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Torah Sparks

July 13, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 1:1-3:22; Hertz, p. 736; Etz Hayim, p. 981
Triennial Cycle I: Deut 1:1-2:1; Hertz, p. 736; Etz Hayim, p. 981
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27; Hertz, p. 750; Etz Hayim, p. 999

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(1:1-8) A short introduction to Moses' words of warning spoken in various places during his last days. He reviews some of the important events of the desert wanderings, beginning with the departure from Mt. Sinai.

(1:9-18) The appointment of judges and officers that helped Moses in administering the Israelite camp.

(1:19-2:1) The incident of the spies that resulted in the extension of the wilderness wanderings to forty years.

(2:2-30) The stages of the Israelites' journeys through the territory of the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, with additional details about the inhabitants of those lands.

(2:31-3:11) Review of the history of the desert wanderings, describing the victorious encounters with Sichon, king of Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, with the emphasis on God's part in these decisive battles.

(3:12-22) The division of the land east of the Jordan among Reuben, Gad, and half of Menashe, who are reminded of their promise to send their warriors on with the rest of Israel to take part in the conquest of Canaan.

This Shabbat's Theme: "All the News That's Fit to Print"

These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel... (Deuteronomy 1:1)

The words that a person speaks or writes, according to our tradition, are to be given and taken seriously. In other words, (pardon the pun), verbal communication between humans is a God-given gift, that is not bestowed upon any other creature. Accordingly, we believe that communication is a blessing to be treasured by us and not to be devalued by using it to create untruths.

And yet, we know that the standard of truth which is held aloft so consistently in the final communications of Moses is often dropped, particularly, by those whose special responsibility it is to communicate the truth to others. (Author). In this regard, we offer the following quotations for your consideration.

  1. How many pens were broken, how many ink bottles were consumed, to write about things that have never happened! (Tanhuma, Shoftim, 18. quoted by L. Browne, Wisdom of Israel, p. 295)
  2. "If I had the authority I would institute a law that all public liars, newspaper men, that is, who handle truth carelessly, should be treated as common thieves, and the publishers of their fabrications as dealers in stolen goods (Ashmedai, journalist, "If I Were Censor," American Jewish Chronicle, May 11, 1917)
  3. I had long known that it was impossible for a journalist to convey a hundred percent of truth, but I didn't realize to what extent the truth is distorted, both by the intentions of the journalist and neglect. I don't mean just the interpretations of what happened; I also mean the facts. The reporting about Sharon and the murders were virtually criminal... The victims were assassinated two times: once by the murderers, the second time by the press. (Roman Polanski, interview with Larry Dubois in Playboy, December 1971)
  4. Jews are news. It is an axiom of journalism. An indispensable axiom, too, because it is otherwise impossible to explain why the deeds and misdeeds of dot-on-the-map Israel get an absurdly disproportionate amount of news coverage around the world. (Charles Krauthammer, columnist, "Judging Israel," Time, February 26, 1990)
  5. Half the battle for the future of the Middle East will be won on the day when news about this part of the world will be relegated from page 1 to page 16 in The New York Times and other leading newspapers. (Walter Z. Laqueur, "Is Peace in the Middle East Possible?" The New York Times Magazine, August 27, 1967)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

For some time now, there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the media over its news coverage of the Middle East. Many discerning people view what is called "balanced coverage" of the events in the Middle East as a farce. The dismay over the unbalanced reporting in the printed media (particularly in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) has given rise to organized protest in the Jewish community. Here is what was said in an advertisement by one group which has been protesting what it considers to be unbalanced and unfair reporting in The New York Times:

Our critique of The Times is not its editorial viewpoint, which every newspaper is entitled to have. Our critique of The Times is a lack of balance and fairness in its news stories, headlines and choice of photographs dealing with Israel, in violation of The Times' own policies.

A few examples:

  1. A large photo on the front page after the Israel Solidarity March on May 5th that featured an "End Israeli Occupation of Palestine" sign distorting what really happened (This egregious mistake in judgment occasioned an editors note on the following day)
  2. An article describing the death of two girls, a 17-year old Israeli and an 18 year old Palestinian as two high school seniors whose lives intersected, divided by war but joined in carnage... It put a homicide bomber on the same level as an innocent girl shopping for the Sabbath... This is moral relativism at its worse.
  3. The 39 day standoff in the church of the Nativity was continually referred to as an Israeli "siege", not an occupation by armed Palestinian terrorists... who were turned into victims taking "refuge" in the church.
  4. In articles describing the terrible attacks against the World Trade Center or the USS Cole, the term "terror" was freely used, But in describing the terrible attacks of Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade, the perpetrators were described as militants or activists. (There is no such thing as" bad terror" and "good terror")

More incredible examples of "the shading of events" could be cited. Do a few more come to mind to you?

But what do you think about the response to such unfair, unbalanced reporting? The suggestion has been made and indeed already followed that 1) subscriptions to offending newspapers be canceled or suspended 2) Obituary notices from organizations be withheld and possibly be placed in other newspapers 3) Communicate errors and distortions to the offending papers 4) Convey to corporate advertisers strong disapproval of unbalanced coverage in offending papers and ask that ads be diminished or suspended until change occurs.

Do you agree with this strategy? What would you suggest?

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