By Ira Stoll
Is there any group of people who the New York Times feels comfortable insulting as openly and easily as Orthodox Jews?
Perhaps cigarette smokers, or supporters of Donald Trump for president. But beyond that, it’s hard to imagine.
The question is raised once again by an article and a pull-out display quote in Sunday’s Times arts section. “They were dorky yeshiva boys, but they dreamed of being players,” the quotation says.
Leave it to the New York Times. In an article about a Canadian-born “son of Chinese immigrants” who is making a movie about the war in Iraq, the newspaper somehow manages to get in a sideswipe at “yeshiva boys.”
The individuals in question don’t get a chance in the Times article to defend themselves from the accusation that they were “dorky.”
Here’s the full passage:
For “War Dogs,” Mr. Chin made research trips to Miami to hang out with David Packouz, one of the arms dealers portrayed in the movie (the other, Efraim Diveroli, was awaiting sentencing on a conspiracy conviction related to arms dealing), and to see their old stamping grounds. Once he talked to Mr. Packouz, he began to understand what drove them both to ditch their staid lives to sell weapons to the United States military. “They could see the huge mansions of the drug lords, the beautiful models on the beach,” Mr. Chin said. “They were dorky yeshiva boys, but they dreamed of being players.”
The Times doesn’t seem to consider the reverse possibility that any models on the beach or drug lords in mansions would dream of devoting their time instead to studying Talmud.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “dorky” as “foolishly stupid.” An 1988 William Safire “On Language” column in the New York Times magazine described it as “meaning ‘klutzy’ — clumsy — or in a second sense, ‘acting like a nerd.’”
It’s not entirely clear which of the three senses — stupid, clumsy or nerdy — the Times or Mr. Chin means by using this word in its place. What is clear is that it isn’t a compliment. The Times, or Mr. Chin, could have called them scholarly yeshiva boys. It could have omitted the reference to their Jewish education; after all, non-Jews, or Jews who attend secular schools, can also be dorks. Instead, the Times traffics in offensive stereotypes. Imagine if the Times had used a stereotypical adjective about women or African-Americans. There’d be outraged protests. When it comes to Orthodox Jews, however, it’s almost expected.
At least the newspaper didn’t call these Orthodox Jews smelly, the way it did in an editorial the other day. That’s the low expectations bar set by Times treatment of Orthodox Jews; when the newpaper writes “dorky,” one can at least be thankful it didn’t say “stinky.”