Agudah to the Pulitzers: No award for NYTimes Hasidic yeshiva stories

Advocacy group argues that the explosive investigation is not worthy of the prestigious prize

New York Times headquarters. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Apr 25, 2023 10:55 PM


Agudath Israel of America, an organization that lobbies on behalf of the Haredi community, is urging the judges of the Pulitzer Prize not to give any of its prestigious awards to the New York Times for its recent coverage of Hasidic yeshivas. In a 30-page letter, Agudah criticized the quality of the Times reporting, and suggested that it may lead to antisemitism.

In September, the Times published an investigative story about how some Hasidic yeshivas offer insufficient secular education and use corporal punishment. The Times found that Hasidic boys schools’ receive hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the state, citing more than $375 million of government funding the last year before the pandemic. The journalists interviewed over 275 people for the story, including current and former students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Since then, the news outlet has published several more stories on issues related to these yeshivas.

“We believe that awarding these articles, in any way, will be seen not only as a tacit approval and furtherance of offensive, antisemitic tropes, but would diminish the standing of the Pulitzer Prize by celebrating articles of demonstrably poor journalistic integrity,” the letter says.

Marjorie Miller, the administrator of the Pulitzer prizes, confirmed receipt of Agudah’s letter. Miller said the board receives many letters about work produced during the year, but declined to comment further.

According to a former member of the Pulitzer board, who asked to remain anonymous, letters like this are not unusual, and they don’t have an impact unless they raise problems the board views as serious.

Agudah’s letter alleges that the Times articles reinforce antisemitic tropes. “The articles raise and reinforce the notion that Orthodox Jews and their ‘bloc vote’ control and manipulate politicians; that Rabbis hold some kind of menacing, iron grip on their sheep-like congregants; that religious teachers are intrinsically oppressive and abusive to children; and that Hasidic Jews, generally, are inherently corrupt and intent on bilking the system,” it says.

The letter also describes data collected by the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Police Department indicating a rise in antisemitic hate crimes since 2020. The letter quotes ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt as saying that the vast majority of antisemitic attacks target Orthodox Jews.

The letter doesn't draw a direct link between these stories and the rise in antisemitic attacks, and the ADL did not respond to multiple requests from Shtetl seeking such data.

The letter criticizes the Times’s use of sources associated with Young Advocates for Fair Education, an organization that advocates for the government to regulate Hasidic yeshivas more strictly, and Footsteps, an organization that helps those who choose to leave the Orthodox community. Yaffed was formerly led by Naftuli Moster, the editor-in-chief of Shtetl.

Agudah’s recent letter to the Pulitzer board is one of many actions it has taken to criticize the Times investigation; Agudah has also mounted a media and billboard campaign near the Times building in Manhattan.

This work is part of a campaign among Haredi leaders to shed doubt on the Times report. Before the September article was published, state assembly member Simcha Eichenstein, who represents Boro Park, penned an op-ed in the New York Sun accusing the Times of bias.

In February, the New York Times won a George Polk award for its September report on Hasidic yeshivas. Pulitzer Prize winners will be announced on May 8.

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.