Shoot First, Ask Questions Never
The following statement barely needs comment. Blogs operate without such outdated concepts as fact-checking and seeking comment from both sides… and statements such as this one are the inevitable if sad result:
Statement of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, New Jersey
As you may know, The Jewish Standard published an announcement of a forthcoming same-sex marriage in the Simcha section of its September 24 edition. In the following week’s edition, on the editorial page, the paper issued a retraction and an apology of sorts, indicating that they did not accurately anticipate just how disturbed many people in the Orthodox community would be by this announcement, and committing that they would not publish other such announcements in the future. The reaction to this was swift, voluminous and loud, emanating from throughout the Bergen County community and way, way beyond, via the print media, radio and television, and, of course, a wide array of internet blogs. The vast majority of comments were negative and highly critical of the newspaper’s apparent change of heart.
To our great consternation, the local Orthodox rabbinate, comprising the RCBC (Rabbinical Council of Bergen County), has become and continues to be the target of much venom presently being spewed, especially on the aforementioned blogs, based on the presumption that the rabbis played a major, and indeed bullying and arm-twisting role in the Jewish Standard’s decision making process. As a result of many erroneous assumptions, unsubstantiated claims and baseless fabrications, the rabbis of our community have been vilified in the most insulting, defamatory and obnoxious of terms.
The following open statement is directed to our congregations in an attempt to accurately present the facts and set the record straight.
In the days following the appearance of this marriage announcement, a number of RCBC rabbis spoke with each other either in person, on the phone or through email. There was never, as suggested in one report, any special rabbinical meeting convened to deal with this matter. The reactions among the rabbis varied. Some stated that they had been approached by numerous congregants who were very upset by what they saw in the paper; others said that only a few in their synagogue seemed to care. Some held that the RCBC should send some kind of response to the newspaper, either orally or in writing; others contended that in as much as this paper does not conform, and does not claim to conform, to Orthodox standards – they do, after all, advertise non-Kosher food establishments and announce communal events which take place on Shabbat – this is not an RCBC problem. In light of the lack of any consensus, and in light of the fact that all this was taking place in the middle of the holiday of Sukkot, when the minds of most rabbis are understandably focused elsewhere, it was decided that any RCBC reaction would wait until a full discussion could take place at our next regularly scheduled meeting, already planned for the week after Yom Tov.
One single RCBC rabbi, who has been consulted by the Jewish Standard on a number of occasions in the past about issues relating to the religious sensibilities of the Orthodox community, did go to meet with the executive staff of the Jewish Standard, with whom he has a personal relationship. The meeting was characterized by calm, civility and mutual respect. The rabbi communicated that there were a significant number of Orthodox Jews who felt that the Standard had crossed a line by publishing this particular announcement, and that if the leaders of the paper are concerned about the opinions of these members of our community, they should reconsider their position on this issue for the future.
– At no time did this rabbi or any other RCBC rabbi express to the newspaper any threat whatsoever or imply anything about “consequences,” financial or otherwise.
– At no time did anyone from the RCBC ever contact any proprietor of a food establishment under RCBC Kashruth supervision about pulling advertising from the paper or about anything else to do with the Jewish Standard in connection with this matter.
– At no time did anyone representing the RCBC attempt to coax or force anybody to boycott the newspaper.
Any reports, allegations or accusations suggesting the contrary are outright lies. They remain outright lies regardless of how loudly they are proclaimed or how often they are repeated.
It should be a source of embarrassment to the greater Jewish community that there are various Jewish blog sites, claiming that they accurately report on the Jewish world in general, or cover the Orthodox world in particular, or something of the like, who seem, at least in this case, to have felt no need to display any sense of professionalism, journalistic integrity or even common courtesy. Any one of these values would dictate that all relevant information should be thoroughly checked and rechecked before reporting something as a fact and then launching a nasty verbal attack on others, but that certainly did not happen here. Instead, the sites fed off of one another, built on the uncorroborated posts of others hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name and on unidentified “sources close to the story,” and then “protected” themselves by inserting words like “allegedly” and “supposedly” every once in a while. And so the Orthodox rabbis of Bergen County have this past week been labeled thugs, Ayatollahas, Mafiosos, Taliban and who knows what else. All, of course, in the name of tolerance, decency and sensitivity to the feelings of others, and all based on utter falsehood.
It is our hope that the above will allow our community members to gain greater clarity about what actually transpired here and to avoid being influenced by the many blatant untruths and distortions currently being promulgated.
May Hashem bless us all with the strength and wisdom to serve Him in accordance with His will.