Jewish Telepathic Agency

I’ve been thinking of posting a piece or two on Jewish media bias and I still hope to do so. In the interim (which, in my case can last months . . .), however, I can’t resist posting the below item from today’s JTA News Bulletin, without comment.

No comment because even a thousand-word post couldn’t possibly make as clear as this item does just how profoundly out-of-touch JTA and other secular Jewish media outlets (who also get much of their material from JTA) are about the realities of Orthodox Jewish life. Unless, perhaps, using its telepathic powers or other forms of divination, it knows things about us that we don’t.

I only wish there was some way to convey to these media folks how embarrassing their publicly displayed ignorance of things Orthodox and, oftentimes of Jewish tradition, history and texts, is (assuming, that is, that they care.)

Rabbinic emissary to pray for rain

A thousand Orthodox rabbis are sending an emissary to Atlanta to pray for rain.

Rabbi [name omitted – EK] will perform an ancient prayer ritual Wednesday seeking divine help to end the drought in the South, the Christian Newswire reported. [The rabbi] reportedly performed the ritual in 1986, after which there was four days of rain.

“Orthodox Jews wish to show solidarity with those suffering from the drought and other natural disasters,” said [the rabbi]. “We want to kick off a nationwide movement of prayer. Furthermore, we wish to announce a program which we believe could curtail much of the disaster our country has been experiencing.”

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29 Responses

  1. kurkevan says:

    I don’t see what’s so terrible. Yeshiva World ran this exact story yesterday! If your point is that the JTA et al. took it too seriously – well, maybe we should be taking tefillah that seriously!

  2. mb says:

    I don’t understand. Did JTA make up this story?
    If not, what is your complaint?

  3. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Is the Orthodox media less biased in its reporting of the Heterodox world?

  4. Daniel Septimus says:

    Perhaps I’m not your target reader, but can you clarify, Eytan? Why does this show how “profoundly out-of-touch JTA” is with “the realities of Orthodox Jewish life”?

  5. Warren Burstein says:

    Perhaps you could more efficiently tell us what *is* happening rather than fully detail what is wrong with the JTA item. I for one would like to know.

  6. Charles B. Hall, PhD says:

    Here is the Yeshiva World article on the same subject:

    I also don’t understand Rabbi Kobre’s point. At YW the comments quickly drifted away from the particular ritual itself to a discussion of Rabbi Levin’s political activity.

  7. LOberstein says:

    i don’t read too many blogs so allI know about rabbi levin is that he believes that G-d is a Republican and he says the gedolim say to vote for him every election. so far, he hasn’t been elected dog catcher.
    As far as the JTA, ignorance is partially a symptom that very little Jewish street knowledge exists any more. By that I mean, we live in such a gentile mileiu that unless you live in an orthodox enclave you only know what you study or read in a book. living judaism is only living in certain pockets. I still contend that on average, a reform jew in the us knows more about a synagogue than a secular israeli.

  8. Elliot B. Pasik, Esq. says:

    I also don’t see what the problem is with the JTA story.

    I also believe that the complaints of Jewish media bias against the orthodox are exaggerated. I’ve dealt with a few Jewish media people, and I’ve found them to be fair and professiona.

  9. Dr. E says:

    In this case at least, it sounds like this is another example of the Rabbi in question craving publicity. He does not exactly have a reputation for shying away from it and no doubt he leaked a press release or two to JTA and other outlets.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    JTA is mild in most of its stories. IMO, its content is far better than the Ortho-bashing that are almost weekly staples in the Jewish Week,the Forward and similar publications.

  11. LOberstein says:

    Maybe part of the reason that some periodicals bash orthodox Jews is that orthodoxy judaism is alive and full of activity, so there is a lot to comment on and some is negative. Orthodox are also quaint, they love to show pictures of chassidim as if all observant Jews were chassidim. Anothr reason for the bashing is jealousy. In case one hasn’t noticed Cobnservative Judaism admits it hasnt got a clue what to do any more and Reform is only numerically large because they count gentiles, even practicing Christians as members of Temples.It isn’t “triumphalism” to state the obvious, that orthodoy is vibrant. Another reason for the bashing is we deserve a lot of the criticism. If orthodox looking Jews are pedophiles, spouse abusers, engage in criminal activities and then demand glatt kosher in prison and a daf yomi, arent we maybe worthy of opprobium?

  12. Phil says:

    “Rabbi Yehuda Levin To End Atlanta Drought?”
    That’s the way the YeshivaWorld website chose to title its article.
    The JTA’s “Rabbinic emissary to pray for rain” is much nicer, and more hashgaficly sound.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    Regarding Comment by LOberstein — November 11, 2007 @ 11:33 pm :

    It’s the lowlifes among us who are “worthy of opprobrium”, not “we” in general.

  14. DF says:

    I see nothing wrong with the JTA article. Perhaps what you are embarassed about is the notion of praying for rain? A lot of Orthodox rituals, customs, and halahca sound terribly antiquated when written in English. For example, you talk about “sheidim”, and it sounds OK. Subsitute that with the word “leprechauns” – which is essentially what sheidim are – and it sounds kooky.
    I agree there is a lot of bias in the media, but did not see any in this example.

