By: Michael Shavolian  | 

A Response to The Commentator’s News Coverage of Rav Schachter’s Remarks

Doron Levine’s recent article entitled “Rabbi Hershel Schachter: Inviting Rabbi Aryeh Klapper to Speak at YU is ‘like inviting a Reform rabbi’” deserves a sensitive and balanced critique. Allow me to preface my remarks with the following admission, which I feel is necessary in a time when visceral reactions are more common than calculated responses. (A scroll through Facebook makes this rather evident.)

The comments herein are only my personal opinions, arrived at after careful but by no means comprehensive consideration. Any critique that follows takes for granted that Doron did not harbor any malicious intent and that his report was truthful to the information in his possession. His record as an editor and writer for The Commentator serves only to highlight his sterling reputation and service to the student community. For that, I thank him.

Allow me to begin. The Commentator has no fealty to investors or shareholders. Its value as as a student-run newspaper lies in its mission to not only break news, but to facilitate productive conversation surrounding important issues. Hence, the decision to frame a piece of news with commentary is an important one. Doron’s article was a piece of news that, if it indeed warranted publication, equally warranted commentary. By failing to take the time to make an additional inquiry or supply background information, it seems that The Commentator sacrificed comprehensiveness for the sake of a quick press release.

Following the publication of Doron’s article one Facebook user (a rare breed, indeed) commented, “[The article is] very unfair to [Rabbi Klapper] individually and professionally…it is also obvious to me that many people are going to read this and think less of Rav Schachter, so literally everyone loses.” Indeed, while I do commend Doron for including a paragraph about Rabbi Klapper’s credentials, I believe he could have done well by briefly paraphrasing the mission statement of Rabbi Klapper’s Center for Modern Torah Leadership (CMTL). Such information may have provided readers totally unfamiliar with Rabbi Klapper with the opportunity to form their own opinions about him (if they so wished). Furthermore, while Doron included a comment from a supporter of Rav Schachter—though inclusion of the comment was warranted in its own right, since the student removing the flyers was arguably a part of the story’s development—he failed to include a rejoinder in support of Rabbi Klapper from an alumni of the CMTL’s summer beit midrash. Such an editorial decision would have provided due counterbalance to the actions of the “junior in Rabbi Rosensweig’s shiur”’ and to the false perception that only one side has supporters among the student body.

Likewise, Doron failed to frame Rav Schachter’s purported actions and remarks in the context of his principled insistence on a tradition of psak. There is no doubt that the naysayers may have denounced such an inclusion as apologetic, but it would have informed readers that Rav Schachter sees himself as standing up for something quite important, even if they may not agree with that something.

While The Commentator’s follow up article did well in clarifying matters—it confirmed some hunches and debunked others—it is clear that Rav Schachter’s first thoughts rather than his subsequent full thoughts took the cake. The Commentator’s first piece covering this incident garnered almost 1,500 Facebook likes, while the follow-up piece garnered a little more than 400. Would it be safe to assume that few paid much attention to the follow up article? Approaching Rav Schachter the first time around and asking him to confirm, clarify or justify his remarks would have been the best thing to do. It would have been the “journalistic” thing to do.

The final, albeit minor, issue that I have with Doron’s article is its sensationalist title. “Rabbi Hershel Schachter: Inviting Rabbi Aryeh Klapper to Speak at YU is ‘like inviting a Reform rabbi’,” seems like a ploy to grab attention (even if not intentional). Perhaps a more appropriate title would have been “Perceived Rift at YU Highlighted with Opposition to Campus Speaker by Senior Rosh Yeshiva.”

One last thought. Unfortunately, much of The Commentator’s online readership gleans their uninformed opinions about the state of modern orthodoxy at Yeshiva University from anecdotes and Facebook posts, not from speaking with YU’s dedicated faculty or passionate students, not from observations of a booming beit midrash and not from living and breathing YU. And no matter how thorough Doron would have been, YU’s detractors, the pessimists, the I’m glad I didn’t go to YU commenters, the modern orthodoxy is dying at YU moaners, would have found something to shout about and nothing to reflect on. The fact of the matter is that delivery of even the best reporting won’t ensure receipt of the accurate information therein. This is partly because oftentimes what is left out is just as important as what is put in and partly because when some readers don’t detect bias, they invent their own.

All in all, I commend The Commentator for doing a much better job in maintaining journalistic impartiality than other Jewish publications that report every sneeze and cough heard at YU. I hope that the YU student body continues to discuss pressing issues with a sense of respect and humility, with a reluctance to draw conclusions when unnecessary, and with tremendous hope for YU’s continued success as the living, breathing, alive and kicking flagship of modern orthodoxy.