RCBC Statement

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I received this official press release:

RCBC Statement

As you may know, The Jewish Standard published an announcement of a forthcoming same-sex marriage in the Simcha section of its September 24 edition. In the following week’s edition, on the editorial page, the paper issued a retraction and an apology of sorts, indicating that they did not accurately anticipate just how disturbed many people in the Orthodox community would be by this announcement, and committing that they would not publish other such announcements in the future. The reaction to this was swift, voluminous and loud, emanating from throughout the Bergen County community and way, way beyond, via the print media, radio and television, and, of course, a wide array of internet blogs. The vast majority of comments were negative and highly critical of the newspaper’s apparent change of heart.

To our great consternation, the local Orthodox rabbinate, comprising the RCBC (Rabbinical Council of Bergen County), has become and continues to be the target of much venom presently being spewed, especially on the aforementioned blogs, based on the presumption that the rabbis played a major, and indeed bullying and arm-twisting role in the Jewish Standard’s decision making process. As a result of many erroneous assumptions, unsubstantiated claims and baseless fabrications, the rabbis of our community have been vilified in the most insulting, defamatory and obnoxious of terms.

The following open statement is directed to our congregations in an attempt to accurately present the facts and set the record straight.

In the days following the appearance of this marriage announcement, a number of RCBC rabbis spoke with each other either in person, on the phone or through email. There was never, as suggested in one report, any special rabbinical meeting convened to deal with this matter. The reactions among the rabbis varied. Some stated that they had been approached by numerous congregants who were very upset by what they saw in the paper; others said that only a few in their synagogue seemed to care. Some held that the RCBC should send some kind of response to the newspaper, either orally or in writing; others contended that in as much as this paper does not conform, and does not claim to conform, to Orthodox standards – they do, after all, advertise non-Kosher food establishments and announce communal events which take place on Shabbat – this is not an RCBC problem. In light of the lack of any consensus, and in light of the fact that all this was taking place in the middle of the holiday of Sukkot, when the minds of most rabbis are understandably focused elsewhere, it was decided that any RCBC reaction would wait until a full discussion could take place at our next regularly scheduled meeting, already planned for the week after Yom Tov.

One single RCBC rabbi, who has been consulted by the Jewish Standard on a number of occasions in the past about issues relating to the religious sensibilities of the Orthodox community, did go to meet with the executive staff of the Jewish Standard, with whom he has a personal relationship. The meeting was characterized by calm, civility and mutual respect. The rabbi communicated that there were a significant number of Orthodox Jews who felt that the Standard had crossed a line by publishing this particular announcement, and that if the leaders of the paper are concerned about the opinions of these members of our community, they should reconsider their position on this issue for the future.

– At no time did this rabbi or any other RCBC rabbi express to the newspaper any threat whatsoever or imply anything about “consequences,” financial or otherwise.
– At no time did anyone from the RCBC ever contact any proprietor of a food establishment under RCBC Kashruth supervision about pulling advertising from the paper or about anything else to do with the Jewish Standard in connection with this matter.
– At no time did anyone representing the RCBC attempt to coax or force anybody to boycott the newspaper.

Any reports, allegations or accusations suggesting the contrary are outright lies. They remain outright lies regardless of how loudly they are proclaimed or how often they are repeated.

It should be a source of embarrassment to the greater Jewish community that there are various Jewish blog sites, claiming that they accurately report on the Jewish world in general, or cover the Orthodox world in particular, or something of the like, who seem, at least in this case, to have felt no need to display any sense of professionalism, journalistic integrity or even common courtesy. Any one of these values would dictate that all relevant information should be thoroughly checked and rechecked before reporting something as a fact and then launching a nasty verbal attack on others, but that certainly did not happen here. Instead, the sites fed off of one another, built on the uncorroborated posts of others hiding behind the anonymity of a screen name and on unidentified “sources close to the story,” and then “protected” themselves by inserting words like “allegedly” and “supposedly” every once in a while. And so the Orthodox rabbis of Bergen County have this past week been labeled thugs, Ayatollahas, Mafiosos, Taliban and who knows what else. All, of course, in the name of tolerance, decency and sensitivity to the feelings of others, and all based on utter falsehood.