  15. ASC says:

    The contact on the news release, which JTA quoted nearly verbatim, was “Rabbi Yehuda Levin, 718-469-6999.” So JTa ain’t making it up.

    As a colleague points out, Levin in 1985 was New York’s Right to Life Party’s mayoral candidate; in 1996 he campaigned for Pat Buchanan; and in 2006 he headed up opposition to the planned gay pride parade in Jerusalem.

    Whe I saw the JTA piece, I hoped that they would have told me where he sits on the scale from fringe to mainstream.

    C-C readers can help me out — is there something embarrassing about his career or behavior?

  16. HILLEL says:


    We have an entire MaSechTa In Shas–MaSechTa Taanis–that deals with fasting and prayer for rain.

    I don’t understand your problem with prayer. Please clarify!

  17. Warren Burstein says:

    Well I saw Rabbi Levin’s own website’s version of what he did in Atlanta. Why doesn’t everyone, including you Eytan, watch it, and decide if the JTA piece was an accurate description. Note that he himself describes what he is about to do as an ancient Jewish ritual prayer about 25 seconds into the 20 minute condensed version which is what I watched. Perhaps the JTA, rather than reading the rabbi’s mind, read a press release that he had sent to them?

  18. HILLEL says:

    TO ASC:

    Rabbi Levin follows the guidance he received from his mentor, Rav Avigdor Miller, ZT”L. Was Rav Miller a fringe person?

    You’ll have to make up your own mind.

  19. Dovid Eidensohn says:

    I confess to being an old friend of Rabbi Levin. This is obviously what prevented me from understanding why anyone would make fun of him, especially someone who has been selected by this site to teach the world about the proper Torah attitudes.
    Rabbi Levin recently received the full backing of the Beth Din in Jerusalem to fight the Gay Parade there. He claims that in 1986 he received the full backing of his rebbes to pray for rain, and it rained.
    Yes, there are people today who consider this activism inappropriate. Very little is heard about senior rabbonim fighting the Gay Lobby.
    Obviously, this is a new generation. Some of us, just a few, remember the old one.

  20. Sholom says:

    So, it’s been over a week since this was posted. Has anyone figured out (or has the writer explained) what was exactly wrong with the JTA article?

    On another subject: while we complain about how the media portrays us, has any of us invited anyone in the media to spend a shabbos dinner with us?

  21. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    On another subject: while we complain about how the media portrays us, has any of us invited anyone in the media to spend a shabbos dinner with us?

    I have. Multiple people, multiple media, multiple times. So has Jonathan Rosenblum. I don’t know if Avi does or doesn’t (he is a GU – Geographically Undesirable – on Staten Island, a trip to which, considering the toll on the bridge and the cost of gas may require a second mortgage), but he has a warm personal relationship with numerous journalists.

    The real question is YOU, Sholom, and everyone else out there. How many have you had over? Befriending media people – especially outside the largest cities – is far better done by laypeople than rabbis.

  22. Dovid Eidensohn says:

    Yitzchak Adlerstein asks if we, the posters, have invited media journalists to our home. I never have, but they come anyway, baruch Hashem. But if we do invite journalists to our homes, what are we going to do next? I was trained by Reb Yaacov Kaminetsky and Reb Shimon Schwab zt”l in dealing with media. I have been on radio, television and Internet for over twenty years. I have no fear of national microphones, because I’ve been there. But invite a journalist to my home? I would tremble with stage fright. I would be even more frightened to read the paper the next day. The first rule in Torah media is to have some control, and in your home, the journalist is in control. Reb Shach once refused a journalist’s request for an interview. He explained, “Once he comes to my house, he can say what he wants, he can misquote me.” That is daas Torah from someone who knows what he is talking about.

  23. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I have no idea what Rabbi Eidensohn means, but I agree with him anyway.

    Why no idea? I have been famously misquoted more times than I can remember. (I still would rather have the press get me 50% right on a Torah issue than a heterodox rabbis quoted accurately. That’s why I stick with it.) Never, BTW, have the errors been intentional. My fear is the polar opposite of Rabbi Eidensohn. When a reporter working a deadline is trying to put something together on a very nuanced topic, there is ample opportunity for error. When he or she is sitting at my Shabbos table, not on assignment, but just shmoozing or discussing the parsha, I see little to fear. Especially since I can control the outcome through an ample supply of matzoh balls, brisket, and sundry single-malts. Having them at the table is an exercise in building a relationhip, and simultaneously trying to create a bit of a kiddush Hashem by showing a Jewish house at its best,i.e. Shabbos.

    Nonetheless, R Eidensohn is correct. One time – just once – I made the mistake of inviting a journalist from a local Jewish paper. It was just supposed to be a friendly dinner. Instead, she devoted her next column to it, which would not have been so terrible but for the fact that she contrived and falsified every single detail of what she described. So, under some circumstance, there is truth to what he says.

  24. Dovid Eidensohn says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein certainly has it right when he insists that we try to promote positive media coverage. We are, after all, in Galut.

