Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Jewish Observer, Zichrono Livracha

According to Yeshiva World News - the Jewish Observer, a magazine that represents the views of Agudath Israel of America is going to stop publication - at least for the time being and certainly in its present incarnation. One might think that this would be a moment of celebration for me. But it is not.

It is true that I have been very critical of many of the positions taken by many of the contributors to their pages - and of its editorial policy. None greater than that infamous obituary of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, ZTL. That particular piece caused many sincere religious people to cancel their subscription – a point that should not be lost on them at this particular moment in time. It is the declining readership that is cited as the primary reason for its decision to close.

I in fact thought about canceling my subscription when that happened. But in the end I didn’t. That’s because I believe that the Jewish Observer was the best source of Charedi thinking on any given matter.

Now it’s true that there are many fine Charedi publications that present a Charedi view of the world. In fact one of them, Mishpacha Magazine is a wonderful example of what can be done by Charedim that truly serves its entire constituency – and beyond. They do it without sacrificing any of their Charedi principles -or feeling the need to bash other Hashkafos.

But in the end, Mishpacha is a family magazine that carries many features some of which are unrelated to Hashkafic issues. It is not a journal of Charedi thought. Neither are any of the other English language Orthodox Jewish publications that I am aware of.

The Jewish Observer was the Charedi world’s Tradition Magazine. At least in recent years. It was the Charedi Journal of Jewish thought.

True - they were not as scholarly as Tradtion. Far from it. But the quality if their writing had improved in recent years. And they discussed major Hashkafic issues regularly from the Charedi perspective in both America and Israel.

The Jewish Observer also demonstrated that Charedi thought is not monolithic. I often even agreed with them on various issues. There were often articles where different Charedi writers - moderate to extreme - reflected a wide disparity of view. Sometimes in the same issue.

I sometimes used the Jewish Observer as a springboard for my posts - especially (but not always) when I disagreed with them. I could almost always count on finding at least one article in every issue that spurred a post.

I do not think there was a better source than the Jewish Observer of knowing what Charedi thinking was on any given subject. And for that, they will be missed. At least by me.

So even though I have had many differences with them, some of which outraged me, I nevertheless salute their achievement of over forty years of publishing Charedi Jewish thought.