It is our hope that the above will allow our community members to gain greater clarity about what actually transpired here and to avoid being influenced by the many blatant untruths and distortions currently being promulgated.

May Hashem bless us all with the strength and wisdom to serve Him in accordance with His will.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

24 comments

  1. I understand that the RCBC did not participate in issuing or even threatening any boycott, but this statement makes it sound like that would have been a terrible thing to do. What would indeed be so terrible about boycotting a publication that participates in promoting a lifestyle that is, presumably, contrary to the RCBC’s value system? Why do they so fear being called “thugs, Ayatollahs, Mafiosos, Taliban”? Someone tell them about sticks and stones…

    Don’t misunderstand; I am glad they were able to work everything out with “calm, civility and mutual respect”, just wondering…

  2. Because the JS (the paper) is about much more than printing a same-sex marriage announcement (or, indeed, ads for non-koshe establishments). It prints many articles of Jewish, and Orthodox, interest, and many of the local Jewish articles (and announcements of Jewish programs) would not and do not appear anywhere else. So the RCBC, I guess (I haven’t spoken to any of their members about this), doesn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water which is what a boycott would do. And I guess they also believe that in a pluralistic society like America, we don’t boycott becqause we disagree; we don’t have to participate (i.e., the Orthodox could give up their subscriptions — that wouldn’t be a boycott as I see it), but they don’t use their economic power to force others to agree (i.e., a boycott against an advertiser). And so they voice their opposition, explain their position, and go on living in peace with Jewish communities and institutions which have positions on some issues that differ with those of the Orthodox community. That attitude might be one difference between MO and Chareidi methodologies of dealing with the modern world.

  3. Joseph Kaplan,

    Would I be correct in assuming that you were against the GLAAD boycott of Dr. Laura’s advertisers as well? You know, pluralistic society, we don’t boycott because we disagree, and all that.

  4. “Would I be correct in assuming that you were against the GLAAD boycott of Dr. Laura’s advertisers as well?”

    Wasn’t for it or against it; didn’t hear about it until just now. (Gil, why didn’t you have a link? :-))

  5. Wasn’t for it or against it; didn’t hear about it until just now.

    Fair enough. Just trying to understand, are you against the concept of “moral purchasing” in general or is it something specific to this situation?

  6. Regardless, in this particular case boycotting would be ill advised for reasons that Joseph explained.

  7. “Just trying to understand, are you against the concept of “moral purchasing” in general or is it something specific to this situation?”

    If you’re really interested in my opinion, in general I don’t like secondary boycotts. But, as in my original comment, I’m speaking about a secondary boycott; i.e., if you continue advertising there, we’ll boycott your product. I’m not opposed to (a) stopping, and convincing others to stop, listening to a program or subscribing to a publication, or (b) calling an advertiser and advocating, without threats or economic pressure, that they stop advertising in a particular publication or show. Am I opposed to secondary boycotts in all cases? Probably not; I’m sure here would be some exceptions in extreme cases, but neither Dr. Laura nor the JS are extreme cases (and I don’t want to get into a Goodwin’s Law situation here in figuring out what would be extreme).

  8. MiMedinat HaYam

    they dont have to fully boycott. all the rcbc has to do is say no hsghgacha if you advertise in the paper. people will complain, but the rcbc market basically agreess with the rabbonim on this, so they will continue patronizing the stores.

    just like the rcbc will (hopefully) forbid their stores from catering the event and / or the “sheva brachot”, etc. i dont think the vast majority will find that objectionable.

  9. IMO, saying no hashgacha if you advertise is a secondary boycott which I don’t like. So I’m happy the RCBC didn’t do that.

  10. just like the rcbc will (hopefully) forbid their stores from catering the event and / or the “sheva brachot”, etc.

    Highly unlikely.

  11. >Why do they so fear being called “thugs, Ayatollahs, Mafiosos, Taliban”? Someone tell them about sticks and stones…

    The sticks and stones thing is not true. It’s what we tell kids who are being called named so that hopefully they’ll feel better, but it’s a lie.

