Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

`New York Times Bias Hits Record High’

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

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It started, of course, with Mideast coverage, which was upsetting enough. But now The New York Times bias in its reporting has gone too far. For those who have not yet participated in protests and boycotts, this is the time to act, before it spreads even further.

The frightening fact is that subjective words and phrases have now reached the most widely read spot of the world’s most famous newspaper: yes, the Weather Report in the top right-hand corner of Page 1, every day of the year.

Have you not noticed the recent reports that predict “ample sunshine” for the coming day? Who is The Times to define “ample”? Is it not true that one man’s “ample” is another’s “insufficient”?

Why was “sunny” replaced after years?

And then there are descriptions of “bitter cold,” “patchy fog” or “heavy rain.” How subjective can you be? And where will it end?

But do not despair. A rally will be held in front of The Times new headquarters in midtown at noon next Sunday (weather permitting, so check the forecast), sponsored by the newly-formed Whether Or Not You Believe Us (WONYBU), a group that promises to monitor Times coverage far more closely, and widely.

A spokesman said “no section of the paper of record is now protected from our watchful eye,” noting objections in recent Sports reports to phrases like “pathetic Mets” and “disappointing Yankees,” which he called “highly charged,” as well as disparaging descriptions in the Bridge column like “South opens with a flat hand.”

Not to be outdone, a new Web site, CLOUDY (Citizens for Lawful, Overt, Unbiased, Distilled Yammering), has already pledged to sponsor boycotts of a number of leading dailies around the country, as well as public radio and television stations, and then to undertake a study of the accuracy of their weather reporting.

“How can you be wrong half the time and maintain credibility?” she asked.

As for the upcoming rally, since WONYBU is a non-profit group, Barack Obama, who had been scheduled to address the predicted throng, was asked not to appear. Same for John McCain.

“It’s a shame they won’t be there,” said a spokesman for the Stop The Weather rally, “but we think the cause is a righteous one and people are outraged enough to show up. And bring your umbrellas, just in case.”

Obama had planned to demand “change” in the weather, saying that is what the country needs at this time — and he predicted that it is coming. McCain reportedly is hoping for at least four more years of the current climate.

A Play About Koby Mandell

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Koby Mandell would have turned 21 last week, and probably would be finishing his service in the Israeli army.

Instead, slain at 13, with a friend, in a cave near their home in the community of Tekoa on Lag B’Omer, 2001, Koby is a memory to those who loved him and a symbol of the hundreds of innocent Jewish victims of the intifada, an eighth grader stoned to death on a day he skipped school.

Somehow, Koby’s parents managed to channel their anger and grief into positive work, creating a foundation in their son¹s name that offers summer camp and other healing programs to children in Israel who have lost close relatives to terror. And Sherri Mandell, a journalist and author, wrote an award-winning book about dealing with the loss of her son, “The Blessing Of A Broken Heart.”

Now her book has been adapted as a play (with the same title) by Todd Salovey, associate artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theater, and has been performed in the New York area in recent days.

I saw it last night at the JCC On The Palisades in Tenafly, NJ, and was deeply impressed by the thoughtful adaptation, and by the powerful performance of Lisa Robins, who plays Sherri Mandell, at times with pain and tears and at times with humor.

To their credit, the creators and actors (there are several gifted teens who play the Mandell children), never drift into the mawkish but maintain a dignity that is real, and all the more touching.

Rabbi Seth Mandell, Koby’s dad, answered questions after the show and acknowledged that he had seen it for the first time the night before, and had not read the script. Some of the questions from the audience were quite personal, about his and his family’s feelings and coping mechanisms, but he handled them forthrightly, at one point noting that while there is much laughter in the Mandell home ­ there are three younger children ­ there is never a sense of complete joy.

For more information on the play and the Koby Mandell Foundation, click on

World’s Busiest News Cycle

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Jerusalem – Nothing too exciting happened in the world yesterday, except in Israel.

