmudic reasoning in the midst of a shiur or drasha and it got so convoluted that they brought the argument before a godol, who said “The Tiktiner Rov is a great scholar ,but in this case, Reb Elchonon is correct”. My father had no idea of the details but he remembered the story.

    His view of America and of the state of Jewry was Montgomery-centric. He didn’t know that stories of shiduchim arranged with “the best bochur in Lakewood” or baalei batim who were talmidei chachomim still existed. He thought that was the world of yesteryear. As I walked from the bus to the entrance of Met-Life Stadium, I thought “Daddy, look, there are tens of thousands of frummer yidden and they are coming to celebrate learning Gemara. It didn’t die in Tiktin, Yiddishkeit is alive.”

    We, in Baltimore, are not used to the reality that New York area doesn’t look like Baltimore. When the speakers said that “gantz klal yisroel”, all segments of Jewry were present, they meant that there were mostly Yeshivish and Chassidish and some Modern Orthodox and some Baalei Teshuva. The large numbers of Chassidim present gave a color to the audience that maybe I will have to get used to. The Chassidim have increasingly become a major share of the orthodox population and their ideas of the place of women in public events and even of forbidding pictures of women in their media, is far from what I saw in the yeshiva world when I was a bochur. If one holds to a different derech in Torah observance it is hard to always concede on issues of gender and to keep quiet and submissive as their standards become more and more prevalent in our world.

    On the other hand, this “shtarkeit”, stubborn adherence to their tradition, is one of the major reasons we have a renaissance of observant Judaism in this generation. After Rav Malkiel Kotler, shlita, made the siyum and Mr. Jay Schottenstein said the Kaddish, there was a huge simcha, people were dancing in the aisles and it brought tears of joy to me to see how alive and strong our Torah community has become.

    I was seated next to my good friend, Jan Loeb , whose roots are closer to Germany than Romania and it took a while before he and I joined hands with those next to us and swayed with the beat, but we did. Those Chassidim know how to celebrate en mass. They are used to thousands of men in bleachers at a tisch and they are not shy about showing their joy. We have progressed in this country from a time when orthodox men wore baseball caps in public to a time when children with long payos and unique garb feel quite comfortable walking in the street. Never before have we Jews lived in a country with such freedom and opportunity and with so little discrimination. Things are so good that many of us forget we are in golus and go about our business as if we had nothing to be afraid of. But, that is a different issue.

    The massive display of 100,000 people saying Shema together and answering “Yeheh Shmeih Rabboh” together was inspiring. I certainly would never have imagined it when I went to New York in 1959 to attend one of the very first NCSY conventions (in the Monsey Park Hotel) and saw people wearing yarmulkes on their heads walking in the street for the first time in my life. The rebirth of observant Judaism, the flourishing of learning , not only by rabbis, but by baalebatim, the vitality and assertiveness of orthodoxy is a far cry from the world that my father knew in Montgomery, Alabama in the first half of the previous century. Even a secular Jew, if he or she is honest, has to admire the counter-intuitive resurgence of Torah Judaism and admire the competence and effectiveness of its leadership.

    Final thoughts. Our daughter Shira Bracha is marrying Yaakov Yitzchok Shugarman in a week. Our children have come from far and wide to share in the simcha. My father Meyer Oberstein, z’l, is no longer here, but his great grandson, Meir Simcha Oberstein came to the siyum with his other Zeidy, Rabbi Binyamin Friedman, all the way from Atlanta. i went to “cheder”, a/k/a Hebrew School, in Montgomery. Meir Simcha has gone to cheder in Yerushalayim where our son Avrohom Yeshaya has been a member of the Kollel of the Mir Yeshiva for many years. I have been blessed with many wonderful einiklach (grandchildren), four of whom are named Meir after my father. All of my grandchildren are growing up in homes of Torah and mitzvos. I am sure that my father is looking down from Heaven and shepping nachas that our people has been reborn and that Torah is being learned by greater numbers than in a very long time.

  11. mycroft says:

    “, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein makes reference to the coverage of the last Siyum, including a front page article in the New York Times”
    See the following links for the Times coverage of the three previous siyyumim.
    I read all the articles and believe that they were all positive.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/27/nyregion/talmud-gala-ancient-law-for-1990-s-issues.html

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/02/nyregion/02talmud.html
    “. Like it or not, Orthodoxy’s treatment of women is presently newsworthy ”

    Like or not most Americans feel that Orthodox is weird-thus when a major politician reached national prominence he denied that he follows all of Orthodox belief. Similar problem is being faced by currently by another major politician who is from a non mainstream religion.

