Thursday, December 08, 2011

The YU Beacon Piece on Sexuality

This article has come out stating:Link"YU Student Paper in Danger After Acknowledging Existence of Sex."

Oh, please. I wrote an entire series on sexuality in "The Observer."
The difference between my articles and the piece in the YU Beacon is that my articles had educational and journalistic merit, were carefully researched and actually dealt with the issues. I also discussed premarital sex. You can read "Jews and Sexuality in the Modern-Day World" to see that. In contrast, the YU Beacon's article was only intended to be controversial and tick people off. (Why else publish something so poorly written?) In both these goals, they've succeeded admirably.

But don't tell me that YU is pulling its funding from a student newspaper just because someone dared to mention the word 'sex.' They're pulling funding because the Beacon published a piece without any redeeming qualities that creates a certain negative perception about YU, and YU'll be damned if they pay money to have their own dependents working against them.


EJB said...


Anonymous said...

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with your statements, but I will point out that the article in the Beacon was put under "The Written Word," a section designated for student literary expression with both fictional and nonfictional content." It wasn't meant to be an article with research and statistics and such. it was an article that was meant to be a literary expression.

Chana said...

Anon 7:04,

With respect, the literary expression is poor. I've read many works of literature focusing on lapsed Orthodox Jews and they exquisitely describe feelings of guilt, pleasure, new sensations etc. This piece just stated the facts. The girl then claimed she felt she had made a stupid mistake (without giving any explanation as to why she thought so) and that was it. It should certainly not have been published based on literary merit.

Anonymous said...

Totally fair. I'm just saying that comparing it to your pieces may be an unfair comparison, considering that it didn't come under the guise of a researched article. Whether or not the literary expression was good or not is a whole other story (and I happen to agree with your opinion on its literary merit, or lack thereof.)

EJB said...


To be fair, I heard from an editor at The Beacon that they rarely reject articles that are of low quality.

nater said...

I think the point of her comparisons was to show that talking about sex is okay as long as their merit and substance. The article in the beacon had non of that. The fact that she has stats and research gives it merit to be published in a YU publication.

Anonymous said...

Please state why you think it is poorly written.

EJB said...


Are you, by any chance, the author of the article???

Chana said...

Why it's poorly written: The fundamental rule of writing is "Show, Don't Tell." You need to show what's going on rather than stating facts. This piece consistently used the word "I" and a verb. "I put," "I cuddled," "I got dressed," "I call up my cousin." It's a list of facts rather than a flowing, evocative piece. The motivation of the woman described as the Occasionally-Cute-Modern-Orthodox-Girl is not mentioned at all. Is she just out for a good time? Does she really love the guy? What's going on in her head? We have no idea. We're just stuck with a list of actions...which are rather boring. Thus her regret at the end doesn't ring true- because we don't understand what she's regretting or why she's regretting it. What is the motivation she now realizes is cheap?

For ideas on how to write riveting stories about lapsed Orthodox Jews, feel free to read:

A Seat at the Table
If You Awaken Love
The Romance Reader
The Chosen
Kaaterskill Falls
The Yeshiva
The Ladies Auxiliary

and so on.

Anonymous said...

The confusion is intentional. And it was not choppy, rather it allowed the reader to experience the action play by play. And do not interpret the girl's emotions, particularly the (possible) regret, as ambiguous, true or false, rather as complex. And the lack of specificity about her motivation is what makes the story universal w/ the readers. I think it was well written, had just enough ambiguity to engage readers' close questioning attention while still allowing for a ready imaginable narrative.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. The piece was there just to create controversy and it makes YU look bad.

Anonymous said...

If you cannot relate to the feelings of guilt, secrecy, duplicity, and insecurity that goes along w/ relationships in the Orthodox world and is articulated within the piece in a powerful way then you probably need to get back in the game. The piece is not about sex, its about secret sex, its about having no one to talk to about it the next morning (besides for a cousin and the conversation is dysfunctional), and its about dual identities and the pervasive insecurity and that goes with until one learns how to do the walk of shame and get over the world judging them.

Chana said...

Anon 11:07pm,

You have clearly not read any of my work.

YN said...

Great Piece!

Anonymous said...

One editor resigned:

BSA said...

Hi Chana,I agree with you entirely about the quality of the writing; it was one of the first things I noticed. For all those who say this was a powerful piece - well, it could have been a LOT more powerful, thought provoking, and accessible with some good editing.

To add to your list of riveting stories concerning Orthodox Jews having lapses: the title story in the collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. That's certainly a story about regretful sex, if there ever was one.

DB said...

Hell ya Rebbetzin Friedman!!!

Anonymous said...

Another perspective on this:

Tania said...

Nicely put!

Anonymous said...

perfect. well said!

Shades of Grey said...

I completely agree with your commentary here. If the true purpose of the article/story was to shed light on the conflicted nature of sexual experience within the Modern Orthodox world, and YU/Stern specifically, it could have been written in a far more developed fashion to convey these complex issues.

I think the people who are defending the story are seeing more than what's there, and seem to scrounge around for merit in an otherwise controversial piece that falls flat literarilly.

