Ten years ago I was asked by Maran HaRav Elazar Shach, shlita,
to edit an English version of the Hebrew Yated Ne'eman. When
I asked him what was the purpose of the newspaper, he answered, "To
present da'as Torah on current issues." He added that the
gedolim of pre-World War II times had looked askance at Jewish publications
in non-Jewish languages because such languages can become vehicles
of assimilation. However, since English was now the spoken language
of the main body of Jewry in the Diaspora, the time had come to reach
the masses in their spoken language.
I had not the slightest idea how to publish a newspaper. I needed
time to consult with experts, to prepare ideas and to assemble writers.
This was especially so since a faltering English Yated had
come out for two or three weeks previously with results that were
not being taken seriously. I asked Rav Shach if I could begin in a
few weeks. No, he said, if you do not start now, it will never get
off the ground. It doesn't matter, he added, that it will not be perfect
in the beginning.
The first weeks were grueling. Assisted by Rabbi Mordechai Plaut and
a very dedicated young man (whose name I have forgotten), we had to
compose an entire newspaper without even the assistance of an English
typist. The copy for the newspaper consisted of news taken from the
Hebrew Yated, a collection of news on Jewish topics from all
over the world (Rabbi Plaut's idea which proved to be one of the most
successful and enduring features of the paper), an opinion piece and
an editorial (one of which was written under a pseudonym). Even these
contributions left the paper bereft of copy since there were no ads
(which fill up most of the blank spaces of an ordinary newspaper)
and we had to resort to filling up space with free advertisements
for various public causes.
The newspaper began fitfully, filled with technical errors. We missed
the deadline one week and had to shamefacedly apologize the next for
the missed issue. Slowly the situation improved, especially when Yonasan
Rosenblum (who has since become a famous writer) joined the staff.
After a while, the drain on my time, emotions and energy (I had another
full-time occupation) became too taxing, and I passed the mantle on
to others. But the newspaper had by then gotten off its feet and was
able to develop into what is now a weekly newspaper of over a hundred
pages (in its American edition) read faithfully by tens of thousands
of bnei Torah throughout the world and probably the major Torah
voice on current issues.
A decade is a time for stock taking more than for reminiscing. Therefore
I would like to take the opportunity of this article to offer constructive
criticisms about how to improve the newspaper. Although Yated
Ne'eman was founded to present da'as Torah to the public,
a newspaper cannot merely serve as a pulpit; it must supply interesting
news and features as well -- which of course Yated has been
doing from the beginning. Therefore let us assess the paper on these
three points: da'as Torah, news and features.
Da'as Torah: there is probably no better source for the voice
of our Torah leadership than Yated Ne'eman. However, its opinion
pieces generally are translations of the Hebrew Yated. This
limits it to Israeli issues and it ignores issues which interest the
English speaking public abroad regarding which it is just as important
that they hear a Torah view. Also because it is based on the Hebrew
Yated, many of the opinions are expressed in the combative
tone of the Israeli newspaper. This is understandable because of the
siege mentality of the Torah community in Israel. It has a siege mentality
because it is under siege, with a surrounding secular society
which cares little for, and often seeks to undermine, the values which
the Torah community considers vital for its existence. However, in
English this tone come across as strident, and its message lost to
a readership in overseas communities where this siege mentality does
not exist. It would be a good suggestion to have original opinion
pieces designed especially for the audience of the English edition.
News: Because the Yated is a weekly, much of the news is stale by
the time it gets to those readers who have other sources of information.
It would be advantageous if the paper could employ its own reporters
in order to present news unavailable elsewhere. On the other hand,
it should be pointed out that Yated is already an unmatched
source of important news for the Torah community and this is by virtue
of its many ads which inform the public of coming events and institutional
Features: Secular newspapers print features which are meant to titillate,
divert and entertain. The features in the Yated are unique in that
they have one common denominator: spiritual uplift. It has interesting
commentaries on the weekly parsha and the Siddur, articles
of mussar and hashkofo and fascinating historical narratives
of Torah communities and personalities. (The Hebrew language pages
are, I believe, superfluous since very few of the readers can read
modern Hebrew, especially without vowels.) This in addition to an
informative women's department with excellent discussions from a Torah
perspective of everyday family problems, as well as an educational
children's department replete with Torah games and excellent stories
with powerful moral lessons. The closest the features get to a secular
topic are the articles on science and even these are geared to enhancing
the reader's recognition of mo rabbu ma'asecha Hashem. All
of this speaks well of the moral level of Yated and the interests
of its readership.
How can this be improved? By improving the quality of the writers.
It is no secret that there is a shortage of good writers in our camp.
This is understandable. Most of us spend our time studying Hebrew
and Aramaic texts and a minimum of English reading and writing. However,
if, as HaRav Shach said, it is important to present Torah ideas to
the general public, there must be people skilled in language to be
able to communicate with them. Creative ways must be found to develop
those with an innate talent for writing without infringing on the
present educational system. Perhaps Yated should run a contest
for the best article submitted by young people on a Torah topic. Even
better, it should start actively soliciting articles from experienced,
frum writers and paying top dollar for them. Several American
religious publications do this and are producing magazines of outstanding
Yated performs a vital function. It need not be satisfied with
directing itself only to the bnei Torah which means convincing
the convinced. Its message and its varied content has the potential
to have an impact on the broader public. The above measures will advance
it towards this goal.
The Editor Replies:
We appreciate the constructive criticism of HaRav Feldman and
are sure that many of his comments are seconded by other readers.
We would note that the dedicated young man Rav Feldman refers to above
is Rav Avrohom Kosman of Yerushalayim.
We have already reduced our Hebrew pages and are starting (in
this issue) to replace our Hebrew for Hebrew readers with Hebrew for
English readers, namely, a small comic strip in easy Hebrew.
We are definitely interested in comments, criticism and especially
new writing talent. Please let us hear from you.