  12. dovid2 says:

    Dear Mr. Marvin Schick,

    How would you feel if Yaser Arafat hugged you and kissed you? Repulsed? Rushing to decontaminate and cleanse yourself?

    How would you feel if NY Times had your photo on the first page and wrote about you that you are a tzadik and a saint? Wouldn’t you be worried?

    If the answers to all the above questions are YES, that NY Times’ article should only flatter us.

    Have a wonderful week!

  13. lacosta says:

    what did we expect?

    it’s surprising they didnt tie in the siyum to chick-fil-a, saying we are both racist, patrarchal, homophobic religions…..

  14. dr. bill says:

    perhaps the Times should spend a yiddish speaking chareidi to report an uncommented play by play. guess what? the times has biases and it typically puts a spin on events. this story had a number of paragraphs of pretty plain (not very incisive) reporting, followed by what it thought might be of interest: the traditional role of women versus that adopted by others in the orthodox community. the early appearance of the mechitza in the event and the story kinda of told you where the article was headed.

    my commentary on your piece, ala the times: is it under-reporting the event or the over-reporting the position of (some) women and spokemen in attendance? me thinks the latter; did you really read the times for its ability to report on the event? I think the times readership was informed of something that to them was of greater interest than details of the event.

    on your issue, there is a middle ground. But given forced choice, i would tilt towards Rabbi Linzer’s position. Hope to see you at his siyyum; otherwise, you will miss some excellent divrei torah, a few by women scholars.

  15. DF says:

    “Of course, we should have no claim on where articles are to be placed in the publication that for American Jews is our newspaper of record.”

    CC will probably receive multiple emails on this point, but it needs to be repeated multiple times: the NYT is no longer a newspaper of record, if it ever was, much less so is it “our” newspaper on record. I dont deny that it is still read by many influential persons, but influential persons also read many other less partisan news outlets. The interest shown to that paper by R. Shick [and R. Shafran] is reflective of a bygone time and is unwarranted. The defense that “we can’t simply ignore the NYT” is simply not true – we can, and most Americans already do, particuarly those aged 60 and under. They are simply another voice in the universe.

    For my part, the moment R. Shick mentioned the Times article on the siyum I knew without reading any further that it would open, conclude, and focus on women. It is obvious.

  16. Shmuel says:

    Yishar Koach! The one photo I recall in the article drove home the same point. Some frum women davening quite apart. The paper did not see fit to include even one photograph of the spontaneous eruption of simcha that brought thousands (including my wife) literally to tears.

    Pity that millions of potentially interested Jews, and even larger numbers of decent non-Jews, could not be informed of the enormous importance of the sacred institution we call “The Talmud”, or its impact and influence on American law and jurisprudence (on that point Rabbi Adlerstein can speak far more than I). Instead, one woman’s bitter experience and feeling was allowed expression in the paper of record.

    Wishful thinking though it may be, were the reporter to allow herself an intellectual foray into a leading study, a few years back, by Dr Sylvia Barak Fishman of Brandeis, herself a leader in Orthodox Feminism, she would discover that while one can respectfully disagree with the public position that ought to be the place of women in Jewish life, one cannot at the same time hold out any hope for the future of heterodox movements. Dare I make a foray into this most contentious of topics.

    Dr. Fishman pointed out the massive fall-out taking place among American Jewish boys and men who hunger for Jewish leadership among men. Despite the impressive achievement of status and position that many Jewish women have made in heterodox movements, the massive bleeding in Jewish families and communities across the country is (at least partially) due to the increasing lack of male role-modeling in non-Orthodox Jewish life.

    Of course, those of us attendees and non-attendees alike, can do our own painstaking share by adhering to the Chazal: That we love our wives as we do ourselves, but that we respect her/them “mechabdeha,” even more than we do ourselves. Were such behavior to be even more widespread than it already is, Baruch Hashem, perhaps, just perhaps, those who choose to place Feminisim ahead of traditional Judaism, would at least admit that we “walk the walk” as we continue to raise new doros of Klal Yisrael.

    Again, Yishar Koach to Marvin Schick.

  17. Avrohom says:

    Thank you Marvin for calling out the New York Times for the shoddy reporting. I am surprised that more blogs did not focus on their story. All I saw was this quote over by the SoMeHoW Frum blog.

