I like the NY Times. The quality of content and the breadth of its coverage is outstanding. I am a subscriber and I enjoy reading as much as I can read of the Times in print and online. I feel comfortable with the Times in my home because they avoid the salacious tabloid stories you find in the other papers and report the important and interesting stories. (We get the Wall Street Journal as well for many of the same reasons.)
It is rare to see them blow the coverage as badly as they have done with their story on the Siyum HaShas.
A story in the Metro Section spend approximately 10 words talking about the Siyum and about 1000 words talking about women in orthodox Judaism. Don’t get me wrong, women in orthodox Judaism is an important story. We talk it about it all the time around here. But it was not the story of the Siyum.
This is the kind of thing one would expect from a tabloid. Talk about the small detail that gets people riled up to sell papers. But the NY Times is better than that.
The Siyum was the biggest event in recent memory in New York. Almost 100,000 people in one place at one time. It’s not as if the Siyum could be written off as a blip on the radar. It was a major event. Traffic was the worst it has been in 25 years according to some traffic experts due in part to the Siyum. The traffic reports on the radio were talking about the event in greater detail and with greater reverence than the NY Times article. During traffic reports the story is the traffic, yet they still managed to slip in some information about the event. The NY Times story was about the Siyum and they nearly forgot to talk about the Siyum. There was plenty to report. The Times could have talked about the rabbis at the Siyum who came from Israel. They could have talked about the concept behind Daf Yomi. They could have talked about the actual event. But they did not.
I don’t attribute this faux pas to anti-Semitism or disdain for traditional orthodox Judaism. I chalk it up to dismal reporting. That is what it was and for the NY Times to miss the point on such a huge event is rare and also disappointing.
As for the mechitza and the implications thereof. First of all, the mechitza was up for about 35 minutes of a 6 hour program. It was so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that to be talking about the mechitza is to completely miss the point. The women were not being “hidden”. Frum Jews simply pray with a mechitza at almost all times. That’s what they did here. The organizers of the event wanted people not to have to think about compromising in their standards of separated prayer. Still, people want to talk about it. So here you go.
I don’t think anyone really thinks the mechitza was absolutely necessary. It was impossible for one to see across the stadium. The women were so far away from the men that I can’t imagine anyone would have a halachic problem davening without the mechitza. In the small area where men and women sat near one another I think a mechitza between the men and women would have been appropriate. The all encompassing mechitza was a bit more than necessary. But Frum Jews don’t like to pray without a mechitza and it is understandable that they would plan to use a mechitza during davening times. This is all normal behavior.
It did look a bit strange to the insider and to the outsider. But again, this is what most orthodox Jews expect at an event that has two minyanim. The fact that there was no mechitza for 5 and a half hours simply outweighs the fact that there was a mechitza for 35 minutes. I am not saying that this was “progress”. I am saying that this is normal in orthodox Judaism so you can’t make a big deal about something that is normal in orthodox Judaism simply because it took place in MetLife stadium.
Personally, I found the constant reminders at the Siyum about “kavod HaToyrah” and the extend they separated men and women a bit over the top. Nothing is going to happen if men and women walk into the stadium together. To prove my point, there were no separate exits and men and women left the Siyum together, were walking together in the parking lot, and as far as I know, there were no incidents of offensive immoral behavior due to the commingling of men and women. Would the kedusha of the event have been compromised if we all used one entrance? Probably not. So I don’t love the idea of over-separated men and women. But I expect it, and it is not the story of the Siyum. Not one bit.
And for next time, if you want to sit with your wife, your daughter, your sister, or the other women in your life, pony up for a suite. Those are unregulated seating sections. Start saving your pennies now.
Link: NY Times