Agudath Israel, ADL push back on NY Times’ assault on yeshivas

The Times tells JNS it is “confident in the accuracy” of its reporting, but not confident enough to answer any questions.

The headquarters of “The New York Times.” Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The headquarters of “The New York Times.” Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past week, multiple organizations have called out The New York Times for its continuing hyperfocus on New York State yeshivas

The paper, meanwhile, is refusing to discuss its reporting on the issue.

The Anti-Defamation League has published a statement of concern, following up on CEO Jonathan Greenblatt’s September criticism of the Times’s series.

On Wednesday, the ADL said “that concern has only heightened as similar articles appeared” since Greenblatt’s remarks on the topic at the White House United We Stand Summit.

“Given that hate crimes and hate incidents against Jews—particularly Orthodox Jews who are more visibly identifiable—have risen greatly over the past few years…such stereotyping can add fuel to the fire,” the ADL warned last week. “We ask that The New York Times take this into account in their investigative reporting and that the readers of these articles refrain from generalizing about these communities.”

The ADL pointed to Agudath Israel of America’s KnowUs initiative, which has sought to counter and correct misreporting and skewed perspectives from the Times’s series.

On Friday, Agudah published its own statement following another article from the Times critical of yeshivas. Agudah termed an article reporting on the indictment of five individuals within the yeshiva system for daycare fraud as “gleeful” and with a “self-congratulatory tone.”

“It goes without saying that if the allegations are true, fraud is always and unequivocally wrong,” the statement read. “The larger problem here is that the Times chooses to weaponize the indictments of these individuals to justify its many allegations made about the larger Orthodox Jewish community.”

Agudah criticized the Times for “Extrapolating the act of an individual to smear his entire ethnic or religious group,” which it said would be protested if directed at any other minority community.

JNS recently sought to speak with Brian Rosenthal, one of the authors of the Times’s yeshiva series. He declined, directing JNS to a corporate communications staff member, who then sent JNS to the newsroom’s director of external communications and finally on to Nicole Taylor, listed as the paper’s director of external communications.

Taylor claimed the Times had no one available to interview about the yeshiva series, but issued a statement saying that “our reporters have spent months seeking to help readers understand what is happening inside some of New York’s lowest-performing schools, speaking to hundreds of parents, students and educators to explain the inner workings of Hasidic Jewish religious schools, which receive substantial amounts of public money.

“Interviews with more than 50 people currently in the community showed a failure to provide the basic education that is required by state law, leaving students unable to navigate the outside world. Shortly after our initial article was published, the operators of the largest private Hasidic school in New York State admitted to diverting millions of dollars from government programs in a widespread fraud scheme. We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting.”

Taylor was referring to an October settlement by Brooklyn’s Central United Talmudical Academy, in which it agreed to pay $8 million after admitting to widespread fraud. However, the school had been working with the government for three years to implement an agreement, during which time it replaced its executive management team and developed a new set of controls, among other changes, according to authorities. 

Taylor’s inference that the Times’s reporting on yeshivas led to the settlement is misleading.

JNS followed up with Taylor, asking about the newsroom’s thought process for developing such a lengthy series on a narrow topic; what the newsroom’s mission is in reporting so extensively on the issue; why it devoted a front-page article on divorced Hasidic parents’ educational choices for their children, considering divorced parents of any background often disagree on the topic; whether the Times, in publicly requesting information from the public on yeshivas, intends to print any positive information that comes about; why the paper omitted printing test scores showing outstanding academic achievement in the yeshiva system while focusing on lower scores using the same data set; and whether the Times takes into account the well-documented rising attacks on visible, identifiable Jews in New York City and elsewhere around the state when filing its reports.

Neither Taylor nor another staff member copied on JNS’s communications with her replied to multiple follow-up inquiries.

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