Israel, Religion, Sex & Gender, Uncategorized

Rabbi Pruzansky and the Jewish Media's Failure

Of late, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has been roundly and justly criticized by the Jewish media. Within the last few weeks, the rabbi of the 800-member-family Teaneck, NJ, Bnai Jeshurun Orthodox synagogue has been written about in prominent Jewish newspapers; first, he stepped down from heading a Beit Din for conversions in protest of the Rabbinical Council of America’s reevaluation of its conversion standards. In a post on his blog where he announced the resignation, he claimed that if new standards for oversight were to be established by the RCA’s new mixed-gender committee, he had “no interest in living as a suspect,” and lamented that “we are living in a toxic environment for rabbis…The distrust is embarrassing and unbecoming.” This change from the RCA was in response to the Rabbi Barry Freundel mikvah voyeurism scandal; Pruzansky’s deliberate and offensive blindness to the circumstances that allowed Freundel to act as he did and the appropriateness and necessity of the RCA’s response were reported on by the New York Jewish Week, and not favorably.
This could have been the end of the rabbi/blogger’s interaction with that newspaper, had he not been angered by their coverage. Taking to his blog again, he compared the paper to Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer, a move which garnered a scorching response in the Jewish Week’s editorial pages.
The latest attention Rabbi Pruzansky has garnered has, again, been the result of a blog post. Writing on Friday, in a post that has since been deleted but has been reported on by JTA (and picked up by the Jewish Daily Forward), he compared Palestinians to animals, advocated the destruction of villages where a single terrorist could be found, supported the shooting of rioters with live ammunition, and made further appalling statements, which can be read at the Forward’s site. Another JTA reporter also covered the post, and made no secret of his low opinion of Pruzansky’s racist and horrifying views.
The media attention to Rabbi Pruzansky’s sexist and racist writings is appropriate given his high profile as a congregational rabbi. However, these latest posts are hardly out-of-character. He has been spewing vitriol online for years; in the past six months, he has used the word “savages” to refer to the Palestinian population (yes, his clarification post on his more recent racism claims that he uses this word to refer only to terrorists; context suggests that this is false) and suggested that Israel throw out its self-definition as a moral state in order to properly deal with Hamas terrorism and claimed that there is no such thing as a true civilian in Gaza and Israel should disregard civilian life in their air raids in order to defeat terror. Neither of these posts garnered significant attention; it would appear that Rabbi Pruzansky’s recent tiff with the media over conversion has exposed his racist invective to wider attention.
While it is disturbing that such appalling sentiments could be expressed by such a high-profile Jewish figure without attention, I find it reasonable that the rabbi’s rantings had not been the subject of media notice, given that they were not, strictly speaking, news. However, I am deeply troubled by the total lack of comment by any Jewish media outlet on an appalling post on Rabbi Pruzansky’s site, published in late June of this year. This post, which I have commented on previously, lambasts a two-year-old piece written by a then fifteen-year-old Eden Farber, published on the Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens site. Farber’s post expresses her discomfort with the sexism she was experiencing in her Modern Orthodox synagogue.
In his response to the piece — which, it would seem, he had dug through the archives of a TEEN writing site to find — Pruzansky viciously attacks Farber and other young women like her, who experience and express discomfort in Orthodox settings as women. (Disclosure: Eden is a friend of mine, and I perfectly fit the paradigm of the young women he criticizes here.) I will not quote from the piece here, frankly because it makes me want to cry. What I wish to address is the failure, here, of the Jewish media to act as a watchdog on powerful Jewish figures; where was the Jewish Week’s ire when the rabbi of a huge congregation published a cruel and personal attack on a teenage girl?
Media critique of and attention to powerful figures is necessary not only at times when the statements of those figures fits neatly into the news cycle. At the moment, conversion/mikvah and Israel are hot topics; when Rabbi Pruzansky was spewing his hate at a less newsworthy target, however, there was silence. For the Jewish media to effectively and honestly work to serve as a check to the power of communal figures, attention to their statements and actions must be ongoing, and such obviously problematic  actions as online attacks on two-year-old personal statements by teenage girls must be publicized.
“Prominent Teaneck Rabbi Attacks Fifteen-Year-Old-Girl in Print.” How’s that for a headline?

One thought on “Rabbi Pruzansky and the Jewish Media's Failure

  1. I am, to say the least, not a fan of Rabbi Pruzansky, while I’m strongly sympathetic to what your friend wrote.
    That said, I don’t see how you can simultaneously assert that her voice belongs in an important conversation and yet that it’s inappropriate to critique that voice because she’s 15. Don’t get me wrong, it was a harsh and tasteless attack. But I don’t see how you can say that it’s inappropriate to attack the piece because it was written by a 15-year-old without inherently saying it’s less valuable to listen to.

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