Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

thescroll_header

Did a Hasidic Sect Really Ban Soy For Leading to Gay Sex?

A case study in how not to report on the ultra-Orthodox community

Print Email
(iStockPhoto)

Visit the web site of the national British daily newspaper, the Independent, and you’ll find an article titled, “Rabbi bans students from eating soy in case it leads to gay sex.” It goes on to offer the juicy details:

The Hasidic yeshiva of Gur has ruled that boys should not eat soy, lest it leads to unwanted sexual arousal, according to a report in HaMevasser.

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter issued the ban due to a belief that the ‘hormones’ in the food could cause boys to become effeminate and make their teachers and older students to become attracted to them.

Intrigued, I followed the link to the Hebrew source for this fantastical claim and was surprised to find that the cited article said the exact opposite. Here’s a translation of the Hamevaser piece:

In the context of doctors answering questions that have been sent to the Ma’ayanei he-Yeshua Health Center, Professor Moti Ravid addresses one of the issues which has worried the public, in particular, when it comes to the children of working mothers in day care centers, where babies are often given various soy formulas.

Professor Ravid: Soy does contain substances called phytoestrogens that have similar effects to the hormone estrogen in females, but at a very low level. As such, for these formulas to affect the development of boys or girls, the children would have to consume huge amounts of soy products. Consuming soy in reasonable amounts as part of the menu, however, is not expected to have any effect whatsoever on the developmental process.

The hasidic community of Ger is not even mentioned in this ringing rejection of concerns over soy. Apparently, the Independent decided to run with a story based on sources its journalists couldn’t actually read, with predictable results.

But if not from Hamevaser, where did this salacious scoop come from? The origin of the claim traces back to a blog called “In the World of the Haredim,” written by Chaim Shaulson, which some have dubbed “The Haredi National Enquirer.” Shaulson’s October 28th Hebrew post states that the yeshivot of the Ger hasidim have dropped soy from their lunch menu, due to concerns about the “evil inclination” (a euphemism for sexual and possibly homosexual arousal). The piece does not say who ordered this change, or cite any sources. (It also includes a clip of the aforementioned Hamevaser article to disprove the alleged Ger claim about soy’s effects on child development.)

But through the magic of the internet and its persistent pressure for more page-views, this single unconfirmed blog post based on entirely anonymous sourcing morphed into a viral international story filled with details the original piece never contained. To begin with, the Independent reports that “Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter issued the ban,” attributing the purported policy directly to the community’s head rabbi, with the Huffington Post, YNet, Gay Star News and others following suit. Alter’s name, however, appears nowhere in the original post, which references only unnamed “Ger officials.” More egregiously, Huffington Post UK explains that Alter “believes older students and teachers would then become attracted to the boys, according to the Haredi World.” Like the rabbi it is attributed to, this particular concern appears nowhere in the original Hebrew report, as HuffPo’s own link helpfully attests. Perhaps most bizarrely, YNet claims that “the head rabbi also worries that soy will cause female students to sexually mature faster than intended.” Ger, being an ultra-Orthodox hasidic sect, does not have female students in its yeshivot. Needless to say, this remarkable assertion does not appear in the original blog post either.

I spoke to Shaulson today and he stood behind his story, and its much more limited findings, but said he could not disclose his sources, due to the consequences they would suffer in the insular Ger community if their names were made public. Neither I, nor any other journalist, has been able to independently confirm his claim about the missing soy and the purported motivation behind it. This doesn’t make Shaulson’s story untrue, but it does mean it requires further investigation. Given Ger’s well-documented sexual asceticism and restrictions, the story is certainly plausible. But journalism is about reporting what is provable, not merely plausible.

Did Ger actually drop soy from its lunch menu? If so, was this done over concerns about gay sex? Or was it absent for the same reason my own elementary school cafeteria didn’t offer soy, because the meals didn’t require it and students didn’t ask for it? Or was it simply due to the health controversies that swirl around soy today, leading it to be shunned in many quarters, Jewish and not?

The honest answer to these questions is: we don’t really know. But saying “we don’t know” is not the forte of many journalists–though apparently citing sources one can’t read or confirm, and embroidering them with utterly fictitious details, is.

UPDATE: The Independent has taken down their story. We’ll keep you posted about the rest of the internet.

UPDATE 2: The Huffington Post has taken down their story.

UPDATE 3: Gay Star News has taken down their story.

Print Email

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Did a Hasidic Sect Really Ban Soy For Leading to Gay Sex?

A case study in how not to report on the ultra-Orthodox community

More on Tablet:

The Yale Chaplain Who Doesn’t Get Jews

By Mark Oppenheimer — If Jews make Israeli policy, do Wasps run England?