Wnet Responds to Orthodox Jewish Objections to ‘heritage’ Series

The executive producer of “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,” the heavily-promoted nine-segment series being telecast on the more than 270 stations of the Public Broad casting Service, said today that WNET, distributor of the series, regretted “that some representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community have felt it necessary to question the thrust and the context” of the series. The fourth segment will be telecast Monday.

Arnold Labaton declared the charge of five Orthodox agencies “allege an interpretation of the Torah that is not made in the series. The program never asserts that the Torah was a man-authored work incorporating myth and legend.”

That was one of the complaints made in a joint statement on October 5 by Agudath Israel of America, National Council of Young Israel, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Rabbinical Council of America and the Religious Zionists of America. The first segment was shown October I.

A spokesman for Agudath Israel, which coordinated preparation and distribution of the criticism, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that the statement had been sent to WNET, the major PBS station in the area. On repeated calls, station spokesmen insisted the statement had never been received. A spokesperson said Labaton’s rebuttal had been made on the basis of telephone calls and ## report ## WNET on the Orthodox critique.

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements told the JTA that on the whole, they approved of the first three segments. Rabbi Alexander Shapiro, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, said, however, he regretted “the insensitivity in the program to the feelings of traditionalist Jews, who affirm a different set of values.”

Labaton said “our aims” in producing the series “has been to present Jewish history in the light of modern scholarship, to seek a fresh understanding drawn from research and discoveries in fields such as archaeology and anthropology while remaining respectual of Jewish traditions. We have attempted to produce a fair and scholarly study of this great people.” Labaton also rejected the charge by the Orthodox groups that the producers had enlisted “the counsel of only that segment of Jews whose philosophies undermine the foundations of authentic Judaism.

Labaton responded that “we solicited the advice of respected scholars representing various forms of Jewish belief and practice, as well as scholars outside the Jewish community.” He added “we are confident that we have produced a history consistent with the vast majority of modern scholarship.”

“We have tried to hold true to our purpose of a scholarly series while respecting the beliefs of various sectors of the larger community for whom our programs are intended,” Labaton declared. “We have sought a fair, intelligent and informed middle ground, and we hope that the great majority of our audience will feel that we have succeeded.”

Abba Eban, former Foreign Minister of Israel, who helped produce the series, is narrator for the program.

NEXT STORY