«The Jewish Press» – A Gevalt from the Torah True

An Examination of the Concepts Holocaust and Israel in the American Jewish Newspaper «The Jewish Press»

by Sahra L. Lindeberg (Author)
©2015 Thesis 259 Pages


The Jewish Press’ purpose is to promote Jewish Orthodoxy. The book explores this popular American Jewish newspaper and more precisely the development of the paper’s ideology over a period of forty years offering a new understanding of the phenomenon Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy must be understood as a dynamic concept continually changing as a result of historical developments and hegemonic struggles with other ideologies about telling the Jew in modern society how he is to understand himself and the surrounding world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • The Jewish Orthodoxy
  • The Development of Orthodoxy
  • Orthodoxy in America
  • The Jewish Press
  • “The Voice of Torah Jewry”
  • Methodological Considerations
  • The Study of Jewish Orthodoxy in America
  • The Study of Ideology
  • About the Chapters
  • The Jewish Press and the Holocaust
  • The Holocaust According to The Jewish Press
  • The Jewish Press and Other Orthodox Interpretations of the Holocaust
  • Meir Kahane and the Holocaust
  • The Jewish Press’ Occupation with the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism
  • The Trial of Adolf Eichmann
  • The First Decade: News about Nazis
  • The First Decade: Holocaust in the Feature Articles and in the Series
  • The Jewish Press’ Persistent Engagement in the Holocaust.
  • The Case of Bitburg
  • The Application of the Holocaust Paradigm to Issues not Directly Related to the Holocaust
  • The Struggle for the Soviet Jews
  • The Confrontations with the Blacks
  • The Holocaust-Paradigm and Israel
  • The Threat of Assimilation
  • Conclusion
  • Israel in The Jewish Press
  • 1960–1967
  • Ben-Gurion: When a Leader Sins
  • 1967–1982
  • The Significance of the Six-Day War for The Jewish Press
  • The Survival of Israel
  • Menachem Begin in The Jewish Press
  • Begin as Prime Minister
  • The Camp David Accord
  • 1982–1993
  • The War in Lebanon
  • The Elections in
  • In Support of the Settlers
  • The Jewish Press and the Palestinians
  • The Jewish Press Criticism of the Media-Coverage of Israel
  • 1993–1997
  • The Oslo Accord – First Reactions
  • The Oslo-Accord and the “Kulturkampf” between the Seculars and the Religious
  • The Jewish Press and the Opposition of the Settlers
  • The Jewish Press’ Activism against the Implementation of the Oslo Accord
  • The Murder of Rabin
  • In Defense of the Religious
  • Netanyahu’s Victory
  • The Transference of Hebron
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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If one wishes to get an idea of what goes on in the Jewish world, a good place to start is in the Jewish press. The Jewish press is something of a heterogeneous phenomenon and includes everything from parish magazines and mouthpieces for specific organizations to secular and religious newspapers in Yiddish, Hebrew, and local languages.1 However, no matter how different all these papers might be, each of them is an expression of what concerns Jewish communities around the world. Likewise, many of these can tell us on a daily basis which issues are high on the agenda in the Jewish debate and which positions are taken towards these. In what I will permit myself to call “proper newspapers,” we not only read reports from various events and statements from different quarters, we also, from the paper’s priorities of material, analyses, and comments, gain an insight into where the paper positions itself in these discussions. In fact, I believe that it is not an exaggeration to assert that it is primarily in this forum that the ideological battles in the Jewish world have taken place over the last centuries.

Even though the first Jewish newspaper dates as far back as the seventeenth century, it is not until the Haskalah movement enters the scene in the eighteenth century that the Jewish press manifests as an actual phenomenon. With the newspaper as its mouthpiece, the Maskilim sought to reform Jewish society by introducing modern European culture to Jews who largely still lived in the ghetto. That is they attempted to reform Judaism in order to illustrate to the non-Jewish world that Jews and their religion were not in conflict with modern thinking and that they could easily take part in contemporary social life. Two of the best-known examples of papers from this period are Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, which appeared in Leipzig from 1837 to 1922, and Jewish Chronicle, which was founded in London in 1841 and which is still published. (Cesarani 1994: 3f).