Yosef said...

Regardless of the literary value or supposed sensationalist nature of the piece, if it is true that funding is being pulled because it creates a negative perception about YU, then, as usual, by publicizing the issue, YU has only managed to generate more negative perceptions of itself in the blogosphere and media. I wish they would learn their lesson and just stop making such a big deal over this type of thing.

CJ Srullowitz said...


Totally there with you. The writing is utter crap. No Nathan Englander here. Not even Shalom Auslander or Tovah Mirvis.

She hears the key turning in the lock of the hotel room? When was the last time you used anything but an electronic key?

The writing, moreso than the content, makes me feel...what's the technical term? Icky.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't it an article in the section "TheWritten Word" for students to submit their written articles.

So it's not intended to be a master piece. You are way too stuck up if you're critiquing it so harshly. Especially considering the level of education that goes on in YU/Stern. :p

Clearly it's bad writing. But obviously it was more about the message it was trying to get across.

Curious Jew probably pegged the real issue "They're pulling funding because the Beacon published a piece without any redeeming qualities that creates a certain negative perception about YU, and YU'll be damned if they pay money to have their own dependents working against them."

Then again, I always figured a statistical number of people do these things and the administration simply looks the other way as long as its not at the forefront. We know this hanky-panky goes on with some people over there.

in the YU/Stern setting there is an additional layer of guilt applied to the student body to be more observant, or at the very least on the outside to be/show more.

In other institutions (non-Jewish) it's politically incorrect, or even completely discriminating to frown upon someones observance (lack thereof).. or religious level.

Which is why this type of article is probably making large ripples. Inwardly, YU students/grads/faculty/parents are probably going wow... someone just publicly crossed the line.

Meanwhile others are think, a silly story article... nothing too racy... and nothing surprising for someone in college or professional in the real world. Perhaps, just sad it's a "frum" girl...

Simi Lampert said...

Thanks for your post. Please note that as Editor-in-Chief of the Beacon, it's important to me that people not spread baseless rumors that this article was simply posted to create controversy. To see why we posted it, please see my article here:
Thanks again.
Simi Lampert

Anonymous said...

While I would agree it was poorly written, the idea that the university should try to punish publications for putting out pieces that lack literary merit is ludicrous. The university should not use funding as a quality control on its student newspapers, unless they do so by devoting MORE funding to actually teaching their students how to write. The article was boring, but was at least honest and clearly held some level of meaning to the author - so I don't think it was intended to "just tick people off." But even if it was intended to simply stir the pot, the idea of a university - even a religious one - attempting to censor its students because of content it doesn't like is an approach I would consider to be against Jewish values. Foster the conversation, maybe even use the article to run programs related to the issue, but the response they had - "censor the article in its entirety or in pieces, or remove yourself from official affiliation with the school" - was obnoxious and unwarranted. Come on YU, try to join the rest of us on this side of the Dark Ages.

Anonymous said...

Why does no one understand the difference between censorship and "no funding"?

I don't pay money to the Beacon. But is anyone upset with me for censorship?

Reuven said...

You're being mean, Chana.

"In contrast, the YU Beacon's article was only intended to be controversial and tick people off. (Why else publish something so poorly written?) In both these goals, they've succeeded admirably."

First, let us address your evidence, the poor writing. Have you read any of the articles the Beacon publishes? They are not well edited. The editors recognize that they have a fairly severe lack of good editors, and I'm sure you've experienced that problem yourself. YU currently has five papers, if you count the Beacon, and good editors are in pretty short supply (and probably at KHM, though I haven't been reading enough YU writing recently to make a good judgement call). They also publish b-weekly, which is quite tough. I recently read an article, liked by both editors-in-chief, which I could not parse. This article was definitely readable, and better than most from my perspective.

Many people who read the article saw a profound message in it. If that message was intended, I think the author should have tried to make it more clear (though that might have added to the controversy). But people saw it, and I think the editors saw it.

I know the editors of the Beacon. They are very well-meaning people, who are under a lot of stress from the firestorm that appeared around them. Please don't attack their motives. Please be "dan le-kaf zechus" for a moment. These attacks can really hurt (as I'm sure you are aware as a former editor yourself) as they've grown far too common.

Anonymous said...


I think you make good points. BUT perhaps people with good intentions but bad strategy should be criticized (and hopefully learn). Pretending to be censored by YU itself, when in fact the YU rep for the students just said that the newspaper is not representing the students and should thus not be funded by them, is not okay. Pretending to be censored and then taking it to the media speaks to lack of appreciation for YU, or its supposed philosophy. I would like to hear what could possibly be the "pure motive" for peddling the story to the media.

Reuven said...


Definitely criticized, but not have their motives attacked without good reason.

As regards the Deans and the media, I have no idea what went on there, but I'm pretty sure there was a lot of confusion (and that the WSJ contacted them, not vice-versa). But they may be to blame for spreading false information. (Ironically, their "sign of respect" in temporarily pulling the article may have caused part of the problems.)