The front-page stories in today’s International Herald Tribune deal with economic concerns, mostly about rising oil prices. But even a quick glance at several Israeli newspapers reveals the heightened drama of daily life here, from the latest plan to rescue kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, to speculation on renewed war in Gaza and renewed peace talks with Syria, all against the backdrop of Prime Minister Olmert’s struggle to resist resigning from office.

Just another day in the Israeli news cycle, with more news happening in this small country than seems possible, and much of it of an existential nature.

It’s life-and-death stuff – reports on what, if anything, is being done to counter Iran’s plans to destroy Israel with a nuclear bomb; security concerns about more sophisticated rocket attacks on Israeli cities from Hamas; speculation on precisely when and to what degree Israel will next attack Hamas. (Isn’t that what the military censors are suppposed to censor?)

Israelis are big consumers of their newspapers, and the talk around the table is always about politics and “the matsav,” or, the condition, referring to the latest and ongoing crisis with the Arabs.

Clearly, the easiest job in this country is weatherman, at least during the spring and summer. Here’s the weather forecast for the next few days (and every day during this season) from today’s Jerusalem Post: a cartoon of a bright sun, and the following text: Today Sunny, Wednesday Sunny, Thursday Sunny.

Can’t wait to see Friday’s forecast.

A Walk Through The Darkness

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher

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Jerusalem – In the Bible, Jews are commanded to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple three times a year, on each of the festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – a tradition that was revived after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War reunited the city of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, at the site of the Temple.

Based on the belief that the Torah was given at dawn, tens of thousands of people come to pray at the Wall on Shavuot morning just as darkness gives way to light, many having been up all night studying Torah, another custom of the holiday that seems particularly fitting for insomniacs.

Not wanting to miss out on this experience, my wife and I set out at 4:20 a.m. on Monday from Emek Refaim, in the heart of the German Colony, to make the hilly, holy trek to the Old City.

From the outset, we were enthralled by the vision of a steady stream of people walking quietly but purposefully in the cool night air. Many were teenagers, part of Bnei Akiva [religious Zionist] youth groups, in their white shirts and dark pants, but there were people of all ages, and we joined them for the half-hour walk. Men carried their tallit bags and prayer books, some people carried portable chairs on their backs [anticipating the two-hour prayer service], and just about everyone had water with them, since the walk back would be in the heat of the day.

Along the way, we could not help thinking that we were retracing the footsteps of our ancestors thousands of years ago, and of the miracle of an Israel reborn in our time. And for all the divisions that plague Israeli society, the sight, on arrival in the plaza leading up to the Kotel, of many thousands of Jews here to share this experience was heartening, though it was clear that this was overwhelmingly an Orthodox crowd, from chasidim to haredim to the more modern.

We had rarely seen the plaza so densely packed, with prayer services sprouting up every few yards, and the space between people quite limited. But there was little noise, considering the multitude. There was an air of dignity; people knew where they were, and why they had come.

The words of the ancient prayers, calling for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and celebrating the festivals there, took on an added meaning during the service we joined, and we felt part of a tradition and people that seem to transcend history.

But the memory most vivid for me is that purposeful, almost silent walk in the still of night, joining with so many others on the way to the Old City. It was a feeling of connectedness to those around us and to our ancestors as well, symbolizing the faith of generations who made their way through the darkness, driven by the belief that the dawn of their deliverance awaited them on the path ahead.

Birthright Israel’s Biggest Night

Friday, May 30th, 2008


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Jerusalem – I attended the biggest Mega-Event ever for Birthright Israel on Sunday night, with 7,500 screaming participants gathered at an outdoor ampitheater near here, and my ears are still ringing.

The Mega-Events are the highlight and culmination of the ten-day free trips for 18-26 year olds from throughout the diaspora, bringing all of the current participants together for one special evening featuring theatrical productions that rival Broadway and the Academy Awards with a mixture of music, strobe lights, videos, choreographed dancing, fireworks and lots of kitsch.

The crowd at the Latrun tank museum (the site of a major battle in the 1948 War of Independence) was pumped from the outset with uptempo Israeli music blaring, to get them in a celebratory mood.