In Eastern Europe a Hebrew press whose initial purpose had been to bridge between Haskalah and the Jewish religion, and between non-Jewish culture and Hebrew culture, rapidly developed into a revolutionary force in Jewish society, primarily aiming its criticism at the traditional religious leadership and at the ← 7 | 8 → traditional Jewish way of life. It soon became clear that the paper was such a forceful weapon in the struggle between the Maskilim and the Orthodox that the latter, despite their perception of newspaper reading as heresy (especially among Hasidim), were compelled to establish a similar organ in order to make their voice heard. The first of these Orthodox papers whose purpose it was to oppose the Haskalah movement was Ha-Levanon, which began publication in the beginning of the 1870s. However, it ceased being printed as soon as 1880, and for a period, the Orthodox were dependent on editors who did not share their convictions. In the Orthodox camp, they found this situation precarious, and in 1900, Ha-Peles appeared. Ha-Peles’ publisher, Eliyah Akiva Rabinowich, found that Orthodoxy was in need of a platform in order to influence public opinion if traditional society was not to be overrun by the new currents. (Luz, 1988, 6ff, 14ff, 218f).

In other words, right from the start the Jewish newspaper was used as a tool in the struggle to create consensus for one’s opinions rather than to do business. This is also true for the American Jewish press. The above-mentioned trends in the European Jewish press also made their entry in the USA, brought in by the European Jews especially in connection with the great waves of immigration in 1881, 1924, and prior to and immediately following World War II, but before these arrived, a Jewish press already existed on American soil. As early as 1823, Solomon Henry Jackson founded The Jew, which has been called America’s first Jewish periodical. Its purpose was to defend the Jewish community against Christian proselytizing, and Jackson therefore challenged the New Testament on a theological basis by questioning central dogmas in Christianity. Twenty years later The Occident appeared. Its intention was also to help the now rapidly growing Jewish communities resist the massive Christian influence and moreover guide immigrants regarding Jewish behavior and identity in the New World. The Occident’s founder, Isaac Leeser, insisted that in America, Jews were entitled to the same rights as any other religious group, and on this basis he used the paper to attack state regulations that he found discriminating against Jews. Overall Leeser sought with the paper to strengthen Jewish identity and unity, and he therefore provided the readers with sermons, essays on Jewish history, fiction, and poetry.

The Occident represented traditional Judaism, but it was soon to face competition from The Israelite (1854), whose publisher, Isaac Mayer Wise, wanted to liberate Judaism from old customs and rituals that he found out of step with the modern enlightened world, which the Jews were now part of in the new country. (Libo, 1987, 31ff; Encyclopedia Judaica, press).

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, concurrently with the growth of the Jewish population, the number of papers rose. There now existed special interest periodicals and even women’s magazines. With the arrival of large ← 8 | 9 → numbers of Eastern European Jews, a significant foreign language press arose, and before the First World War, a large number of Yiddish and Hebrew papers of different political observance and of different religious affiliation were printed. (Libo, 1987, 40ff). Today there are more Jewish papers published in the USA than ever. There are daily, weekly, and bimonthly newspapers in four different languages representing widely divergent points of view. The task they have taken upon themselves, however, is the same as their predecessors, namely to inform, educate, and defend Jews and Jewish interests, and not least of all to help give direction and identity to Jews in modern American society. (Whiteman, 1987, 7).

The subject of the present study is precisely the American Jewish newspaper The Jewish Press (hereafter JP), one of the most sold papers representing Jewish Orthodoxy. A reading of this can give us an insight into what issues certain standpoints within Orthodoxy are concerned with, what their attitude towards these issues is, and how they seek to formulate this for their readers. JP is, as mentioned, one Jewish voice among many others, a corner of American Judaism, but a part of the other voices is present as interlocutors with our source, and it is therefore my expectation that JP can give us an idea about what is happening in the Jewish world. As a mouthpiece for Jewish Orthodoxy, it is clearly from this angle that the story is told, and accordingly, through an investigation of this paper, we can also gain knowledge about what we are to associate with Jewish Orthodoxy.

The Jewish Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy can be considered as the branch of Judaism that is the most complicated to speak about in general terms. As Jack Wertheimer has pointed out, Orthodoxy, in contrast to Reform, Reconstructionism, and Conservative Judaism, has neither a single organization of congregations, a single rabbinic organization, nor a single institution for the training of rabbis. In fact, one cannot even claim that all Orthodox are committed to a single theology. Under this designation, we find a vast number of authorities and institutions with conflicting voices who, in many cases, are unwilling to recognize each other’s authority, and this raises the question whether we are in fact dealing with one movement. (Wertheimer, 1993, 115ff). Nonetheless, I find that it makes sense to maintain this designation because it is an integrated term in the scholarly vocabulary, and in particular because Orthodox Jews identify themselves with the term and use it to refer to themselves.2 In addition to this, despite everything, “the Orthodoxies” also must ← 9 | 10 → be regarded as having significant features in common in their history of origin and dogmas, which they unanimously agree must be maintained.3

Basic for all Orthodox Jews is that they, like the traditionalists, accept in the literal sense that the Torah is from Heaven and the Halakhah derived from an act of revelation, and that it is therefore impossible to talk about changes regarding the Torah.4 Consequently, Jews must live in accordance with the Halakhah in its traditional formulation as interpreted by rabbinic authority. Having arisen as an oppositional movement5, however, it is characteristic for Orthodoxy, contrary to traditional Judaism, to be conscious of the challenges of the modern world, as well as of the fact that they are not the only bid for what it means to be Jewish but that there exist many rival definitions. In other words, the Orthodox’ loyalty to tradition is the result of a conscious choice. (Liebman 1987a; Jacobs 1995: 370; Katz 1986: 4).