    “[Incidentally, the NYT coverage of the event, written by a woman, overtly and overly focused on the women being second class citizens.]”

  18. Joe Hill says:

    It’s the New York Times. Who ever expected more?

  19. SZiskind says:

    I was zoche to go to the Siyum and I was so excited I emailed my family (who are not frum, yet) to explain. I knew that there would be no way to really convey the feelings and emotions; the intensity, the simcha, the achdus, but I tried and I included links to articles and pictures.

    Only one of my siblings responded, nobody else did and one of his comments was “I don’t see any pictures of women, were there women there?” So I jokingly replied, “No, there weren’t. I had to disguise myself to come in.” And then I said of course there were women. They don’t understand that women’s roles are different, and how someone could have no problem with such an arrangement, and in fact see the kedusha behind it. Unfortunately, like I said, nobody else responded at all. Not my mother or father or the rest of my siblings. I imagine the news reporters for the NY Times are probably like my family. They just don’t understand. That’s no excuse to not focus on what should have been the main point of their article, of course. If Otterman’s a yid than it’s also sad that she was unable to see the beauty of the Siyum HaShas; the achdus and the simcha.

  20. Bob Miller says:

    1. Another sign of the Times! Traditional, accurate reportage by liberals is so yesterday.

    2. The more Jewishly enlightened readers of the Times may have the straight scoop on the Siyum from more reliable sources, so not all are clueless.

  21. Whoa Nelly says:

    Why am I not surprised.

    However, contrast that to the article in the Jewish Week. The headline of their article was “Siyum HaShas Draws More Than 90,000 To Meadowlands, Snarls NJ Traffic”. Brilliant, isn’t it? What the “Jewish” Week would focus on, the traffic. I can imagine how they would report on 9/11, ” Planes hit towers, traffic closed to the City”.

    The Forward’s article was as expected beyond deplorable, begging again the question as to how they can justify their being tax exempt because they “promote and stregnthen Jewish Peoplehood” which is clearly not the case.

    If the media which is supposed to support Jewish cause could publish such unworthy drivel and negativiy about such a fantastically positive event, what can you expect from the Grey Lady, soo out of touch with reality that it appears to suffer from alzheimers.

  22. contarian says:

    I was supprised that the New York Times covered the event at all. *Fifteen* years ago, the siyum hashas made the fromt page of the New York Times. What’s new about the event that should make the Times want to cover it again Has the Shss changed since then. What differntiates the 12th seven and a half year cycle from the 10th seven and a half year cycle. Were the people less joyous last time than this? That this cycles’s event was centralized in one stadium rather thn spread out over three or more arenas is not earth shattering notwithstanding Agudah’s press releases.

    Let’s face it. the Times needed a Chiddush to cover the story. It needed a new angle – the more controversial the better. Like it or not, Orthodoxy’s treatment of women is presently newsworthy . Spitting at eight year old girls, representing little girls as rectangular blocks rather than human beings in chassididhe loshen kodesh gramamr books, etc etc are all part of the equation. The Times went after that story, the siyum was just the background noise.

    “Fifteen” I belive it was the tenth siyum that made the headlines. I could be wrong. It might have been the eleventh.

  23. Chaim Saiman says:

    I am a regular reader of the Times, I am not one to usually think that the Times is full of anti-frum bias. But when I read the article about the siyum, I had the very same reaction as Marvin Schick. I am glad he wrote this up. The Times really looses credibility on this one.

  24. Dovid says:

    I think sometimes we get so used to our way of doing things that we forget just how different we are from the people around us.

    Mr. Shick is obviously correct that the seating arrangement at Met Life the other night had very little to do with Daf Yomi and the amazing accomplishment of thousands upon thousands of tyere yidden finishing the Talmud Bavli. But, we have to understand just how strange, bizarre, awkward, and even chauvinistic it appears to the modern American to have a male-dominated event, or to have a study program in which 99.9999% of the participants are men. For us this is normal and the way it’s done, but for the outsider, it’s just plain weird, astonishing and outright offensive.

    I don’t think this reporter was necessarily grinding an axe. She was viewing this event from the lenses that the majority of Americans wear, and this is what she saw.

    We live in an age when, for whatever reason, the general media takes considerable interest in the Orthodox Jewish world and reports heavily on what goes on. It is to be expected that they will focus on what they find to be unusual. As much as we’ve blended in, we’re still different – very different, and that’s going to come across in the media’s reporting of our world.