The scene looked like a European soccer match, with the various national groups cheering themselves hoarse, waving Israeli flags and doing the wave even before the program started. There were contingents from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France and India, and of course, the U.S., the biggest by far.

Birthright officials expect 24,000 participants on trips this summer, and 42,000 in all this year, the biggest numbers ever, thanks in large part to a major infusion in funding from Las Vegas-based businessman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the crowd and may have received the last enthusiastic reception of his tenure, given the view that his days in office are numbered. But you would have never known it from him or the crowd as he exhorted the young people to come back to Israel.

“There is only one place in the world that is ours,” Olmert said, “and this is our place. This is your home. There is no other home for you but this one.”

The audience cheered.

Olmert personally thanked the mega-donors who helped make Birthright a reality, and presented awards onstage to Michael and Judy Steinhardt, Charles Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman, incoming Birthright chair Dan Och of New York, and several others.

Then the entertainment began, hosted by popular Israeli TV host Michael HarPaz (Hebrew for Goldberg), who began his introduction in a thick Hebrew accent before looking up and proclaiming in perfect English, “who am I kidding, I’m from Detroit!”

The next hour and a half was non-stop entertainment, with pop stars, elaborate stage productions, sing-a-longs (like “Adon Olam” and other Hebrew songs transliterated into English on giant screens so the Americans could join in), and a seemingly endless supply of fireworks, an Israeli favorite.

The dramatic highlight: after a short film clip about a young Israeli soldier, Assaf Hershkowitz, from a canine unit who had to leave the Canadian group he was touring with (more than 30,000 Israeli soldiers have traveled with the 180,000 Birthright participants over the last eight years) to return to his unit the day before, a helicopter appeared in the night sky. It circled over the crowd, then appeared to land just behind the stage, and Assaf soon trotted onstage with his dog at his side as the crowd roared its approval.

Asked by HarPaz if the dog, Vosko, did any tricks, Assaf answered, “well, he can find bombs.”

Over the top? Sure. And was it ironic that towards evening’s end, HarPaz led the crowd in a heartfelt rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with everyone singing about an ideal world of no nations and no religion? Absolutely. But everyone was having too good a time to deconstruct the good feelings created by having so many thousands of young Jews together, celebrating Israel and their Jewishness.

There are, no doubt, valid criticisms of the hedonistic aspects of the Birthright trips, and surely there could be more serious Jewish content infused in the tours. But there is no arguing with the fact that Birthright has been a huge success in attracting so many young people who may never have visited, or thought about, Israel had it not been for this bold venture.

For one night, at least, there was a palpable sense of excitement and Jewish unity and pride in the cool night air of Latrun, and one can only hope that those good feelings will last a lifetime.

Obama A Threat To Israel, Mideast Expert Charges

Saturday, May 17th, 2008


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Tel Aviv — Judging from the views of Israeli academics at a panel Thursday afternoon, Israel has much to worry about if Barack Obama is elected president this fall.

Barry Rubin, a well-known and respected Mideast expert and academic, told an audience today at a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University here that an Obama victory would precipitate “the most dangerous crisis facing the world.”

After citing his own credentials as a former Washingtonian who worked for the campaigns of numerous Democratic presidential candidates, going back to John Kennedy in 1960, Rubin described Obama as “not the candidate of the [moderate] Arab states, but the candidate of the Islamists, whether he knows it or not.

“If elected, he will be the most anti-Israel president in American history,” asserted Rubin, who is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center at IDC, the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya, and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

He said that while Obama speaks of his willingness to meet with autocratic leaders of countries like Iran and Syria, he only uses the carrot half of the carrot/stick equation.

“He never mentions what he would do if the talks fail, and he doesn’t talk about the need for the U.S. to show its strength.”

Rubin predicted that Obama would choose Robert Malley, a former State Department official who criticized Israel for its role in the failure of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, to be director of policy planning, if elected. And Rubin said it was no accident that Obama’s recent reference to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as “a constant sore” was the same phrase Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, has used in an article in The Nation.

