Yitzchok Saftlas: Jewish Newspapers Saved By Shabbos

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yated-logo-1The following article appears in The Forward:

The newspaper business has been in a tailspin for a long time now – everywhere, it seems, except among Orthodox Jews.

The staying power of the Orthodox press can, of course, be reduced to one simple reason: the Sabbath.

“On Shabbes there is no Internet, no BlackBerry, no electronics, and people have time,” said Yitzchok Saftlas, president of Bottom Line Marketing, a public relations firm that targets the Jewish community.

Now, even as many secular papers are retrenching, one small Orthodox Long Island weekly, The Jewish Star, is expanding. In a bid to grab a bigger share of the Orthodox newspaper-reading public, it is venturing into the urban turf of its counterparts in New York City.

There are already at least three English-language newspapers with strong presences in the Orthodox communities of the greater New York area – all of which are also distributed nationally. The weekly Yated Ne’eman was started in the late 1980s, and the daily English version of the Israeli newspaper Hamodia was founded in 1997. Both cater largely to ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, readers.

It’s The Jewish Press, however, with a weekly circulation of nearly 50,000 copies, that is still the leader. Founded in the 1960s, the Orthodox tabloid has always been “representative of Brooklyn Jewry both in terms of its religious values and its social values,” said Jeffrey Gurock, a Yeshiva University historian and the author of the 2009 book from Indiana University Press, “Orthodox Jews in America.” For many years, the paper was a platform for Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the radical Jewish Defense League.

The Jewish Press, according to observers, expresses unabashedly right-wing political views and features an unapologetic presentation of Orthodoxy, with content that is heavy on features and opinion columns. But while Hamodia and Yated Ne’eman are both extremely religiously conservative – no photos of women appear in either paper – The Jewish Press has the greatest claim on the more religiously centrist Orthodox populations in the greater New York area.

The Jewish Star, founded in 2002 and until this month serving only the Orthodox community of Nassau County’s Five Towns, has a circulation of no more than 10,000 copies. But starting next month, according to Mayer Fertig, the paper’s publisher and editor, it will expand into New York City’s five boroughs, with street-side news boxes and distribution in synagogues and stores from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn to Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Fertig did not want to give the exact number that will be distributed for free in New York City but said it would be “in the low thousands.”

Fertig also declined to speak directly about potential competition with The Jewish Press, and representatives of The Jewish Press did not respond to calls seeking comment. But the way Fertig talks about his paper suggests that he thinks there is an audience whose needs the other papers aren’t meeting.

“There really aren’t that many frum papers, certainly not one that can be appreciated by somebody who is a little more modern or better-educated who is looking for something that is a little more thought provoking,” Fertig said, using a Yiddish word that roughly means “religious.”

Fertig, 39, comes to the Orthodox newspaper business following a long career in the secular media world, most recently as the managing editor of New York’s WCBS radio. Under his stewardship, The Jewish Star has stressed news reportage, with attempts at muckraking and a writing style that aims for a degree of objectivity.

The entry of the suburban Orthodox weekly into New York City’s Jewish media market comes as the center of gravity for centrist and Modern Orthodoxy has shifted to the suburbs. Brooklyn’s Orthodox neighborhoods have become increasingly Haredi, while Long Island’s Five Towns, long home to a religiously diverse mix of Jews, have evolved in recent decades into a Modern Orthodox stronghold. In comparison to Brooklyn, many of the suburban Orthodox enclaves are less rigidly right wing in their ideology and feature a more open atmosphere, said Yeshiva University’s Gurock.

Fertig, however, said that his paper is trying to reach out to a wide variety of Orthodox readers.

“I don’t think of this primarily as a Modern Orthodox paper,” said Fertig. “I like to think of it as an Orthodox paper that just shoots down the middle, and there’s something in it for anybody who wants to get something out of it.”

Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, which specializes in communications and marketing to Jewish consumers, has placed ads in all of these Orthodox papers. He said that the arrival of The Jewish Star reflects a shift in the Orthodox world.

“Outside of the Hasidic world, there is no one center of Orthodoxy, even here in New York,” Rosenfeld said, “So you no longer need the credibility of being from Brooklyn to be a legitimate part of the Orthodox market and scene. And this, actually, is what’s creating a new level of competitiveness.”

{The Forward/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. when did the jewish star become a man de’amar? it’s a tiny paper in the five towns
    they make it sound like the ny times
    what can you expect from the forward

  2. #1 — agreed.

    And the Jewish Star is a left-wing rag that prints any trash it finds in the dumpsters regardless of how libelously false the story may be.

  3. Interesting article, but somewhat lacking.

    1) The Jewish Press has lost a lot of circulation in recent years (source – USPS statements, published in paper annually as required by law). So while they still may be ahead of others, they have significantly declined in circulation from their past peak. Note that they have not raised their newstand price in years. Instead they have shrunk the paper. I guess they were afraid that people would not pay more and circulation would decline further. To their credit, they have made some improvements in recent years, which has helped slow their decline.

    2) The 5 towns Jewish times is not mentioned, nor its competition with the Jewish Star. They both come from the same 5 towns/South Shore LI area. The Star’s plan to expand into the city is just following the 5TJT in that respect.

    3) There are Yiddish newspapers too, but those are another ‘parsha’.

  4. Nobody or I should say very few frum ppl will allow this into their homes. It is essentially a tabloid. While I agree that both Yated and Hamodia are not very objective and clearly choose sides in many issues and try to influence the reader, they are still the only really Kosher papers.

  5. Alot of sheker here. The star is a rabidly anti-charedi paper very similar to the Jewish Week. both are written well, but grab onto any negative story that they can dig out against Chareidim. Horrible.Really. The 5TJT is far better , though admittedly not big on news reporting.

  6. Reading newspapers on shabbos is questionable. Even if you can find some justification, it is misleading to proclaim “newspapers saved by shabbos”

  7. I once had a commuincation with a very significant figure in Chareidi media about certain things in the paper. He told me, “Shabbos is to bask in the holiness of Hashem, and not for newspapers.”

    If the Star thinks that Shabbos saves the chareidi newspapers shows how much they don’t understand the chareidi lifestyle. In their Modern Orthodox world, they are steeped in goyishe news and culture all week long. When Shabbos comes they have no access to technology. Therefore the only thing they do is sit and read newspapers.

    The chareidi oilam, on the other hand, doesn’t use the goyishe media (by and large). The newspaper is how they stay in touch, to whatever level they are interested. Shabbos has them, (hopefully mostly) involved in higher, more spritual pursuits.

  8. I have subscribed to the Yated since my Brooklyn Yeshiva days twenty years ago. It is the greatest paper and I have oneg reading the stories every Shabbos. The real story is the Yiddish internet. Matzav.com is fantastic. Good job Matzav editors and writers. Keep going strong. I read your website daily for its interesting news and even the Yahrtzeit stories. Yashar Koach !!!

  9. I guess non of the posters here read the Yated.
    In the readers write section of the Yated, allmost every letter starts off with how the writter of the letter loves the paper and how the “family reads the paper every Shabbos”.
    Some even say that they read it at the Shabbos table.
    And for the Jewish Press bashers. I would have you know that yes it is still a best seller, and more enjoyable than the dribble from the so called “charadie” news papers.
    I dont really need to know who attened what malava malka, and who was at what wedding, bris, bar mitzvah.

  10. The Star, from what I recall, is more modern at times, but I don’t see how that is the same as the Jewish Week, which is ‘non-denominational’ and regularly has columns by non-orthodox spiritual leaders. Significant difference there.


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