Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

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







Opinion & Comment
Yated Ne'eman After Ten Years
By Rav Aharon Feldman

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 activities.

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 quality.

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.

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