Another Israeli panelist on Thursday, Eytan Gilboa of the sponsoring BESA Center, was not as critical as Rubin. But he said that Obama has the American Arab vote “in his pocket” and that his lack of experience and seeming eagerness to talk through any problem were “worrisome” traits.

The other two panelists were Robert Lieber of Georgetown University and me.

Lieber said Obama is not anti-Israel and indeed appears supportive of the Jewish state. But he said the Illinois senator would face a serious problem if, as president, he tries to reason with American and Israeli enemies like Iran, whose leaders have proven intractable for decades. “It won’t get him very far,” said Lieber, who also spoke of Obama’s inexperience, predicting that he would be tested early on by U.S. adversaries.

In my presentation, I said there was “a good deal of discomfort and unease” with Obama among American Jews, particularly those over 40, and that it was difficult to tell how much was based on his policies or lack of experience, how much on his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and how much on race, among other factors.

The two-day conference theme was “Whither American Zionism?” But most of the presentations dealt with the past, with several speakers, including former Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens, pointing out that the movement’s golden years were its early ones, in the first two decades of the 20th century.

The movement had “an auspicious start,” noted Arens, who cited early leaders like Justice Louis Brandeis and Justice Felix Frankfurter. “But it didn’t live up to expectations,” he said, citing the low figures of American aliyah.

Large-scale aliyah from the U.S. “could have made all the difference,” Arens said, in Israel’s struggles with its Arab neighbors.

Israel And The Press - An Ongoing Battle

Monday, April 28th, 2008


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Some things never change.

Taking part in a panel the other night at the JCC in Manhattan on “Israel, The Jews and The Press: Exploding the Myths,” my colleagues — Clyde Haberman of the New York Times and Sam Freedman of the Columbia Journalism School and the Times — and I felt like we were in a time warp. The questions from the overflow audience of about 100 people began with a request for a response to a 1992 NPR report that appeared to be biased against Israel, and included a complaint about Peter Jennings, the ABC-TV correspondent and anchor who the questioner referred to as “Peter of Arabia.” Jennings died almost three years ago.

It’s not surprising that people have long memories when it comes to slights, whether it be in their personal lives or in reading, watching or listening to media reports, especially when it comes to caring Jews following the Mideast conflict.

I understand that, and often share the frustration of reading a report that is unbalanced, lacking in perspective or just plain uninformed.

But we also have to realize that the Mideast narrative has changed over the years, and the media has changed with it. When Israel won the 1967 war, it was the darling of the mainstream press. But after the Yom Kippur War six years later and the resulting oil shortage, Israel was transformed from David to Goliath, the powerful military presence in the Mideast oppressing helpless Palestinians.

Israel of the last 25 years is known for enduring two intifadas, the assassination of a prime minister, and widespread charges of corruption in its various governments - not exactly inspiring events. It’s also, of course, the country that has led the way in medical, agricultural, scientific and economic advances despite being under almost constant attack from those who would prefer it destroyed.

Israel’s story, and message, are complicated. It sees itself as victim, a tiny democratic state surrounded by tens of millions of Arabs who oppose its very existence. But others see Israel as a powerful state still keeping Palestinians from independence.

There is no doubt that the mainstream media is so focused on symmetry and “fairness” in telling the story of the Mideast conflict that it fails to point out the context, most notably that Israeli leaders (and citizens) from left to right now welcome a Palestinian state, while Palestinian leaders across the board are unwilling or unable to meet the minimum requirement for a peace deal: stopping the violence. Or that Palestinians target Israeli civilians on purpose while casualties inflicted by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian civilians are the unintended result of firing on militants who purposefully place themselves in the midst of innocents.

But on balance, American mainstream reporters are doing their best at telling a complex and highly charged story, and we have to recognize our own biases and unrealistic expectations of having every Mideast story reinforce our own point of view.

That was the message our panel tried to convey the other night, but I’m not at all certain we changed anyone’s mind.