    Secondly, it’s poshut that you should care about your reputation, especially if you interact with other people. Is a rabbinic group that can be dismissed as thugs, ayatollah, mafiosi and the taliban going to be as effective outside their own dales amos as one that can’t?

  12. I agree with R Gil and Joseph Kaplan that boycotts don’t work. The simplest way of expressing your disagreement with any publication’s editorial policies and/or news coverage is to cancel your subscription.

  13. But the best way is to contact the editor directly. Interestingly, JTA is reporting that the Orthdox rabbi to contact The Jewish Standard was R. Shmuel Goldin:
    http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/10/12/2741252/orthodox-unsure-how-to-react-to-anti-gay-violence-discrimination

    “Sometimes people feel that they have the right to make their choices and then to obligate others to celebrate their choices,” said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, a past president of the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County in northern New Jersey. “We believe that we cannot celebrate these choices.”

    Goldin was the rabbi who in a meeting with The Jewish Standard warned the paper that its same-sex wedding announcement might alienate Orthodox readers.

  14. R Gil-that works in some instances. However, I am sure that we both know of many people of our parents’ age who for the longest time did not buy either German or Japanese products.

  15. 1) No one “subscribes” to the Jewish Standard, so there’s no subscription to cancel.
    2) The Jewish Standard already advertises non-kosher restaurants, events that are hillul shabbat, etc. — it’s a community paper, not an Orthodox paper. Given the development of the Jewish community in Bergen County, it does devote a significant, but not disproportionate, amount of coverage to the Orthodox community.
    3) To echo R. Goldin, I’ve read a comment by Rav Aviner that, if someone are offended that you are not attended an affair because they are serving non-kosher food, you should be offended that they are not observing kashrut! Obviously, this response it not appropriate in all settings, but it certainly is what many are feeling. Chachmah b’goyim ta’amin; Torah b’goyim lo ta’amin.

  16. Steve — that wasn’t a boycott to change behaviour. That was just a sense of distaste. “Mad Men” had a good take on that this season.

  17. Secondly, it’s poshut that you should care about your reputation, especially if you interact with other people. Is a rabbinic group that can be dismissed as thugs, ayatollah, mafiosi and the taliban going to be as effective outside their own dales amos as one that can’t?

    Anyone in any leadership position can either avoid ever making tough decisions or run the risk of being called all kinds of names. A leader who’s policies are based on not being called names is not a leader but a follower.

  18. Michael Rogovin

    I think that the RCBC statement is one of the most responsible, fair-minded statements to come out of an orthodox organization that I have read in years. There is no hysteria, condemnations of alternative approaches. It respects the different approaches its members have. It is respectful to, even as it condemns, those who spread falsehoods about the orthodox leadership. And it calls for reflection and a cooling off by all sides. Kol hakavod to those who were involved in drafting it.

  19. >Anyone in any leadership position can either avoid ever making tough decisions or run the risk of being called all kinds of names. A leader who’s policies are based on not being called names is not a leader but a follower.

    I don’t agree that’s it’s a binary choice, nor did I advocate a form of leadership based on avoiding being called names.

  20. The JTA reported that R. Shmuel Goldin was the rabbi who met with the Jewish Standard.

  21. http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial_opinion/opinion/cost_standing_idly IMO, we now see that the real goal is acceptance, as opposed to merely tolerance of a diverse lifestyle. I wonder whether the author and signatories to the SOP would agree with the POV set forth in this article.

  22. The article Steve cites is by R. Steven Greenberg who is in no way representative of those signing the Statement of Principles.

  23. Joseph Kaplan-I agree that R Greenberg is in no way representative of those signing the SOP. Yet, IMO, R Greenberg distorted the meaning of the SOP rather easily because of the very language of the SOP which places a premium on tolerance and acceptance, and essentially stated, accept us without even raising the possibility ( which the Torah and Rambam define as Teshuvah), of even changing one’s way of life. I thought that R Greenberg’s article was consistent with his POV in advocating the legitimacy of the gay agenda, which he set forth years ago in the agit prop documentary “Trembling Before God.”

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