Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Shevat 5759 - Jan. 20, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
How Should a Torah-Observant Newspaper Look?
by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

These observations were originally made for the thirteenth year of the Hebrew edition, and have been adapted for the tenth anniversary of the English edition.

Thirteen and a half years have passed since the Hebrew edition of Yated Ne'eman was started, and ten years since the English edition began.

Maran HaRav Yisroel Yaakov Kanievsky zt'l and yblc'ta Maran the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Elazar Menachem Man Shach shlita founded the Hebrew newspaper in 5745. Many were the difficulties which had to be overcome until the newspaper, with Divine Assistance, reached its present status. Yated Ne'eman is, Boruch Hashem, developing and flourishing in all aspects not only in Eretz Yisroel but throughout the world.

Maran HaRav Shach shlita started the English edition just ten years ago when he felt that the principles that guided the Hebrew paper should also find expression in English.

Doubtless the reasons for its success are many. First, those who from its inception worked with mesiras nefesh for countless hours contributed greatly to its success. Second, its strict adherence to the guidelines of a committee of talmidei chachomim give it its unique feature that enhances it to the frum readers. Furthermore, the writers, editors, and directors have been instructed by Maran the Rosh Yeshiva shlita to serve as a distinctive organ of pure hashkofo. This, of course, brings siyata diShmaya.

Indeed much effort was in the past and is in the present put into the newspaper's development. It was not at all an easy job in a relatively short period to become the leading newspaper of chareidi Jewry, their most reliable media to express their views. The Yated is a newspaper whose unquestionably high professional level and quality has made it a model for imitation.

The English edition was an especial pioneer, and it has set the pattern and standard that others have closely followed.

A "birthday" is a fitting opportunity to reflect about the paper's aims and objectives; but first we must remember to thank the Creator of the World for its past success and pray that we do not fail in our future meleches hakodesh.

I thought it appropriate, on this occasion, to discuss how a newspaper, or more correctly, our newspaper, should look -- its goals and its accomplishments -- and likewise to air our doubts and reservations.

When extensive graphic and technical changes were made in the Hebrew edition of Yated Ne'eman there were some who sharply criticized them. The issues that were raised, and our response, reflects on matters that are very generally applicable to our place in the modern world.

We received such comments as: "Why do you need to print an article that covers a topic so thoroughly?" "Isn't the new format too modern and similar to secular newspapers?" "Why should we convey importance to secular and non-Jewish events and personalities by writing in detail about them and displaying pictures of them?"

The common denominator of all this criticism is the basic question: Does news coverage, a reporter's professional technique, and graphic presentation contradict the outlook of a Torah-oriented newspaper?

When the gedolei Yisroel acknowledged the need to establish a chareidi newspaper, they had two aims in mind. First was bringing the news to the chareidi public in a kosher fashion while leaving out objectionable items. Getting news from a chareidi paper would prevent the reader from satisfying his curiosity by reading non-religious newspapers. The second aim was to present the pure Torah outlook and da'as Torah of the Torah leaders about contemporary issues. In order to fulfill these two objectives the paper was divided into two: the pages of news were devoted to the first aim, while the pages written by columnists fulfilled the second.

The Yated editor's news desk functions like any other newspaper, except for the fact that the news is meticulously reviewed in order to suppress or delete anything objectionable. This work is done together by the news editors and a representative of the Yated's Vaada Ruchani. Once the stage is reached where the news to be published has been approved, the editors present the news to the readers according to its general significance while simultaneously considering what interests the newspaper's readers.

In addition it must be noted that reporting the news does not necessarily attest to the paper's attitude about its contents. Coverage of settlements in Judea and Samaria, for instance, certainly does not attest that da'as Torah approves of such settlements, just that they are a newsworthy issue that is of interest to our readers.

We are presenting this particular example because once one of our reporters interviewed a settler from Gush Katif. The article concluded as follows: "The settlers are determined to continue Jewish settlement in the area." A prominent reader complained about this, asking why the reporter was sympathizing with the settlement of Judea and Samaria. Actually it should be perfectly clear that the reporter simply presented a report of the facts, whose only significance is that the settlers themselves are determined to settle the Judea and Samaria territories. The reporter did not discuss whether the settler's approach is good or bad. If a reader wants to know the opinion of our leaders about such settlements he must look in the pages of the commentators and columnists and not on the pages which report the news.

