Focus on Issues: Intermarriage Announcements in Jewish Papers Spark Debate

When the Connecticut Jewish Ledger recently publicized its policy of refusing to run the wedding announcements of interfaith marriages, it promoted such controversy that dozens of readers weighted in one the issue, 40 vented their feelings at a temple forum in Bridgeport, and The New York Times picked up on the dispute.

The Ledger is one of the very few Jewish newspapers in the United States that has a concrete policy against printing announcements of weddings that it knows are interfaith. However, many edit out any overt reference to another religion when running such announcements.

The controversy in Connecticut, which began with an editorial published in February, has illuminated the delicacy of covering intermarriage in the Jewish community.

The ledger got a strong response to its policy. And since the Times ran its story in mid-July, and Times columnist William Safire wrote a related piece a few days later, the Connecticut Jewish Ledger has received a tremendous amount of mail about its policy, said its editor, Jonathan Tobin.

Nearly all of its has been positive, he said, with 51 letters applauding his position. Eight of the letters opposed the policy, two were neutral, and three he described as “hate mail, including one death threat,” which come from an anonymous source in Brooklyn.

The key question about publishing notices of interfaith unions, said Tobin, is: “Is an intermarriage a Jewish simcha?”

“My answer is no, it’s not,” he said is an interview.

“It can be a personal one for the individual family, but there’s a difference between what an individual can do and what the community can celebrate,” he said.

However, an informal survey of Jewish newspaper editors across the United States revealed that Tobin is nearly alone in his policy.

Most of the editors said their policy is “don’t ask/don’t tell.” They said they feel obliged, as journalists, to reflect the reality of the Jewish community and not to make judgments by ignoring announcements of intermarriages.

“When a newspaper starts dictating how people should live, it’s an abomination journalistically,” said Marc Klein, editor of the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, which is published in San Francisco.

“In the Climate we live in today, where we’ve intermingled and assimilated with the rest of society, there’s nothing a newspaper can do to change the field of intermarriage,” said Klein. “That comes form the home and how a family raises its children.

“What Tobin is doing is excommunicating Jews and non-Jews alike,” said Klein. “He’s saying. `We will not give you a hechsher (kosher certification) in our community even if you raise your kids Jewish.’ It’s ridiculous.

“Let the rabbis make the rules and let the newspaper cover the rabbis,” said Klein, who also said that about half his staff is intermarried.

Marshall Hoffman, managing editor of the American Jewish World, in Minneapolis, Minn., agreed: “The paper should reflect what’s going on in the community and not try to whitewash what’s going on.

“It’s not promoting anything, just putting it out in front of their faces,” Hoffman said, “This is the way it is. We don’t put any judgment on it.”

And on a pragmatic level, in a day and age where there is at least one non-Jew named Gladys Cohen and there are Jews named Seamus McGraw and Winston Pickett, editors say that it’s nearly impossible to screen submitted wedding announcements for non-Jews.

“Do you call up every family and ask if it’s a convert?” asked Hoffman. “It’s also the kind of thing that wouldn’t win you any fans from your readership.”

In Georgia, the Atlanta Jewish Times has received letters form readers “saying we’re damaging the future of the Jewish people” by running interfaith marriage announcements, said editor Neil Rubin.

“It’s the same issue we face with taking advertising from treif (non-kosher) restaurants,” he said. “I don’t think that to run them is to endorse the practice.”

At least one Jewish newspaper editor, however, disagrees. Hillel Goldberg, an Orthodox rabbi, is executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News, based in Denver, Colorado, a city with one of the highest measured intermarriage rates in America.

The Denver paper “will not knowingly print a notice of an intermarriage just as we won’t print something about a gay synagogue,” said Goldberg.

“We’re here to promote the welfare of the Jewish people and Jewish community,” he said, adding that a newspaper is perhaps the “major sanction in a community.”

“When the sanction breaks down, the intermarriage rates goes up, and the same thing goes for homosexuality or anything else,” said Goldberg. “We’re very conscious of our role as being a public sanction.”

In some communities, the response to articles on interfaith related topics can be even stronger. About two years ago, the Baltimore Jewish Times ran a story on rabbis and cantors who perform interfaith ceremonies with clergy of other faiths, said Michael Davis, the paper’s editor. “I got my head handed to me on a platter by the community,” said Davis.

And when the Arizona Jewish Post ran an article last year about Jews who marry Jews, the paper got phone calls and letters from outraged readers, mostly the parents of children who had married non-Jews.

Though the story was all about in-marriage, not intermarriage, the angry readers felt that it implicitly condemned intermarriage. Some cancelled their subscriptions to the Tucson-based weekly as a result.

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