    The Chofetz Chaim wrote in a sefer that the suffering of Israel in Europe was a divine decree not about human lives but about money. Subsequently, he told Rabbi Shimon Schwab who was his guest for Shabbos that destruction awaited the Jews. He would subsequently sound this theme publicly. (At one such time, the Ponovicher Rov asked, “So what should we do?” The Chofetz Chaim replied, “In Mt Zion will be refuge” meaning, go to Israel.) I heard the above from Reb Mordechai Schwab zt”l.

    After the War, the Belzer Rov came to Israel. He told Reb Isser Zalman Meltser that the Holocaust was not “birthpangs of the Messiah” because the Rebbe Reb Elimelech had sweetened that decree in his travels in exile. It was another decree.

    In other words, the Holocaust was not part of the divine plan for Redemption. Jewish Communists flaunting humanity brought the Holocaust. Eisner’s takeover of Bavaria and raising of the Red Flag in Hitler’s province caused the Holocaust. When Jews defy the exile, “I will give your flesh to the beasts of the field.” Today, with so many secular Jews destroying the world, behind every radicalism and threat to normal life, we must tremble at anti-Semitism.

    I elaborate the above with incredible stories about Reb Baruch Ber and the Nazis from eyewitnesses in my book The Torah that Was, the Torah that Will Be: Stories of Rosh Yeshivas.

    I got an e-mail that someone wanted to blow up Monsey so the Jews would go to Israel. I wrote to him to ask why. He said because the Jews are pro-gay. I told him to consult my site He then became my friend, sent my writings to all of Nazi friends, including some in the Middle East, and eventually we made a website called Even today the Nazi site treats me with what to them is respect. One of them told me, “If you respect me, I will listen carefully to what you way.” Others just believe in ridiculing those who have serious problems with Jews, doctrinaire or political. We have to answer them, with respect. And we must respect and bring respect to Jews and Torah, or else.

    This is what Rabbi Adlerstein means.

  25. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    I am pleased to see that Rabbi Eidensohn is pleased with my defense of being available for the media. I must part company with him, concerning the Holocaust. I, for one, simply tune out any speculation about what “caused” the Holocaust. I am not privy to the terms of any Divine calculus that allowed the gezerah, and will not point a finger at frum Jews, non-frum Jews, Zionists, anti-Zionists or Jewish communists. Without a navi, we have no way of making any meaningful statements. From what we can grasp of the unspeakable enormity of the tragedy, I suspect that even if we had a navi, we would have a hard time grasping what he said.

  26. dr. william gewirtz says:

    From what we can grasp of the unspeakable enormity of the tragedy, I suspect that even if we had a navi, we would have a hard time grasping what he said.

    Comment by Yitzchok Adlerstein — November 19, 2007 @ 12:14 am

    Thank you Rabbi Alderstein. very well said, but I beleive RYBS ztl said it better both when he discussed the Adon haNeviim and in the beginning of Kol Dodi Dofek. We look to a Navi to tell us what to do prospectively, not why things happened. Even Neviim do not deign to explain the acts of God.

    Similar to what was said in a brilliant lecture I heard two weeks ago, thinking we understand God’s mind is the way a modern Jew violates one of Rambam’s principles akin to a Jew in the Rambam’s time who would speak of God’s hand.

  27. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “Thinking we understand God’s mind is the way a modern Jew violates one of Rambam’s principles akin to a Jew in the Rambam’s time who would speak of God’s hand.” (Comment by dr. william gewirtz — November 19, 2007 @ 3:12 pm).

    Dr. Gewirtz, those are strong words! I agree that it would be presumptious in the extreme, not to say foolish, for you or me to conjecture why the Holocaust happened. But the concept of seeking reasons for a tragedy so we can learn from our mistakes is, I think, very much a part of Jewish tradition. The Gemara gives a reason for the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash, for example, and the Tosafos Yom Tov suggested a reason for the Chmielnicki massacres, which were the Holocaust of their time.

  28. dr. william gewirtz says:

    Chaim: they are strong words (and something I never thought of) and I would attribute them, but I extended the young scholar’s comments that talking of God’s anger in our day is like talking of God’s hand to Rambam to the next level: God’s mind. Jewish thought in this area is hardly uniform (and evolving) and I am aware of multiple sources that “explain” why events occur. And indeed even anthropromorphism was strongly defended by Raavad. As to the TYT specifically, see biography by Davis. (I would also give more leeway to one directly impacted.)

    “But the concept of seeking reasons for a tragedy so we can learn from our mistakes is, I think, very much a part of Jewish tradition.” Again you are on firm ground, but read the first part of Kol Dodi Dofek for a more precise formulation.

  29. Chaim Wolfson says:

    “And indeed even anthropromorphism was strongly defended by Raavad”

    Just for the record (it has little to do with this discussion), Raavad (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:7) does not defend anthropromorphism; on the contrary, the implication of his words are that he agrees with Rambam’s rejection of this belief. He just says that those who subscribe to that belief cannot be considered “minim” because they make an honest mistake, as their belief is based on a misunderstanding of Scriptural and Aggadic passages. [In “Kovetz Maamarim” (pg. 19), Rav Elchonon Wasserman has an interesting explanation of Raavad’s position.]

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