Just as when a reader sees a headline reading: "Minister Ne'eman is Determined to Continue Encouraging the Reform Movement," he will not suspect us of approving such encouragement, likewise other news reports do not indicate this paper's attitude toward the subject matter.

This distinct division was adopted in order to realize the paper's duty. To ignore the need to present news events in a professional way -- after thorough review, of course -- on the grounds that doing so impairs our transmission of the pure Torah outlook, would turn the paper into a Torah- oriented journal. The people who want to read a newspaper would then fill their need by reading other newspapers.

We have always counted on our readers to understand that professional news coverage does not express one's opinion or ideological approach. Emphasis of the news in the part of the paper intended for this purpose has only this significance: it indicates how much attention has been focused on the event in the general media, or alternatively how important a news event it is considered for the chareidi readers of our paper.

If headlines were intended to express da'as Torah about the importance of events, then, for example, the headline every Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan should be: "Tens of Thousands of Yeshiva Students Started the New Zman in the Yeshivos." Without a doubt no event is more meaningful than this one, since we all believe that the entire world exists in the merit of Torah study. The publishing of any new sefer on halocho, or the chidushei Torah of a godol beTorah should also receive a central place on the first page of the newspaper. There would be no question that a notice on the day we must start saying vesein tal umottor, whose omission obliges us to daven Shemoneh Esrei again, should be the headline on that day.

For us these events are truly important and central, but everyone understands that they cannot be placed in the headlines. To do so would certainly express the perspectives of the Torah-observant, but then the Yated would no longer be a newspaper. The explicit intention of the gedolei Torah and its founders was to found a daily newspaper that would fill the place of unbefitting newspapers, and would supply the minimal needs that other papers provide for their readers.

When the staff considers which news to place in the headlines, what guides them is the value of an item as news. A standard headline would be printed in regular letters, a more gripping event in larger letters, an agitating event would be emphasized with a background, and an event with exceptional world interest will be printed with even a darker background. This does not express our stand on the subject; only its news value.

In the past the same type of headline as Rabin's assassination received, for example, was allotted to many events. One example is the attempted revolution against Yeltsin in Russia, which received a gigantic headline and a subheading that stretched down the entire length of the first page of the newspaper, as well as a picture covering half of the first page. We are delighted that none of our readers suspected us of having any connection with either Gorbachev's government or the attempted insurrection. The opening of the Madrid Convention again received such a coverage because of its international importance.

This has been written because some of our readers presume that profound significance should be read into the size of the letters and the darkness of the shadow around them. We would like to clarify for their sake that journalistic considerations are behind these differences. Extended coverage of a particular event is a result of mere news considerations. Likewise, certain pictures relating to news events are unconnected to what the Torah attitude is to them. It seems to us that what we have written is clear and simple, but since (to our joy) some of the paper's readers are totally unfamiliar with the essential nature of a newspaper, we are writing this so that these readers will view the news in our pages as the function of a newspaper and not as a mussar or hashkofo sefer.

On the other hand, we try to present the correct Torah approach to these events through our columnists and the various commentators who express what we have received in our tradition from the past gedolim zt'l, and through the Vaada Ruchani of the paper, who report to us the views of the contemporary gedolim.

In connection with the graphic appearance of the newspaper -- the choice of which type and size of letters to use in its text and headlines and how the columns should be decided with dozens of other technical considerations -- we were guided by the same approach enumerated above. A newspaper needs to look like a newspaper. And how does a newspaper look?

Naturally, we cannot find an answer by looking up this question in a sefer. We have no "tradition" or ancient "minhag" about it. The entire concept of a newspaper is not a Torah concept at all. No one can determine that he has a "halachic source" to resolve how a newspaper should appear. This is simply because there is no halocho in the Rambam or Shulchan Oruch that deals with publishing a newspaper.

