How To Save Orthodox Judaism
How do you stop Orthodox Judaism from descending into madness?
There are several manifestations of this to be found in popular Jewish weekly magazines. This week presents an extreme example. On the cover of Mishpacha, Ami, and all the rest is a smiling Sholom Rubashkin, who is being glorified as some sort of frum Sharansky. There are photos of his being paraded in front of adoring crowds like a Rebbe, and he is presented (at least in the Mishpacha article that I read) as innocent of any moral wrongdoing.
Now, many people agree that Rubashkin's sentence was excessive, and it is therefore wonderful that it was commuted. But he is nevertheless a convicted felon who hurt many people and committed some serious crimes for which he expressed no regret and does not seem at all concerned about the appalling chillul Hashem that he caused and continues to cause. What kind of message do we send, both outside and inside the Orthodox community, when we glorify such a person as a hero?
Yet this is just one of many examples of the shortcomings of the frum media. Another is how, contrary to recent Orthodox practice, they now refuse to print any pictures of women or girls, even if the woman is wearing a burqa! What kind of message does that send, when even covering yourself up with a burqa is still not enough to let your picture be seen?
Then there are all the other things that I and others have written about over the years. The notorious Ami puff-piece about Skver after the Rebbe's assistant set fire to a dissident (and continued to enjoy good standing in the community). The ridiculous Mishpacha editorials about why charedim should not go to the army and about how critics of charedi society are only motivated by hate. The enormous concern over the fate of frum people imprisoned for crimes, and the relatively little concern for captured Israeli soldiers. Ami magazine's interview with the pedophile Nechemia Weberman's defense attorney - but not with the attorney for the prosecution! The glorification of criminals and protectors of abusers and enemies of the State of Israel. The flood of advertisements from tzedaka and snake-oil organizations manipulating people with mysticism for money. And the general non-Torah u'mada, non-Torah im derech eretz, non-rationalist charedi outlook, which reflects the values of many Orthodox Jews, but by no means all.
(Mishpacha magazine, after the notorious YTT coverup of a pedophile, deserves praise for asking Rav Shlomo Miller "Why don't rabbanim take a firm stand on developments in frum life, such as denouncing perversions and corruptions, wrong agendas, wrongdoers?" But they did not protest when he replied that the Gedolim did indeed do so when they objected to the writings of Nosson Slifkin!")
Especially frustrating is that these magazines are not only read in the chareidi community. On several occasions I have praised Mishpacha for pushing the envelope of charedi norms and publishing some excellent critiques of charedi society, but there's no reason why other communities should be restricted to such publications. Recently I was in a frum supermarket in the Five Towns and it was distressing to see that the only magazines available for purchase were Mishpacha and Ami. I'm sure that there are many, many families in the Five Towns who do not adhere to such a hashkafah. But there is no other comparable magazine to read over Shabbos.
The solution is very simple. We need a weekly magazine to rival Mishpacha and Ami. It should contain articles of interest to people across the Orthodox spectrum, but it should primarily reflect classical/Centrist Orthodox values, both in terms of its editorial policy and its writers. It should have pictures of women (except perhaps where the picture is not of the subject of the article/advertisement and would only be to allure people to buying a product). It should quote from, and profile, religious Zionist, centrist and modern Orthodox rabbis, as well as charedi rabbis. It should not have puff-pieces for quacks, criminals or protectors of abusers, and it should not run predatory advertisements from tzedokos.
The simplest way would be for the OU to make its superb Jewish Action magazine into a weekly instead of a quarterly. But if that's not going to happen (and perhaps it would be best to have an independent magazine), someone else should step up to the plate. There could be a lot of money to be made from it, but even if not, it's a way to exert tremendous positive influence on the Orthodox community.
(If you missed my previous post about Ayin Hara, check it out!)