The Development of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy arose in the beginning of the nineteenth century as a response to new interpretations of Judaism and new ways to live as a Jew that followed in the wake of the breakdown of the traditional Jewish community and the possibility of emancipation.6 Orthodoxy opposed the idea that in order to be more in agreement with modern ways of thinking and living, Judaism needed to be reformed. (Liebman 1987a). ← 10 | 11 →

With the ideas of the new times about reason, rationality, and tolerance, the beliefs and customs of the old world order were challenged. People moved to large cities in great numbers in order to find work, and whereas identity and possibilities had previously been tied to family and religious belonging, it now to a greater extent became a matter of a person’s own opinions and achievements. In the nation state, all citizens were, in principle, equal, and many, not least the Jews, found that there was much to be gained from this situation. However, to take part in the opportunities that emancipation offered the individual, the Jew had to adjust to the surrounding culture, meaning that he had to change. He had to liberate himself from the ancient religious traditions such as the laws concerning kosher and the Sabbath that tied him to his people and prevented him from taking full part in the surrounding society. Mastering the language of the host culture was also an important condition for full integration. (Heilman and Friedman 1991: 199f).

This process happened gradually and with varying intensity depending on the location. Naturally, Jewish reactions to the new currents were also very different in their expression, but the reactions are usually characterized as falling within three broad categories, namely assimilation, acculturation, and contra-acculturation. On one extreme, the assimilationists were those who let themselves disappear completely in the majority culture, either because they rejected or because they just forgot their former Jewish identity. The middle group, the acculturationists, were those who wanted neither to miss the opportunities of emancipation nor to give up the ties to the Jewish communitas or to Judaism. Maskilim was what they called these Jews who embraced the Enlightenment, Haskalah, but who were against assimilation. In practice, this meant that they, for example, earned a university degree, associated with people from outside Jewish circles, learned the language of the host country, or entered professions that were not bound to the Jewish community, but at the same time, they religiously, culturally, and socially strived to maintain parts of their old identity. With its ideas about acculturation, the Haskalah influenced the secular Jewish movements in terms of the secular part of Zionism and the birth of a Hebrew and Yiddish literature, but also in terms of religion, which, in their opinion, had to be reformed in order to keep up with the times. Reform Judaism and the less extreme Historical School of Judaism (Conservative Judaism as the movement is termed today)7 came into existence precisely as a result of the decision that ← 11 | 12 → religion should not bar the way to acculturation. Architectonically and liturgically, the reform synagogue was brought closer to the ideal of Protestantism. An organ was included in the service, Hebrew and Yiddish were replaced by the language of the host culture, and the rabbi was educated at a university. The most fundamental break with tradition, however, was that religion in many cases was separated from ritual praxis. The emphasis was placed on the ethic, in contrast to the former situation when being a good Jew was synonymous with observance of the commandments.

It is against the backdrop of these currents that the rise of Orthodoxy must be understood, as it was specifically as a reaction against assimilation and acculturation that this movement entered the European scene. They opposed the incorporation of modern Western values and regarded too much contact with the surrounding culture as harmful. Therefore, they strived to preserve the old way of life (the traditionalists’) during a time in which everything was in motion. In particular, the Orthodox – that is, the contra-acculturationists – were fiercely opposed to the opinion of Reform and Conservative Jews that it was possible to reform Judaism in the light of Western ideas. Even when it came to the Conservative Jews’ more cautious way of reforming, in which they strove to respect the spirit of the Halakhah, they were alarmed. According to the Orthodox, it was not possible to speak of a Halakhic spirit as the basis on which one could legitimate annulling the letter of the law. This would be tantamount to recognizing a human element in the Torah. (Heilman, 1989, 11ff).

