Two back-to-back editorials, one in the New York Post on September 29; the other, two days later in the New York NY Daily News, prompted Agudath Israel to write letters to their respective editors in praise of their positions.
“We Charedim strongly believe that our stances are just and fair, but it is unusual for members of the media, let alone editorial boards, to come out solidly in support of our positions. So we felt that they deserved commendations,” said Rabbi Rabbi Avi Shafran, the organization’s director of public affairs. “It was also remarkable,” he added, “that these editorials appeared in tandem, and addressed two separate issues.”
The New York Post editorial bemoaned the fact that, “New York has a budget of $70 billion a year, twice what it was when Mayor Bloomberg entered office, and some of the highest taxes in the nation. We’ve got big decisions to make on outstanding contracts with public unions. And on issues from school reform to violent crime, we stand a real chance of going backward… So what are our two main candidates for mayor talking about? Jewish circumcision.”
Criticizing Mr. Bloomberg’s “aggressive nannyism”, the editorial challenged the Board of Health’s requirement that parents sign consent forms before a mohel can perform metzitza bipeh. The paper’s editors pointed to other health risks to children in the city, citing as an example that “in 2012, 10 children were killed while riding bicycles.”
“Are we,” the editorial asked, “going to demand consent forms for that, too?”
In his letter, Rabbi Shafran noted that the editorial “exhibited the sort of common sense we witness all too infrequently these days. Mayor Bloomberg and the city Health Department’s crusade to regulate the religious rite of circumcision, for the first time in America, indeed smacks of nannyism and represents an infringement on both religious and free speech rights.”
“As you note, the city is not ready, thankfully, to make parents sign consent forms before allowing their children to ride their bikes,” the letter concludes. “Nor does it require parents to consent to their children playing football, or to any of a number of activities whose risk of injury or worse is far greater than any risks associated with ritual circumcision. Why is the city picking on a hallowed religious practice?”
The October 1 New York Daily news editorial addressed the right of Orthodox Jewish shopkeepers to post dress codes for customers patronizing their stores.
“The city’s Human Rights Commission has overreached badly in reading discriminatory intent into the straightforward language of signs that lay out a dress code for a few stores”, the editorial asserted. “There’s simply nothing untoward about the Lee Avenue stores’ standard” it continued, recommending that the city simply “Back off”.
In his letter to the editor of that periodical, Rabbi Shafran reiterated that the City’s Human Rights Commission’s was overreaching on the issue of some Williamsburg shops’ customer dress codes, and that the editorial was entirely on-target.
“Those stores were simply requesting that their customers observe a modicum of modesty in dress. What that has to do with discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, age, gender, disability, etc. is indeed perplexing,” wrote the Agudath Israel representative, adding that “Surely there are actual instances of unlawful discrimination in the city to occupy the Commission’s time. It should focus its energies on those cases.”
Asked if the sequence of positive articles might portend a change in the way the New York media treats the growing Orthodox community, Rabbi Shafran noted, “Two editorials do not in themselves a sea change make, but we certainly can hope that they are an indication that some media are willing to look at our community and its concerns with empathy and intelligence.”