Ultra-Orthodox Get Their Own Free Daily

The first edition of Yom Hadash, a free daily newspaper for the ultra-Orthodox community, appeared yesterday. The 16-page publication reflects a leadership crisis in the ultra-Orthodox community.

It will be distributed from Sunday to Thursday to compete with the existing daily ultra-Orthodox papers Yated Ne'eman and Hamodia. Media analysts and advertisers yesterday expressed doubts that the new paper will survive given a Haredi audience that is already saturated with dailies, weeklies and radio stations.

The front page announces "the newspaper for all the Haredi public" on a bright red background. The editorial on page 2 declares its intentions, such as "providing reports and news in due humility and recognition that a newspaper is not a vessel or value in itself." Or: "A means of expression directed by all Israel's sages for all shades of the Haredi public."

The real declaration of intentions, however, lies in the paper's main headline: "Traveler's prayer from Israel's great sages." Underneath, color photos of two senior Haredi leaders, Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky appear, reading pilot editions of Yom Hadash. These are the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian community and its Degel Hatorah party, which publishes its own daily newspaper.

Yated Ne'eman was founded in 1985 in defiance of Agudat Yisrael's newspaper Hamodia, which the Lithuanian rabbis accused of ignoring their activity. Some time later the rabbis quit Agudat Yisrael to form Degel Hatorah.

Now Yom Hadash is defying Yated Neeman for similar reasons. Its editors say that Yated Neeman discriminates against some Lithuanian rabbis, while preferring others.

It all began when a yoghurt cup was hurled at Rabbi Gershon Edelstein, a supporter of Rabbi Eliezer Kahneman, one of the two rival rabbis in Bnei Brak's prestigious Ponevezh yeshiva.

For years this Lithuanian yeshiva has been torn by power struggles between its two leading rabbis, Kahneman and Shmuel Markovitz, who are also brothers-in-law.

The rupture in the college goes all the way up to the Lithuanian community's leadership. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv supports Markovitz while others, including Kanievsky, Lefkowitz and to a certain extent Rabbi Aharon Steinman, support Kahneman.

After the yoghurt incident the rabbis held an emergency meeting in Ponevezh yeshiva in protest at the "assault." The event, which was attended by thousands of students, was not even mentioned in Yated Neeman. People from that newspaper say they were under direct orders from Elyashiv not to write a word about the dispute at the yeshiva.

Two months ago a small group of the Bnei Brak rabbis tried to publish a newspaper to compete with Yated Neeman, named Hamakor, but failed. Now they found a group of investors to support Yom Hadash, which is associated with the independent weekly Sha'a Tova.

Nahum Bernstein, Yom Hadash's marketing manager, says the investors wish to remain anonymous. He also refuses to name any of the journalists, some of whom hide behind pseudonyms. He says the paper wants peace among the Haredi public. For example, he says, the first edition covers not merely Lithuanian community affairs but the bar mitzva party in the Belz Rabbi's Hasidic court received a centerfold splash.

But he does not conceal the paper's intention to challenge Yated Neeman and Hamodia's policy. Both these partisan newspapers "don't give certain rabbis their stage, while others receive exposure or elevated titles and photos, due to internal disputes," he says.

"Our paper will give everyone the honor and titles he deserves."

Hamodia also takes part in the Haredi wars. A few months ago it ignored the local elections in Betar Illit, where MK Meir Porush, of Agudat Yisrael, was fielding his own candidate. Party chairman MK Yaakov Litzman said he had instructed the paper to ignore the elections, because the two Hasidic courts represented by the party were on opposite sides.

Yom Hadash yesterday gave prominent coverage to Porush's statement that the government discriminated against the Haredi community in allocating the state budget and published a photo of him.

Yom Hadash's publication was seen as an earthquake by many, despite doubts over its ability to survive.

Yated Neeman people however remained unfazed. Its journalists were instructed to ignore the new paper. One Haredi journalist who wished to remain anonymous, objected to the photos of the two senior rabbis on the newspaper's front page.

"Rabbis Kanievsky and Lefkowitz did not issue a letter of support in Yom Hadash. They're only quoted as congratulating it in a general way. It's making cynical use of the sages, to publish their photo reading the paper, as though it were their newspaper," he said.