Controversial Policy p. 14

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By: Si Liberman

Despite some negative feedback, executive editor of Connecticut Jewish weekly stands by his policy of refusing to publish interfaith wedding announcements.

THE EXECUTIVE EDITOR of Connecticut’s only Jewish weekly newspaper knew his policy of refusing to publish interfaith wedding and engagement announcements would ruffle some feathers, but he hardly anticipated the reaction that would follow.
In recent weeks, editor Jonathan S. Tobin and his paper’s controversial policy has been the subject of a New York Times cover page feature, inspired an essay on Judaism by Times syndicated columnist William Safire, figured in reports by CNN, local TV stations and other newspapers across the country, and brought more than 100 letters to the editor.
The 39-year-old editor of the Connecticut Jewish Ledger touched a raw nerve when he reiterated the Ledger’s position in an editorial headlined, “Is an intermarriage a Jewish simcha?” (Simcha is a Hebrew word meaning joyous occasion.)
The editorial concludes that intermarriage is not a simcha for the Jewish community because it threatens to diminish the number of those who practice the religion and support its institutions.
Only two of seven editors and publishers of Jewish weekly newspapers in the U.S., who responded to a random survey, said they agree with Tobin and also reject publishing interfaith engagement and wedding notices.
“We have no plans to change the policy,” said Tobin, who is a Conservative Jew and is married to a Jew. He joined the Ledger three years ago.
“It’s a very emotional issue ? one that has taken off,” Tobin said. “We got 30 or 40 calls and many pro and con letters from readers right after the editorial. We filled the op-ed pages with them in two consecutive issues.
“There were maybe a dozen subscription cancellations, and one or two small advertisers pulled out. But we also received a letter from someone who said he would advertise with us because he agreed with us.”
Since the mid-July Times story and subsequent publicity, Tobin received 75 more letters, including a death threat. Earlier, another writer said he hoped Tobin’s skin would fall off from leprosy.
Overall, though, Tobin maintains, the most recent letters to the editor have been running 4-to-1 in favor of the policy “with some prominent endorsements by heads of the Conservative and Orthodox movements in the U.S.”
The Ledger, headquartered in West Hartford, is independently-owned with a circulation of 30,000 via zoned editions in Hartford, New Haven, Stamford and Fairfield County.
“One point I’d like to emphasize,” Tobin said, “is that the announcements in question are not paid ads and they are in many Jewish weeklies. Our position is that announcements which flaunt the non-Jewish nature of the event are not appropriate in a Jewish newspaper. It is not done to ostracize anyone from the community. On the contrary, we welcome everyone, including intermarries, into the community and the pages of our newspaper.
“What we are not prepared to do is to say that intermarriages are events that the community as a whole, as opposed to individuals involved, ought to celebrate. We believe that a newspaper has a responsibility to make a statement about the Jewish future ? that is we want there to be one.”
Tobin has a supporter in Bertram Korn Jr., executive editor of the Jewish Exponent. “Our policy is exactly the same as the Ledger’s,” said Korn, whose Philadelphia weekly has a circulation of 65,000. “The difference is that they editorialized about it.”
Rabbi Sholom Klass, publisher of the Jewish Press in Brooklyn, says he also turns away interfaith wedding and engagement announcements.
“Hitler tried to destroy the Jewish religion by murdering our people,” Klass said. “Intermarriage does basically the same thing because it destroys its soul.”
The Press’ circulation is 92,000.
Rabbi Bruce Warshal, publisher of the Jewish Journal in South Florida, the largest circulating weekly Jewish newspaper in the U.S., said the Journal routinely prints intermarriage notices.
“However, if we see that the couple was married by a priest or in a Catholic church, we may take another look at it,” he explained. “But our job really is not to be a judge but to simply print the news and be a binding force, bringing the community together. As for a simcha, that’s for those who are directly involved to say ? not us,” Warshal continued. “You know what they say: ‘If you put three rabbis in the same room, you’re going to get four opinions.’ “
Warshal’s Journal circulation is 147,000.
The 100,000-circulation Jewish Advocate/Boston Jewish Times runs all wedding announcements, according to managing editor Frank Scott.
“Neither the staff nor I have the inclination or resources to check on the religion of persons named in wedding announcements,” Scott said. “It is our opinion that the Connecticut Ledger has the right to set any policy it wants regarding what appears in that publication, and the policies of the Connecticut Ledger are none of the Advocate’s business. And vice-versa.”
“We don’t ask questions,” said Gene Lichtenstein, editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. The Journal’s circulation is 60,000.
The Jewish Bulletin in San Francisco, circulation 27,000, also prints interfaith announcements.
“We must be inclusive,” said Marc S. Klein, its editor and publisher.
Managing editor Judith Franklin of the Ohio Jewish Chronicle, put it this way:
“In our opinion, as long as one of the partners is a member of the Jewish community, the announcements are suitable news for our readers. Whatever our personal views on intermarriage, we feel that we have no right to impose them on the community, and that as journalists, it is our duty to remain impartial and report all news which relates to the community.”
The Chronicle has a circulation of 3,000 in the Columbus area.
?( LIberman is the retired editor of the Asbury Park (N.J.) Sunday Press) [Caption]
?(“There were maybe a dozen subscription cancellations, and one or two small advertisers pulled out. But we also received a letter from someone who said he would advertise with us because he agreed with us.”) [Caption]
?(Jonathan S. Tobin, executive editor, Connecticut Jewish Ledger) [Photo]

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