The Times Versus The Orthodox
From a New York Times news article about a new demographic survey of Jews in New York:
Let us count the problems with these two sentences.
1. Basic subject-verb agreement. It should be "this finding...challenges" or "those findings...challenge," not, as the Times has it "Those findings...challenges."
2. Unclear placement of modifying phrases. "...relative to Orthodox groups, like the Hasidic population in Brooklyn, where college degrees are rare and poverty rates have reached 43 percent." Where is the Times claiming that college degrees are rare? Brooklyn? Orthodox groups? The Hasidic population in Brooklyn? I know from personal experience that college degrees are not rare either in Brooklyn or among Orthodox Jews, so the sentence is probably talking about the Hasidic population in Brooklyn, but it is such a badly worded sentence that any of those three interpretations, two of which are inaccurate, are possible.
3. Imposing a biased definition of "well educated." Some chasid in Brooklyn may be able to read and speak English, Yiddish, Aramaic, and Hebrew, and he may have spent years studying Talmud in a highly rigorous private school, while the Times's hypothetical liberal Upper West Side resident may not know Hebrew, Yiddish, or Aramaic and never have studied a page of Talmud. Yet by the Times's account, the Upper West Side resident is the one who is "well educated." This says more about the Times's own definition of well educated than about the Jews of New York.
4. The whole dichotomy — you are either an Ivy-League educated person, or an Orthodox Jew — is a false one. They aren't mutually exclusive. When I was a student at Harvard, for example, which is an Ivy League university, one of my professors was Isadore Twersky, who had a bachelor's and Ph.D. from Harvard and who was also a Hasidic rebbe, the leader of the Talner Hasidim. The other night at the cocktail hour at the Commentary dinner I ran into Meir Soloveichik, an associate rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue in New York, who told me he had recently finished up his Ph.D. in religion at Princeton University, another Ivy League institution.
Not since the infamous 1993 Washington Post article describing evangelical Christians as "largely poor, uneducated and easily led" has a major American newspaper so sweepingly mischaracterized an entire religious group.
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