But that's not my point. Chana is personally attacking the writer, the editors and, particularly, their motives (in publishing the piece). I just don't think that's right, and she wouldn't appreciate it being done to her.

Anonymous said...


Fair points. However, you would need to establish a reason for the editors allowing the story to be published. "They publish lots of bad articles" won't cut it. Either it's for no reason other than keep the newspaper alive, and have some articles (why?), or it's to gain sensationalism.

I agree that Chana's statement about the editor's motives are an assumption, but they're not such an unreasonable assumption.

Lampert says she chose to publish the story because she believes it has literary value, and that a discussion should be had. Which is probably true. I think Chana thinks that no one could possibly be so daft as to think it has literary value (so in a way, she is being dan l'kaf zechus the editors), and she does not believe that this article promotes discussion in a way a real, researched article should (see her latest post).

These are all matters of opinion, and maybe Chana's opinion is wrong, but it's certainly not a baseless attack.

Reuven said...

"I think Chana thinks that no one could possibly be so daft as to think it has literary value."

That's a lot of universals, Anonymous. Chana believes that for every person x on earth, for every possible criteria y of literary value, Value(y) of the Beacon piece according to x equals 0.

(I'll leave out the "possibly" to avoid dragging modal logic into this.)

In simpler language, that is an incredibly strong statement. It also assumes that a lot more people than just Simi Lampert Eisenman are pretty blatant liars. (I also don't see the "dan lekaf zechut" in it).

I know the feeling. Sometimes when I hear Michelle Bachmann speak, I think that there is no way any sane human being can believe in the garbage that woman is spewing. And so I'm tempted to say that she is truly a bad person, trying to hurt the country for personal gain.

But I realize that I know better, that people aren't like that, and there are many Bachmann supporters out there. So I won't accuse Bachman or Palin or Gingrich or even ... or even Glenn Beck of being purely motivated by the temptations of greed and/or power.

But we aren't talking about Glenn Beck here. We're talking about YU students who happen to be really nice and genuine people, who if Chana doesn't know already, she probably has 30+ friends in common with. She should know better than to accuse them of acting purely out of base motives.

Anonymous said...


Trying to be controversial and being a bad person is quite a jump; they are quite different things. That is (or might be) the difference between Michelle Bachman and the editors of the Beacon.

But you make a good point. I realize people's motives should not be assumed, no matter how disgusted we are with their actions.

I just don't understand two things:

1) What was their motive in publishing it? Did they not realize it was pointless, but decided to print in anyway? Did they not realize that some students at Stern would be offended but decided to print it anyway? In other words, why do you think that "I wasn't thinking" is more dan l'kaf z'chut that being a blatant liar? And if there is some other reason other than not thinking or lying, what could it possibly be?

Also, I don't understand what you mean by "a lot more people... are pretty blatant liars." Who else would be lying?

Reuven said...

"Did they not realize it was pointless, but decided to print in anyway?"

No, my point has been that they didn't see it as pointless at all.

Let me offer 3 possibilities as to why that was the case:

1) They thought that it had artistic merit as creative writing piece. I can see that people thought it was creative in how it drew you into the story and counterbalanced the sex with the avoiding sex. Personally I wasn't impressed by this - but others were.

2) They thought that the story had a moral, in the walk of shame at the end, and was worth reading on that account.

3) They may have simply wanted to start a discussion about pre-marital sex among Orthodox Jews. I can see that being worthwhile.

4) (And I'm hesitant to include this one.) They may have read this as an Atheist's story. There are certainly indications that the author and her male friend may have rejected Judaism. And yet... pain, deep emotional pain at the act of sex. This is a common story among people who leave religion, an internal disconnect, a powerful pain at eating cheeseburgers, or turning off the lights on Shabbos. This is something I've witnessed. I imagine this is a large part of why "Orthoprax" communities exist. If this was the article's point, I think it brought up a very touchy subject, but definitely one worth talking about. (Though then it could have highlighted certain points better, but that might have made it even more sensitive.) But some people did read it this way, and I think it made them think.

So those are some of your options, as to why someone could possibly have posted such a piece. You don't have to agree that 1, 2, 3 or 4 were the reason for the article, or justification for posting it. You only have to agree that these might have been going through the editors' minds.

As for the other people lying: It would be all the people defending point #1 (whom I mostly disagree with). It would be everyone defending any of the other points, which I am sympathetic to to varying extents. A lot of people are defending this article, and even before things blew up, it had a lot of likes (which kind of annoyed me).

You might not see it, Chana might not see it, but people see it. So from your perspective maybe they're blunt, uncultured people. But heck, some people even like football, good people among them.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree, I think the piece has many important lessons to teach the Orthodox community. For a good article on the matter, please see:

Noach said...

> I also discussed premarital sex. You can read "Jews and Sexuality in the Modern-Day World" to see that.

With all due respect I didn't see a discussion of premarital sex in the article "Jews and Sexuality in the Modern-Day World". It discussed some of the issues around sexual frustration for orthodox singles. Specifically it explored how community educators manage discussions around these frustrations with said singles.

Perhaps you were thinking of another article?