An Encouraging Media Story
by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Am Echad Resources
June 11, 2001
Where credit is due, it should always be offered.
Even if it’s due the press.
Even the Israeli press.
Ha’aaretz, as observers of the Israeli media know, is one of Israel’s most respected daily newspapers, self described as "broadly liberal" regarding both cultural and political issues. Its editorial slant often evidences something less than full appreciation for religious people, especially religious Jews.
And so it was hardly surprising to read the paper’s report shortly after the recent Palestinian terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv nightspot in which 20 young people were murdered, of a related scandal regarding an Orthodox-operated government agency.
The group in question was the local Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) which, the paper reported, refused to arrange for the interment of three of the attack victims because they had not been born to Jewish mothers or converted to Judaism and hence were not Jewish according to Jewish religious law, or halacha.
The article, which appeared on Sunday, June 7, quoted several national figures who responded to the reported outrage. Reform Rabbinical Council Secretary Rabbi Yehoram Mazor called the Chevra Kadisha’s alleged stance "profane." Labor MK Sofa Landver said it was "inconceivable that these children are good enough to be killed in suicide bombing attacks, yet cannot be give a proper burial." Shinui party chairman MK Yosef ("Tommy") Lapid, who was elected to his Knesset seat on an openly anti-Orthodox platform, opined that Islamic Jihad and the Chevra Kadisha were effectively working in tandem. The former "strikes at the living," the latter "at the dead."
Posted on Ha’aretz’s internet edition later that day, however, was a follow-up article, by veteran reporter Shachar Ilan, which explained that, as it turned out, the original report had been based entirely on the speculation of several social workers to MK Landver. No one, it had become clear, had at any point ever spoken to the Chevra Kadisha authorities. Indeed they couldn’t have, as the attack took place on Friday evening and the Chevra’s offices are closed on the Jewish Sabbath. (While any possible endangerment of life, according to halacha, mandates the violation of the Sabbath, burial issues do not.)
And when those authorities were actually reached, after the Sabbath’s end, they immediately went into action, arranging burials for the victims, all of them. (Non-Jewish relatives of Jews are buried, if survivors wish, in plots immediately adjacent to Jewish cemeteries, with rows of shrubs satisfying the halachic concerns – or, if the kin prefer, in nondenominational cemeteries.)
MK Lapid was not happy with the new, accurate report, and sought to portray the retraction of the original "story" as a retraction on the part of the Chevra Kadisha. "Under the pressure of public rage," he asserted in a press release, "the Chevra Kadisha has now given in."
No response from Reform leaders has been reported at this writing.
But one thing is clear: Ha’aretz clearly admitted that it had published a false report reflecting poorly on Orthodox Jews.
And for that correction, credit is due – and, from this corner, enthusiastically extended.
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