June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Last week, this newspaper published a letter to the editor which, in part, complained about the length of the recent Chanukah edition: “I think The Jewish Link is way too big. This week’s edition (December 10) was 152 pages! I read books shorter than that. Furthermore, I think there are not enough substantive editorials, op-eds and the like, and too many ads for chicken cutlets.”

Let’s break this complaint down, shall we?

Complaining that a newspaper is too long is both unusual and fascinating. One would think that readers can never have too much of The Jewish Link just like they cannot have too much money, vacation or mazal.

It is unexpected for someone to complain about a newspaper’s length because it is not like a long movie. A newspaper has no “ending” per se. You can freely skip from article to article without having to invest time or effort into any particular piece. While it is possible for a moviegoer to legitimately feel trapped in a theatre waiting for a long-drawn-out film to end, nobody can legitimately feel trapped in a newspaper just like nobody can legitimately feel trapped in a game of solitaire. A newspaper also is not like an airplane; there is no door that closes you in for the duration of the flight. A reader can easily exit a newspaper just like a speaker can easily exit a monologue.

Reading a newspaper is not like having a conversation with someone. You do not have to make up an excuse to bow out of reading a newspaper. A newspaper will not be offended if you walk away mid-sentence without warning or explanation. A newspaper will not annoyingly call or text later to ask you if “everything is o.k.?” In that way, a newspaper might be the least insecure or demanding companion that you ever have.

For the record, there is no legal or halachic requirement to read the entire Jewish Link just like there is no legal or halachic requirement to finish an entire bowl of cholent, sing the entire “Aishes Chayil” or attend an entire farbrengen. While some literature absolutely should be read cover-to-cover, especially the instructions for how to safely deactivate a nuclear bomb, a newspaper does not require the same level of thoroughness. In other words, if you fail to read an op-ed, millions of people will not be killed.

While it may be true that some books are less than 152 pages, that does not mean that The Jewish Link is equivalent to War and Peace (1,225 pages) or even the Bhagavad Gita (over 700 pages). Reading 152 pages of a newspaper certainly is easier and more enjoyable than trying to read 152 pages of (i) a bio-chem textbook, (ii) a novel written in Pig-Latin or (iii) an IKEA assembly manual.

Even assuming that a person has read “books shorter than” 152 pages, that does not mean that the Link is too long. It could mean that said books are too short. How do you know if you are reading a book that is too short? It’s too short if you start and finish the whole book (i) while waiting for bread to toast, (ii) bein hashmashot (per Shabbat 34(b)) or (iii) between two active labor contractions.

This brings us to the last and most intriguing complaint regarding “… too many ads for chicken cutlets.” This comment reeks of schnitzel-phobia and, even worse, anti-schnitzelism. Soon other poultry-haters, emboldened by this complaint, may seek to ban schnitzel cutlet advertisements from all newspapers, cruelly relegating them to leaflets, pamphlets and refrigerator magnets. What’s next? A limit on latke ads? A restriction on rugelach ads? A quota on knish ads? Where will such senseless censorship end?

Perhaps the “chicken cutlet” comment was merely an example to support the call for more “substantive” material. In the newspaper context, substance is subjective and thus difficult to debate. That said, every publication with advertisements—especially gratis newspapers like The Jewish Link—must balance content with commercials. So, before anyone starts cutting the cutlets, first take aim at the truly non-substantive and readily-expendable aspects of the Link. In this connection, it is surprising that the complainant has not proposed this “Oy Vey” column for the editorial guillotine. Surely the alarmingly vapid gobbledygook that appears in this column on a weekly (or “weak”ly) basis should incur equal wrath from the anti-schnitzelites and others who seek even more substance than the Link already provides.

Finally, as for increasing the number of “editorials, op-eds and the like,” that is not a crazy notion. Such free-flowing expression of ideas in a public setting is the hallmark of a vibrant, evolving and intellectually-honest community. That said, not every opinion necessarily merits public airing and rigorous debate. For example, if you adamantly believe that themed bar/bat mitzvah parties are passé, matching bridesmaid dresses are tacky or vegetarian cholent is sacrilegious, perhaps hold such discussions in private. Otherwise, such opinions, if published, might bloat the Link to a heretofore unthinkable 153 pages. Oh, the horror.

By Jon Kranz

 

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