The whole idea of publishing a chareidi newspaper al taharas hakodesh was forced on the Torah-true community bedi'eved, ever since newspapers became popular towards the end of the seventeenth century and were first published by non-Jews and later by Jews. If there had never been newspapers and other mass media, gedolei Yisroel would never have initiated a chareidi newspaper. Jewry existed thousands of years without any chareidi newspaper and only the fear of the adverse influence of general journalism brought about this initiative.

No one expects that today's chareidi newspaper will look like the chareidi newspapers of previous times. Just as it is not expected that Yated Ne'eman of 5758 should look like the Israelite, the Levonon, or the HaPeles that were published some hundred years ago or more, likewise it should not be designed like the Kol Yisroel, Hamodiah, and the HaKol of forty and fifty years ago. If someone attempts to distribute a chareidi newspaper fashioned after those former newspapers he would fail terribly despite the fact that in their time they were successful.

It must be made clear that the necessity to supply a substitute or competitor for other newspapers should not influence the contents of the newspaper and its ideological approach in some ways. No attempt will be made to compete in content with secular newspapers or slanderous popular magazines. However, as far as design and external appearance, there is nothing basically wrong with making use of different types of printing or graphics effects. This changes from time to time just like the way we live has changed. No person will claim that using a washing machine or a word processor instead of a washtub and a feather quill is a "chiddush" that is suspicious.

A chareidi newspaper has no kedusha. A chareidi newspaper is not a "spiritual entity," whose format we must be careful about as if it was handed down from Mount Sinai or transmitted to us from the Oral Torah. A change in the newspaper's design is not like, lehavdil, making changes in writing a sefer Torah or changing the dapim of a Shas. A newspaper is after all only a newspaper.

Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the editorial staff receives many reactions, suggestions, and demands about the newspaper. The different demands are frequently contradictory. One person demands to write at length about political topics while the other demands to cut down drastically any writing about such topics. Others want us to conduct a comprehensive coverage about general matters while others prefer we focus on inter-chareidi affairs. A certain reader suggests that we engage in topics of science and economics and another favors highlighting home and family subjects. There is only one common denominator: usually each one of those who complain is fervently "sure that all the readers think like him." Members of the staff who have experience with the variety of complaints know full well the truth of the principle: "Just as their faces are not alike so their views are not alike."

Still we try hard to satisfy everyone. If no effort is made to satisfy the readers -- in a way that is naturally permitted and reviewed -- they and the members of their household are likely to look for what they want in foreign fields.

What has been written concerns the reading body in general and especially the young generation. Today's young people are thirsty for information and news. Naturally every educator and parent must teach the young to utilize properly their allotted time in this world and not to waste hours reading newspapers. The reality is however that a young man or woman today sees in a newspaper stand -- even in chareidi neighborhoods -- many newspapers and publications that are full of appealing pictures. These are not under any spiritual supervision and are therefore full of improper views and perverted ideologies between the lines that infiltrate the reader's mind.

If a young person will not feel that the newspaper the gedolei Yisroel have proposed for his use supplies him with enough of a flow of up-to-date, comprehensive, interesting and professional information, presented to him in a pleasant and attractive way, he will have difficulty overcoming the temptation to peek into other newspapers that are so easily accessible. In a parallel case, Maran the Chazon Ish zt'l once said that it is difficult to fight secular literature as long as there is no high-level chareidi literature as a replacement.

Yated Ne'eman sees itself obligated to realize the aspiration of the gedolei hadoros and create a kosher and clean newspaper for the yirei Hashem (although naturally it is possible that we have sometimes erred in making the right considerations and have mistakenly written some word or inserted a picture that is out of place -- and for that we ask forgiveness).

For this reason Yated Ne'eman is careful about the contents of its articles and screens them most painstakingly according to the clear directions of the Spiritual Committee. The contents must be perfectly clean without any foreign and mistaken views. It must be "old wine in a new bottle."

Let us conclude the way we began and thank Hashem for the past and pray for the future that we will not be the cause of any takolos. May the zechus of those who founded the newspaper and the brocho of Rabban Shel Yisroel shlita together with the special zechus of all the many readers of the newspaper assist us.

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