Monday, August 13, 2012

Why can't Avi Safran say anything nice about women who study Torah?

In his latest Ami article, our pal Avi complains about how the New York Times covered his employer's signature event, the Siyum Hashas, (without disclosing the connection) and disgraces himself in the process. Full article after the jump. My comments on choice bits below:

 Yes, the New York Times tried hard to find some woman at the event who felt slighted at being seated separately from the men, or who had boldly undertaken Daf Yomi. 
This is deeply unfair. We don't know what the Times was "trying" to do, and (of course) Avi didn't call the reporter and ask. Instead he took a biased guess, and likely got it wrong. What the article actually contains is a neutral description of the mechitza, and a quote from a woman who said it didn't bother her. If Avi was less unfair, he'd have congratulated the Times for publishing the comment and proving that the women at the event were not offended by a seating arrangement that would certainly have bothered most non-Orthodox Jews. And if Avi was really and truly proud of how the event treated women, he'd have regarded the very neutral description of the mechitza as a kidush hashem

But it came up empty. 
Has Avi reviewed the reporter's notes? If not, how can he be certain the Times "came up empty" For all he knows, the reporter found 200 women who were angry and upset about the mechitzah and chose to run the one positive quote instead. If Avi was interested in holding on to his credibility, he'd criticize or compliment the Times for what it actually did, instead of inventing an unfounded version of events to carp about.

(So it resorted to shlepping into its story a liberal rabbi in Riverdale who delivers a Gemara shiur to women, and cited the grumbling of one of the group’s members, a 70-year-old feminist, who has been “wrestling” with Talmud’s “attitude toward women.”)
What Avi calls shlepping, the Times calls "providing an angle that might interest the 99.99 percent of our readers who are not Orthodox Jews." I know its hard to imagine, but most of the world doesn't care that 90,000 Jews went to a party featuring speeches about how wonderful Jews are. To the non-Jewish reader, the story of the Siyum Hashas is only interesting because of what it says about how Jews act and think. And because the Times is a responsible newspaper, they gave more than one side. We heard from a Rabbi who explained why women don't learn Talmud, and from women who say they have no interest in learning Talmud. After that, how could the article fail to include a few words from a woman who does learn Torah? I fail to see the offense in quoting a women who learns Talmud as part of an article about people who learn Talmud. 

Similarly, even before the Siyum, Haaretz tried to force a similar angle into its reportage, focusing on what it called “the female revolution in Talmud study,” 
Right. How dare the newspaper discuss Talmud study in an article about Talmud study. Next time, please just reprint the Agudah press released, OK? Obviously, when Agudah talks about how awesome it is that more people are learning Talmud, they mean the men people. The fact that more women people are also learning Talmud is something only a biased Jew hater would try to force into a newspaper article. 

and highlighting a group of 30 women whose members, it reported, have completed a Daf Yomi cycle (well, most of them; a third of the group, it was parenthetically noted, joined in the middle of the cycle).
This is just nasty.  How many of the men celebrating at Met Life joined late? More than a third? Probably.




WHAT WAS HAPPENING THERE


Rabbi Avi Shafran


With a few predictable exceptions, media coverage of the mammoth recent Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium was remarkably positive.

Yes, the New York Times tried hard to find some woman at the event who felt slighted at being seated separately from the men, or who had boldly undertaken Daf Yomi. But it came up empty. (So it resorted to shlepping into its story a liberal rabbi in Riverdale who delivers a Gemara shiur to women, and cited the grumbling of one of the group’s members, a 70-year-old feminist, who has been “wrestling” with Talmud’s “attitude toward women.”)

Similarly, even before the Siyum, Haaretz tried to force a similar angle into its reportage, focusing on what it called “the female revolution in Talmud study,” and highlighting a group of 30 women whose members, it reported, have completed a Daf Yomi cycle (well, most of them; a third of the group, it was parenthetically noted, joined in the middle of the cycle).

But the agenda-less media were straightforward in apprising the larger public of what was an unprecedented and astounding event: the gathering of some 90,000 Jews in one arena, under threat of inclement weather, to celebrate Torah. Yes, the Siyum marked the end of the 12th cycle of Daf Yomi, but the gathering was, in the end, a rejoicing in the Jewish heritage. Torrential downpours through the day reminded us all about Who, despite all our meticulous planning, is in charge in the end. But the rain suddenly stopped when the Siyum began, only adding to the remarkable nature of the happening.

I was pretty much stuck throughout in a room where members of the media came and went, gathering information and conducting interviews. I went outside onto the field for Mincha, the actual siyum, and Maariv, but most of the Siyum found me, among several colleagues, “entertaining” guests.

There were notable moments, though, in the press room too. Small things, perhaps, compared to what was transpiring outside on the field and in the stands, but memorable all the same. Like the tall, ramrod stiff, light-haired state police sergeant who mentioned in passing that he had some “ethnic Jewish” blood, since his mother’s mother’s mother had been Jewish. (Yes, he was informed that that made him fully Jewish.) Or the young, non-observant, Conservative-raised documentary filmmaker who was visibly moved by talking about Yiddishkeit with two observant women, one, a grandmother, the other a great-grandmother and well-known rebbetzin.

And then there was a television reporter’s puzzlement at my response to his most basic question about the Siyum: “Could you tell me what’s happening here?”

It was every reporter’s first question that evening, and my stock short answer “A celebration of Torah study” seemed to bewilder him. “What do you mean by ‘study’?” he asked. “And why is it being celebrated?”

He wasn’t being difficult, it was clear. He simply couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of study as anything but the means to an end. One studies to pass a test, he (I think) was thinking, for a diploma, to advance a career. But celebrate study? What was this study meant to lead to?

I tried my best to introduce him to the idea of study for the sake of study, study as, in itself, a religious devotion. His next question was one I hadn’t heard before.

“Do you know of any other religion,” he asked, in all honest curiosity, “that treats study in a similar way?”

I’m no scholar of comparative religion, I admitted, but no, I told him, in fact I didn’t.

It was a “teaching moment,” as they say. But a learning one, too, for me. A non-Jewish reporter had made me more fully realize the uniqueness of the idea of Torah-study as a mitzvah, a devotion, a vocation.

The day of the Siyum was the day Israel’s Tal Law’s expired, authorizing the state to draft full-time Torah scholars and students into military service. I wished that the members of Israel’s Supreme Court, who had brought about that crisis, could have been there in the media room with the reporter and me, and could have, like me, come to more keenly appreciate the uniqueness and inherent value of the lifeblood of Klal Yisrael.

© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE

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