Sunday, August 24, 2014

No need for Rabbinic supervision of Newspapers: Lubavitcher Rebbe

Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History (Kindle Locations 3116-3135). HarperCollins.

Jacobson soon went ahead with his decision to begin the Algemeiner Journal. In time , as the newspaper became known and its influence grew, a local Crown Heights rabbi suggested to him that a group of rabbis check over the weekly paper in advance to make sure the content was appropriate. “Did anyone ask the Rebbe about this?” Jacobson inquired.

The rabbi said: “We think this is what the Rebbe would want.” 

Jacobson went in to ask the Rebbe, telling him that some people wanted to set up a kind of rabbinic supervision bureau to determine what should and shouldn’t be put into the paper. 

The Rebbe smiled: “And what will you do if these rabbis decide that the newspaper should be closed down?” Jacobson said: “So what’s the Rebbe’s opinion?”

 The Rebbe lifted his hands in a way that was clearly dismissive of the other rabbi’s message to Jacobson. “What do rabbis have to do with a newspaper? A rabbi should pasken [rule] that a Jew should be learning Torah all day, and every second that’s free is bittul Torah [wasted time that should be spent studying Torah]. So how are rabbis going to issue a ruling regarding a newspaper when they should be telling a person not to read newspapers but to study Torah ? Newspapers are for people who don’t listen to rabbis or who don’t ask rabbis. And when you put into the paper a few words of Torah, you will be reaching such people.” 

To make certain he was clear about the Rebbe’s attitude toward the direction the Algemeiner Journal should take, Jacobson asked if the paper should establish a formal affiliation with Lubavitch.

 This, the Rebbe opposed: “A Lubavitch newspaper is a contradiction in terms. You have to look at everything in terms of its mission. The mission of Lubavitch is to help people access their Jewishness [Yiddishkeit]. The mission of a newspaper is to have more readers and be a successful media outlet. A newspaper has its goals and Lubavitch has its goals. As far as your editorial positions are concerned, that’s your decision.” 

These thoughts in particular were refreshing and liberating. Newspapers and magazines published under Orthodox auspices generally adhere to a very restricted editorial line, more or less identical with the beliefs of the publisher or the organization supporting the publication. However, because the Algemeiner Journal had no organizational affiliation, Jacobson could follow his instincts and keep the paper open to opinions with which he—and the Rebbe as well— disagreed. [...]

Gershon Jacobson felt bad and told the Rebbe that he wanted to apologize for publishing an article that caused so much aggravation (Shamir himself, after hearing the Rebbe’s reasoning for supporting such a fast, wrote a letter to him apologizing for the tone of his article).

The Rebbe assured Jacobson that he had done nothing for which he needed to apologize. “You have to do your job, I have to do my job. You’re a newspaper. You’re not supposed to be censoring opinions. What I’m saying is what I have to do.”

What’s most apparent from this episode was the open-mindedness of the Rebbe. He wasn’t trying to stop other people from expressing their views, but at the same time, if someone said something with which he didn’t agree, he felt he was as entitled as anyone else to say what he did think and why he disagreed. According to Simon Jacobson, Gershon’s son— the current publisher of the Algemeiner Journal and author of Toward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson—this incident helped shape his future thinking: “I learned from this episode that a person can totally disagree with another opinion without feeling that the other opinion has to be silenced. Confidence in your idea means that you don’t have to make other people wrong for you to be right. Unfortunately, there are many people, among them many religious people, who don’t have this attitude.” Jacobson noted his appreciation that he learned this strong belief in tolerance and the need for a free press from the Rebbe and that he learned it at an early age.


  1. I have a friend – a sefardi
    Talmid Chacham who learned in Litvishe Yeshivos who had a good laugh when the editorial staff
    of Yated Ne'eman was exposed and changed. For years people were telling him
    that one had to read Yated Ne'eman to know what Daas Torah is. Despite having a
    va'ad ha'rabanim monitoring the newspaper he had serious questions and
    reservations about what was being
    printed in that newspaper. A hechsher on a newspaper should not stop people
    from being critical thinkers

  2. Another perspective:

  3. Pardon
    me, but the assertion that this incident is proof of the Rebbe's hashkafic
    position is seriously lacking.

    1. It ignores a vital piece of history. There was a publication known as "Hakeriah VeHakedushah" which was -- to a greater or lesser degree -- under Chabad auspices and oversight. A well-known article there attacked classic limmud gemara, which generated a serious amount of opposition to Chabad [to understate the matter].

    Chabad denied any oversight of the publication, others doubted that denial. Ever since, Chabad has been trying to backpedal from that ever since, arguing that it wasn't Chabad, and the authors didn't understand Chabad thought.

    They certainly had no desire to again place themselves in such a

    2. The Rebbe was a brilliant strategist.

    The Algemeiner gave him a mouthpiece while providing him arms-length plausible deniability. For him to have a vaad Rabbonim to oversee the paper would stifle the paper's ability to promote his agendas.

    In the Rebbe's later battles with Rav Shach, the Algemeier
    was able to publish virulent ad hominem attacks while he could deny any
    connection to them.

    The paper could vociferously attack Israeli politicians who agreed to land
    concessions while they would still come to the Rebbe, who would warmly greet them.

  4. Regarding #1 above (hakeriah vehakedusha), check this out from R' shlomo heiman zt"l:

  5. In fairness, there is a letter from "The Rayatz" to the author of the article stating that it's incorrect.

    Whether the letter is legitimate or just an attempt damage control is the subject of much conjecture.

    I think any open-minded reader of R' YY Schneerson's "Memoirs" will find that his antipathy to the Yeshiva world and to non-Chassidic talmidei chachamim comes through loud and clear. And I've heard this from a choshuver Chassidish Rebbe who would not allow his family members to read it.

  6. Where is that letter?

    All I found was this:


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