What About Fatah Anti-Israel Hatred?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008


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The New York Times report this week on the depth of anti-Jewish hatred within Hamas was well documented and important for the world to see, but it gave something of a free pass to Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

The article, by Steven Erlanger, focused on Hamas and its various propaganda efforts of incitement against Israel and Jews, from sermons in the mosque to television programming for children praising “martyrdom.” It noted that “the Palestinian Authority, under Fatah, has made significant, if imperfect efforts to end incitement.”

One of Erlanger’s sources, quoted in the story, was Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli group that monitors Palestinian media.

But Marcus told The Jewish Week on Thursday (April 3) that while there has been “a significant drop in the calls to violence, specifically from sermons,” the broadcasts from television operated by the Palestinian Authority continue to praise and promote terror acts against Israel.

“Violent clips that glorify violence continue,” he wrote in an e-mail. “In addition, the greatest promotion of violence of all is the turning of murderers and terrorists into heroes, and that continues.”

Marcus noted that the East Jerusalem man who shot down and murdered eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem last month was “glorified in the official, Abbas-controlled media,” as have been other killers of Israeli citizens. A television special honored the 17-year-old girl who became a suicide terrorist four years ago, “repeatedly calling her a hero, and her act heroic, and a source of pride for Palestinians.”

Marcus added that “there has been an increase in hate TV, including lies and libels, for example, about Israel intentionally spreading AIDS and drugs.” And all of Israel is regularly referred to as Palestine in the media, with Israeli cities like Haifa, Jaffa and Acre described as Palestinian cities or occupied Palestinian cities.

“It is unfortunate that people who only look at the sermons created this false impression,” Marcus wrote.

Seems to me all of the above qualifies as less than “significant” and more than “imperfect” on the scale of Palestinian Authority efforts to tamp down anti-Israel propaganda.

Scoop Of The Day: Reporters Are Human

Monday, March 24th, 2008


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The thorough reporting job on the front page of the New York Times today (April 1) describing the depth of anti-Semitism of Hamas, in its sermons and broadcasts, should be commended by pro-Israel readers, particularly those who have complained about the coverage by the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger as biased in favor of the Palestinians.

But I’m not holding my breath. In fact, pro-Israel critics no doubt will respond to today’s story by exclaiming,” what took so long?”

It reminds me of an evening some years ago, at the height of the second intifada, when Clyde Haberman, a former Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times (and now a columnist for the paper’s Metro section), bore the brunt of anger and frustration from a large audience at an upper West Side Orthodox synagogue. He was on a panel dealing with Mideast media bias, along with Sidney Zion (a tough old-school journalist to the right of Begin on Israel), as well as a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate, and me.

There was heated discussion about whether the mainstream media was anti-Israel, and Clyde, a fine reporter (and graduate of the Soloveichik elementary school in Washington Heights) who has a low threshold for those who would put the Times in that category, was left to defend the paper, and growing increasingly frustrated.

The Israeli spokesman and I tried to make the case that there was little if any overt anti-Israel bias in the mainstream U.S. press, particularly compared to the European press, but the crowd wasn’t buying it. And most of their increasingly heated questions were aimed at Clyde.

At one point a woman asked why the Times had not covered the fact that Palestinian militants held training camps for youngsters, teaching them how to use weapons and indoctrinating them with hatred of Israel.

“Ah, but we did that story,” Clyde responded quickly, his voice rising. “In fact it ran on Page One.”

Undaunted, the woman responded, “well, why don’t you do it again?”

At that point I thought Clyde was going to explode, but he replied: “Why don’t you just stop reading the paper and save yourself the aggravation?”

(This was before the local boycott of the Times in the Jewish community. When that occurred, and I notified Clyde that a group of Jews had decided to cancel their subscriptions to the Times during the 10 Days of Repentance, he shot back: “Why don’t they do it during the 49 days of the Omer?”)

Two points here: One is that if you have it in for a publication (or radio or television network), convinced of its bias, there is little the institution can do to change your mind. Indeed, an editor of the Baltimore Sun once complained to me that “if we put the entire Torah on our front page every day,” it wouldn’t satisfy critics in the Jewish community.

