Murmurs of the divine
Television, radio and the Internet bring us the latest news, but for context and background we still turn to daily newspapers. These also tell us about things closer to home and report the comings and goings of the famous and the infamous.
Lionel Blue, one of the best known rabbis in Britain, has urged his readers to look for divine revelation in newspapers. I cited him in my June 6 column in The Canadian Jewish News.
Blue suggests that we learn about the nature of God and God’s ways less by abstract speculation and silent contemplation than by observation of God’s human creatures as they go about their daily business. We want to know about other people to gain better insight into what God wants of us.
Newspapers and magazines can teach us more than what theology and mysticism have to offer. Some readers may even see them as a kind of a surrogate for Scripture.
Perhaps that’s why the reported threat of closure of The CJN created a mixture of outrage and near-panic in many circles in the Jewish community.
The prospect of it ceasing publication seems to have moved not only subscribers to come out in support but it also affected those who didn’t appear to read it regularly.
In response to reactions that surprised many Jews and some of their non-Jewish friends, efforts are now being made to restart publication of the print edition, probably with some significant changes and with a different editor.
Though many Jews nowadays don’t come often enough to synagogue to hear God’s word from the pulpit, they may nevertheless want to know what their people are up to, in their local community even more than on the arena of contemporary history.
Therefore, despite our access to other ostensibly more sophisticated media outlets, we’re still hungry for the kind of information and gossip that people once got in the High Street and on the village green.
Though most of us now live in large urban areas, we still yearn for the intimacy of the small place that we imagine to have existed in earlier times. To make sense of our own often perplexing lives we crave to know how people like ourselves are coping with similar challenges.
The local paper may thus compensate somewhat for the constraints of urban and suburban living far away from the people we perhaps grew up with and the places we or our forebears called home. Even more than newspapers, community weeklies keep us in touch with people we’d like to know about.
The CJN has an additional role. Because most daily newspapers are seen in the Jewish community as biased, perhaps even hostile, especially when reporting about Israel, its members rely more than ever on “authentic revelation” in their own publications.
That’s why, apart from local news, The CJN has also carried a lot of information about the Jewish state and Jewish communities all over the world. It helped us feel that, in addition to being an integral part of this country and what it stands for, we also belong to the people and the land to which we’re bound by history and faith.
What’s true of Jews is, of course, no less true of all minorities. The national dailies may tell them about Canada and the rest of the world, but community weeklies, sometimes written in their native language, help celebrate their other identities and remember their roots.
When such a publication is under threat, its readers may fear, at least subconsciously, that God doesn’t speak to them.
This column first appeared in The Toronto Star on July 27.