Are haredim sometimes paranoid?

15 b Tevet
I have encountered several postings on Cross-Currents that seem to be tinged somewhat with avak paranoia. For example, Yaakov Menken wrote at length on Jan. 5 about an article in a series that the Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran describing haredim and work (the series came to an end this Friday). He titled his posting “Presence of Malice” … in Haaretz. Perhaps it might better have been titled “Presence of Paranoia” in himself. Yaakov tried to prove that the article in Haaretz whose English headline was “Lured into the Hi-tech Sweatshop” reflected that newspaper’s “virulent antipathy towards all things religious” (his words). Yaakov analyzed the terms lured and sweatshop and he claimed they had negative valences.

The problem is that the original Hebrew title was fairly pareve, and had no hint whatsoever of “lured” and “sweatshop”. Yaakov based his analysis of the article on this headline that was dreamed up by an English translator & headline writer. The Hebrew title was “Gam b’hi-tech haharedim hoshishim me-eiruv bein haminim.” If I would translate it literally, it would be rendered: “Also in hi-tech the haredim are wary of mixing/socializing of men and women.”

The Hebrew subtitle was even more pareve (my translation: “Education and hi-tech are the preferred areas for work for haredim”).

Since I work as a translator, I am sensitive to the way Haaretz translates its articles into English. In this particular case, the original Hebrew did not have as much of a negative nuance as Yaakov conveyed.

Yes, there are journalists in Haaretz who have virulent dislike of the religious sector. Marvin Schick compiled a list of nasty comments in Haaretz over the summer in his Augustr 26 posting here on Cross-Currents, which he titled Haaretz Hates Religious Jews”

But one should note the many articles by reporters such as Yair Sheleg (himself modern Orthodox ); he has superb analytical skills and insider information sources. There is Tamar Rotem who, while not observant, writes very fairly and respectfully, albeit critically, about the haredi beat she covers. She just wrote a 5-part series about Shas from many different angles, and she was more than positive. For example, see her article Straight A’s for a Shas School as well as her numerous essays on cultural aspects of the religious sector (the latest today 15 b Tevet – Jan. 15 on haredi Holocaust literature).
One Israeli rabbi said that when he hears harsh criticism of a specific nature about religious people he does two things. He waits until the initial sting he feels subsides. Then he examines the specific issues to ascertain whether there is some fault that needs to be corrected.
A different take was expressed years ago by Rabbi Yehuda Amital who said (I am not quoting exactly, but the sense of what he said was) that in his youth the religious in Israel were often ignored as being inconsequential, and not worth criticizing. Today we get more than our fair share of criticism – a healthy sign that we are in the thick of things and are taken seriously. Better to be criticized than ignored.

Shira Schmidt

Shira Leibowitz Schmidt was raised in an assimilated Jewish home in New York, and became observant while studying at Stanford University in California. In June 1967 she told her engineering school professor she would miss the final exam because she was going to Israel to volunteer during the Six Day War. “That’s the most original excuse I have ever been offered,” he responded. She arrived during the war and stayed, receiving her BSc in absentia. She subsequently met and married the late Elhanan Leibowitz, and they raised their six children in Beersheba. Mrs. Leibowitz acquired a Masters in Urban & Regional Planning from the Technion, and an MSc in Civil Engineering from University of Waterloo. Today she lives with her husband, Dr. Baruch Schmidt, in Netanya. She co-authored, with Nobel prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann, Old Wine New Flasks. She has co-translated from Hebrew to English (with Jessica Setbon) From the Depths (the autobiography of Rabbi Israel Meir Lau); The Forgotten Memoirs (memoirs of Rabbis who survived the Shoah, edited by Esther Farbstein); and Rest of the Dove (Parashat Hashavua by Rabbi Haim Sabato). She and her husband appear in the documentary film about the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, “Hidden Face.” She is available to lecture in Israel and in the US and can be contacted via

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3 Responses

  1. Steve Brizel says:

    Charedim are really no different than any other distinct minority that
    suffer from a lack of understanding and even bigotry from the surrounding
    culture, If you read Making Of A Gadol, you will see that the Maskilim
    were not exactly kind to the yeshiva world and that the yeshiva world and
    the Chasidic communities were not fond of each other in many documented
    cases. Obviously, all of these factors are magnified by the current media.

  2. mycroft says:

    Very good post. Frankly, exchamges like this give your blog a certain credibility.
    Every group is frankly paranoid at times. To the extent that Chareidim are more paranoid it
    is probably due to the influence of the Holocaust.
    Another issue to the extent one believes that one is following Gods will and doing his work
    -any criticism can be interpreted not merely as one against onself but against God.
    Foir better or worse_Haaretz is probably the most accurate Israeli newspaper.
    The Wall Street Journal, NY Times, and Washington Post are probably the most accurate US papers.

  3. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I do not really understand Shira’s point. Yaakov was commenting on the English title — the English Ha’aretz has a life of its own — and Shira does not question his conclusions regarding the English title. So where’s the paranoia?

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