Point two is that even journalists are human. They can get emotional and they have long memories - something to keep in mind when dealing with them.

If this remembrance prompts you to write a note to Steven Erlanger, complimenting on his reporting on Hamas, do it today. He is leaving his post soon after three and a half years, and will be succeeded by Ethan Bronner, who covered the region for the Boston Globe before coming to the Times where he has served on several desks, most recently as deputy foreign editor.

Bronner, who is Jewish, has family ties to Israel and is highly knowledgeable on the Mideast, is well aware that he will be closely watched for his alleged reporting biases.

But at least he’ll know he is being read.

YU Controversy Goes Beyond Rabbi Schachter

Friday, March 7th, 2008


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The subtext of the controversy over the recent shocking remarks made by Yeshiva University rosh yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter — where he appeared to advocate shooting the Israeli Prime Minister if the government would “give up Jerusalem” — is less about the rabbi himself and more about the division within the Orthodox community over da’as Torah [literally, Torah knowledge, but meaning possessing a higher level of Divine insight].

Until recently, one of the clear lines that separated Modern Orthodoxy from those further to the religious right was that it did not subscribe to the belief in da’as Torah. That is to say Modern Orthodox Jews believed that Torah scholars should decide matters of halacha, or Jewish law, but not necessarily be sought out for their views on other aspects of life, from politics to personal choices about who to marry or what job to take, as many haredim do.

But that separation has been eroding, and there is a generational divide within Modern Orthodoxy, and more particularly within the Yeshiva University community.

As YU has trained a number of rabbis who excel in Talmudic learning, they in turn have developed strong relationships with students who often study with them for two, three or four years or more. In addition, most of these students first spent a year or two after high school learning at yeshivas in Israel, where the norm was to have a rebbe as a source of guidance and advice not only in Jewish law, but on spiritual and personal matters, especially since these students were thousands of miles from parents, family and friends.

So it is not surprising that these students seek out a rebbe with whom they can bond when they return to America, and that many of these Orthodox Jews, now in their 20s and 30s, are more inclined to consult closely with their rebbe on a wide range of issues than would their parents. A number of these young people tend to subscribe to the notion of da’as Torah, and while they do not necessarily view their rebbes as prophets, they believe these men have greater insights into the Divine because of their breath of Torah knowledge.

The parents of these young people tend to view such devotion with a mix of admiration and skepticism - proud that their offspring take Jewish practice so seriously but wary of sacrificing one’s own powers of choice and independence to another, regardless of how learned.

In the case of Rabbi Schachter, the controversy is not only over what he said - he has a history of making blunt pronouncements on Israeli policy, feminism, and the differences between Jews and non-Jews - but on his position within Orthodoxy, at the fulcrum between the modern and charedi worlds.

He is a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, a highly respected Torah scholar throughout the Orthodox community and, most recently, a key decisor for the Rabbinical Council of America on conversion issues.

But despite his “modern” credentials, many believe that in temperament and outlook, he is more closely aligned to the more traditional yeshiva world.

So the argument among many in the older generation of Modern Orthodox Jews is that this man, however great his scholarship, can be judged as flawed and chastised for intemperate remarks he makes. And they would argue that the very nature of such remarks undermines the idea that the rabbi could possess da’as Torah.

The younger set, though, bristles at any criticism of a man of such sage-like stature and tends to believe that the barbs against him are politically motivated by those who want to take Rabbi Schachter down a notch.

YU’s leadership is in a difficult position because it recognizes both the level of embarrassment Rabbi Schachter can cause in the “real” world and the fact that he gives the rabbinic school much of whatever standing it has in the influential right-wing yeshiva world.

But then, that’s what YU has always been about, seeking the balance of Torah and ma’adah [secular knowledge], in the words of its motto.

Defenders of the rabbi say he should be viewed as above reproach and continue in his various roles of leadership; critics would agree that a rabbinic leader should be above reproach and say that is why Rabbi Schachter should be disciplined.