Thursday, October 31, 2013

Absence of evidence for claims that Ger stopped serving soybean products because of fear of homosexuality

Tablet Magazine     A case study in how not to report on the ultra-Orthodox community

Visit the web site of the national British daily newspaper, the Independent, and you’ll find an article titled, “Rabbi bans students from eating soy in case it leads to gay sex.” It goes on to offer the juicy details:
The Hasidic yeshiva of Gur has ruled that boys should not eat soy, lest it leads to unwanted sexual arousal, according to a report in HaMevasser.
Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter issued the ban due to a belief that the ‘hormones’ in the food could cause boys to become effeminate and make their teachers and older students to become attracted to them.
Intrigued, I followed the link to the Hebrew source for this fantastical claim and was surprised to find that the cited article said the exact opposite. Here’s a translation of the Hamevaser piece:[...]

The hasidic community of Ger is not even mentioned in this ringing rejection of concerns over soy. Apparently, the Independent decided to run with a story based on sources its journalists couldn’t actually read, with predictable results.

But if not from Hamevaser, where did this salacious scoop come from? The origin of the claim traces back to a blog called “In the World of the Haredim,” written by Chaim Shaulson, which some have dubbed “The Haredi National Enquirer.” Shaulson’s October 28th Hebrew post states that the yeshivot of the Ger hasidim have dropped soy from their lunch menu, due to concerns about the “evil inclination” (a euphemism for sexual and possibly homosexual arousal). The piece does not say who ordered this change, or cite any sources. (It also includes a clip of the aforementioned Hamevaser article to disprove the alleged Ger claim about soy’s effects on child development.) [...]

Did Ger actually drop soy from its lunch menu? If so, was this done over concerns about gay sex? Or was it absent for the same reason my own elementary school cafeteria didn’t offer soy, because the meals didn’t require it and students didn’t ask for it? Or was it simply due to the health controversies that swirl around soy today, leading it to be shunned in many quarters, Jewish and not?

The honest answer to these questions is: we don’t really know. But saying “we don’t know” is not the forte of many journalists–though apparently citing sources one can’t read or confirm, and embroidering them with utterly fictitious details, is. [...]

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