Friday, October 11, 2013

Kudos to Shmarya

Forward Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner
Shmarya Rosenberg, owner of the blog Failed Messiah (now there’s a name for you) is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and vilified bloggers in the Orthodox Jewish blogosphere. The truth is that I too have criticized him for the stridency by which he reports and comments. Sometimes - perhaps even often - he does cross a line of decency in how he reports his stories. 

There are many who believe (I am not one of them) that he goes out of his way to bash religious Jews. Well… to be honest, he does seem a bit overly mean in some of his editorial comments. But at the same time I do not think that he deserves the kind of vilification he gets. Being over the top does not make you views wrong. It just makes the way you express them wrong. At least in my view. For example I don’t think profanity has any place on an Orthodox Jewish blog. Not even in the comments section. 

But as I said he does not deserve to be vilified. Although I sometimes disagree with him, his views are not usually all that wrong. He is usually on the right side of the issues. I suppose that is why some people feel that I am just a kinder and gentler version of him. Perhaps that’s true – I don’t know.

I bring all this up as a preface to something he has recently been doing that deserves our attention and our appreciation.  As of this writing his most recent post takes to task the Forward for their unfair treatment of Dr. Norman Lamm. 

This has nothing to with Dr. Lamm’s behavior with respect to the sex abuse cover-up by Yeshiva University. That is beyond the scope of this post. It has to do with how the Forward has treated an aging and mentally impaired former head of YU. And how they focus on Yeshiva University’s new hire (and now fired) - admitted sex abuser Akiva Roth - without mentioning that Conservative Judaism’s flagship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) was his previous employer. And that he  continued to work there even after pleading guilty to sex abuse charges. Shmarya has also discovered the following about Akiva’s father, Conservative Rabbi Joel Roth:   
Joel Roth was forced to step down as JTS dean in the late 1990s (although he has remained on the faculty as a full professor) after allegedly sexually harassing a male student at the Conservative Movement's West Coast rabbinic school.
I am usually very careful not to unduly criticize respected news media organizations like the Forward. I do not for example believe that they are necessarily anti-religious. Which is a frequently heard charge about them and other non Orthodox Jewish news media. I believe they are generally honest and fair.

But not this time, as Shmarya points out. The Forward has crossed a line of propriety here in their constant negative references to Dr. Lamm who is in no condition to defend himself.  And the zeal by which they go after YU (which may or may not be valid) is not reflected in their attitude about JTS.  I guess that the Forward is being selectively critical here. They have never lost an opportunity to harshly criticize YU. But they completely ignore JTS. Why… one may ask?

I think Shmarya may be on to something. Here is what he discloses on his blog: 
• Publisher of the Forward Sam Norich – a leader in his Conservative synagogue and active in the Conservative Movement nationally.
• Editor-in-Chief of the Forward Jane Eisner – a leader in her Conservative synagogue and active in the Conservative Movement nationally.
• News Editor of the Forward Larry Cohler-Esses – his wife is a Conservative rabbi.
Well… that pretty much explains it. Guilty or not - they are not about to gore their own ox. YU on the other hand – they are fair game. No one on the Forward editorial board is even remotely involved with YU. So they can have a tremendous amount of righteous indignation here. Here is how Shmarya ends his post: 
(W)hen will (the Forward’s) board of directors hold its editors, reporters and its publisher accountable for the abuse of an elderly, frail man with dementia and for intentionally skewing its reporting to obscure that fact and to protect the Conservative Movement so many Forward employees are members of?
Perhaps YU deserves to be criticized. But as far as I’m concerned, the Forward should stop playing favorites and get their own house in order.