What came to pass under the term “Orthodoxy” was, however, far from being a unified movement, but rather comprised many different responses to the increasing influence of modernity, stretching from the very traditional Orthodox (those who were first associated with the term Orthodox), who tried to reject the surrounding culture as much as possible, to the more modern Orthodox, who integrated elements of Western culture and ideas. Roughly speaking, the traditional Orthodox can be characterized as those who emphasized the past in their present life, those who isolated themselves more from contemporary culture than most Jews, and those who were punctilious in their ritual observance.8 Moreover, they were more willing to adhere to religious authorities regarding ← 12 | 13 → how they should live their lives and were politically and socially more conservative. At the other end, those who moved in the direction of a more modern Orthodoxy could be described by the opposite characteristics, although without going as far as the different reform groups. While maintaining a connection to the traditional Jewish past, they were relatively more oriented towards contemporary culture with its focus on change. They were less strict in their religious praxis than the traditionalists and more individualistic and eclectic when it came to their willingness to abide by the religious authorities. Furthermore, they accepted pluralism and were politically and socially more liberal than other Orthodox. (Heilman, 1989, 18ff).

Orthodoxy in America

If we are to return to the subject of this thesis, namely Orthodoxy in contemporary America, we cannot avoid mentioning that a striking characteristic of today’s Orthodoxy is that this, the smallest Jewish denomination in America,9 has flourished over the last four decades. The fact that the numbers of the movement are stable is in itself an indicator of success, but apart from that, Orthodoxy has also gained a relatively large influence on the general Jewish community in America. Moreover, it is often perceived as a sign of strength that the movement during this period has moved to the right, meaning that the new generations are actually more punctilious in their ritual observance than their parents. (Susser, 1999, 141f; Wertheimer, 1993, 114f; Katz, 1986, 13). (We shall return to this below). Around the middle of the last century, though, Orthodoxy was characterized as a movement in decay and therefore predicted to disappear before long. (Heilman, 1989, 1). The explanation as to why these somber prophecies had to be withdrawn not long after they were proposed must, in the opinion of the majority, be found in the strengthening of the educational system of those Orthodox Jews who arrived in America during what is called the second wave of immigrants. The first large Jewish wave of immigrants occurred between 1881 and 1924. Many of these Eastern European Jews were traditionalists, and when confronted with American culture, they had not developed any ideological defenses to help them preserve a life in accordance with the handed-down traditions.10 On the ← 13 | 14 → other hand, the Orthodox who came with the second wave of immigrants – that is in connection with the Holocaust – were not unfamiliar with the challenges of modern society and were therefore better prepared. They had already chosen to be Orthodox in their countries of origin, and when they arrived in America, they were much more determined to rebuild what had been destroyed in Europe. In comparison with the Orthodox who had arrived at the beginning of the century, these Jews were far less compromising and demanded greater commitment and sacrifices. The Orthodox institutions already established did not live up to their demands in most cases, and not long after they had settled in the country, they started establishing those institutions which Orthodoxy of today benefits from. (Susser, 1999, 141; Liebman, Encyclopedia of Religion: Orthodox Judaism; Heilman, 1989, 21f; Katz, 1986, 12).

This success, however, does not mean that all is ideal happiness within the ranks of Orthodoxy today. As expressed by Louis Bernstein in his article “Orthodoxy: Flourishing But Divided,” Orthodoxy is, despite “flourishing in the United States and brim[ming] with a self-confidence bordering on triumphalism… troubled” and the problems, according to the author, come from within. (Bernstein, 1987, 174). He describes how the differences between the various groups are so fundamental that they are verbally at war, and are actually in some cases physically at war. Even among groups who, viewed from without, seem to be a monolithic body, there exist deep chasms. About attempting to define Orthodoxy, he writes: “The very rubric of Orthodoxy is deficient. The single definition cannot contain the many components ascribed to Orthodoxy but which are basically opposed to each other.” (Bernstein, 1987, 174).

Some of the differences and disagreements within Orthodoxy which Bernstein describes can to a certain degree be traced to the period in which the movement arose, that is, to the discussion about how to relate to the surrounding society and its values. In “The Many Faces of Orthodoxy,” Heilman says that if we take a look at the present American Orthodox and compare with Orthodoxy when it arose and its subsequent history, it is like experiencing déjà vu:

As one considers the trends and bearing among the many faces of contemporary Orthodoxy against the backdrop of nearly two hundred years of Orthodox Jewish life, one comes away with a sense of deja–vu. Now as in the past, there exists a tension between the traditional, parochial domain and the modern secular one. Now as then there is a sense of crisis over whether or how to bring these two worlds together. (Heilman, 1982, 194).11 ← 14 | 15 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Jewish Orthodoxy Zionism Fundamentalism Ideology
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 259 pp.

Biographical notes

Sahra L. Lindeberg (Author)

Sahra L. Lindeberg holds a BA and MA in Science of Religion from Aarhus University Denmark and studied three years at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After earning her PhD, she taught Jewish Studies at Syddansk University.


Title: «The Jewish Press» – A Gevalt from the Torah True