The Agudah thanks the tabloids

Agudath Israel of America, the haredi umbrella organization, often has its grievances regarding how its constituency is depicted in the press. That’s why it was so tickled by a pair of editorials in New York City’s two main tabloids.

First, the New York Post blasted the city health department’s demand that parents sign consent forms before their newborns undergo a controversial circumcision ritual commonly practiced among haredi Jews — a city policy vehemently opposed by the Agudah and other haredi groups. The Post complained that despite the many pressing issues facing New York City, mayoral candidates are stuck talking about circumcision:

Thank Mike Bloomberg’s aggressive nannyism for this absurdity. His Department of Health is going after a particular circumcision practice favored by some Orthodox groups. The practice involves the mohel using his mouth to remove blood from the infant’s circumcision wound. The Health Department says it can cause herpes, and it wants to impose consent forms.

We don’t deny there are health risks to children in this city. In 2012, 10 children were killed while riding bicycles. Are we going to demand consent forms for that, too?

The next day, the rival Daily News also weighed in on the side of haredim at odds with the city, this time regarding city action against some hasidic businesses that posted signs requesting what the stores deem to be appropriate attire. It editorialized:

The city’s Human Rights Commission has overreached badly in reading discriminatory intent into the straightforward language of signs that lay out a dress code for a few stores in one shopping strip in Brooklyn.


The signs, since removed, on seven storefronts on Lee Ave., the main shopping stretch of the Satmar Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg, stated — in English and Spanish — that shoes, shirts and long sleeves are required, and shorts and low-cut necklines are not allowed. That’s it.

Not that the Daily News always agrees with the positions taken by the Agudah and other haredi leaders (or, for that matter, the New York Post), as the editorial made clear:

In other matters — including refusals to cooperate with law enforcement and opposing a sensible effort to regulate a controversial circumcision practice — some ultra-Orthodox Jews have seriously tested the church-state divide.

But here, it’s the secular state that’s overstepping its bounds. Back off.

Irrespective of other disagreements, the Agudah expressed gratitude for the two papers’ editorials. “We Charedim strongly believe that our stances are just and fair, but it is unusual for members of the media, let alone editorial boards, to come out solidly in support of our positions. So we felt that they deserved commendations,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, the Agudah’s director of public affairs, said in a statement. The statement noted that the Agudah sent letters to the two papers’ editors praising their stances.

Daniel Treiman is a contributing writer to JTA.