Who Is Really ‘Insular’ — Chasidim? Or New York Times Editors?


The New York Times likes using the word “insular” to describe Chasidic Jews. It likes it so much that it uses the term twice in a single news article about a Brooklyn judge:

Ruchie Freier, as friends call her, a 52-year-old Chasidic Jewish grandmother who has blazed a trail in her insular religious community with so much determination that the male authorities have simply had to make room….

Mr. Freier, who is now a mortgage broker, decided to go to college so he could earn money for the family. That was already a groundbreaking decision among the insular ultra-Orthodox, where even for a man to enroll in a secular university was rare.

What is this word, “insular,” that the Times uses to describe Hasidic Jews? My authoritative Webster’s Second unabridged dictionary offers some definitions:

1. of, or having the form of, an island.

2. living or situated on an island

3. like an island; detached; insulated.

4. of, like, or characteristic of islanders

5. of narrow views; illiberal; prejudiced; as, his ideas of government are insular.

If the Times means merely to describe Judge Freier or the Chasidic Jews as island-dwellers — well, the description applies to all New York City residents other than those who live in the Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens, after all, are part of Long Island, while Staten Island and Manhattan are also islands. But somehow I think the definition the Times is getting at is more the fifth one: “of narrow views…prejudiced.”

There it seems to me like a case of the Times projecting onto Chasidim a description that more accurately might be applied to the newspaper’s own reporters and editors. Rather than being “detached,” plenty of Chasidic Jews are out there interacting with the outside world. Lubavitcher Hasidim are serving as Chabad emissaries on college campuses and in far-flung locations such as India, Thailand, and China.

Karliner Hasidim are working as graphic designers, architects, computer programmers, and engineers. Satmar Hasidim run B&H Photo, which is a major electronics retailer and an excellent place to buy a camera.

Lumping all these people together as narrowminded or prejudiced is itself an example of narrow-minded prejudice. If the Times newsroom had any Hasidic Jews as reporters or editors, or if the newspaper’s reporters and editors had more Hasidic Jewish friends, maybe the newspaper would be less inclined to hurl pejorative adjectives at them.

Maybe, in other words, it’s the secular journalists, not the religious Jews, who are really the insular ones.

(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner      .       Ira Stoll




  1. Maybe they think of a hybrid between 3 & 5:
    Wishing to live in an island community, but not so narrow minded to negate the mainland living.

  2. Are you claiming Hasidim are not apart from the world at large? They plainly are (as are Orthodox Jews).

    True, some are more insular than others. The Freiers come from the less-insular Bobov sect I believe.

    Judge Freier herself attended regular Beis Yaakov, rather than a Hasidic one.

    I think this critique of the NYT is weak, if viable at all.

  3. The problem with using the word insular, which obviously (here) connotates narrow mindedness, illiberal and prejudiced, is not that we are insulted by it. The problem is that their readership – the non Jews and secular Jews -have that biased opinion re-enforced each time they see it.

  4. We should be proud and hold our banner high for protecting our children from the “shmutz” and absolute immorality we find ourselves in, in this century.
    Licentiousness and every single immoral act possible is alive and fully active today. Not only permitted, but highly encouraged.
    We are living back in the times of Sodom and Gemorra….and woe to this generation and eventually G-ds wrath.
    No, I am far from a prude…but it cannot escape even the eyes of secular jews and gentiles alike.
    The worst part of it is, we are so used to it that ABNORMAL became the norm!! Thank G-d our children can and should be shielded from the absolute ugliness of our times.
    In my times, the word pregnant wasn’t used on the radio….and modesty still had a place in society. Today’s generation is growing up not knowing what normal is anymore. We are moving closer to end times ..redemption cannot be far away. How much lower can we go?
    Kuddos and credit to us…and with all that “insularity” we unfortunately have lost plenty, enough to know that our boundaries are a MUST and a life preserver to our souls.
    Wear your INSULAR title with PRIDE.
    I’d rather be insular than insane!

  5. Of course they’re insular – that insularity is maintained on purpose to safeguard their culture . “And they did not change their names , language and dress “- this is not new . It’s intentional and the NYT did nothing wrong by noting it .

  6. Hasidim are not monolithic.

    Some are ultraconservative, while others are modern.

    I think the Freiers are on the modern Hasidic side of the spectrum.

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