Shira Schoenberg of the Concord Monitor wrote an interesting story about a Jewish Orthodox politician. Or at least her story was interesting, fascinating even, about the ritual and personal aspects of Jason Bedrick’s faith.
Schoenberg’s lede shows the reader right away that Bedrick’s tale is not that of an ordinary pol:
When Jason Bedrick was considering a run for state representative, an incumbent legislator encouraged him to shave his beard. Bedrick refused.
“I said the beard is off-limits, and that’s not the half of it,” Bedrick said.
Bedrick, an Orthodox Jew, said he wouldn’t enter churches. He wouldn’t campaign at the transfer station on Saturdays. And he wouldn’t shake hands with women. His friend said he didn’t know how Bedrick could win.
“To not shake hands with half your constituents, that qualifies me as a disabled politician,” Bedrick said.
I thought this last tidbit, about Bedrick’s faith requiring that he not shake another woman’s hand, was memorable. In the same way that “Chariots of Fire” showed viewers Eric Liddell’s refusal to compete on the Sabbath, Schoenberg underlined Bedrick’s dedication to his faith.
Schoenberg also ably detailed Bedrick’s personal faith journey. The son of a Conservative Jewish father and a Catholic mother, who converted to Judaism, Schoenberg became Orthodox not through the usual route, as she explains:
The turning point in Bedrick’s observance was when he took a trip to Israel with other college students. Bedrick decided that while in Israel, he would wear a yarmulke. He saw his tour guide wearing tzitzit, a ritual garment with fringes that Orthodox men wear under their shirt. “I thought it was an amazing concept, this garment my people have been wearing for years, to remind you to keep the commandments,” Bedrick said. So he bought a pair.
On the plane ride home, Bedrick began to reconsider his intentions to remove the yarmulke and tzitzit. “I thought, ‘I’m Jewish in Israel, but not America?’ This is my identity.” He kept the clothing and became one of two Babson College students to wear a yarmulke, Bleich said. Bedrick had already given up eating pork and shellfish, and now he started adhering more fully to the kosher dietary laws. He did not eat milk and meat at the same meal. He started walking to the rabbi’s house on Friday night, since observant Jews do not drive on the Sabbath. After college, he returned to Israel for the summer.
For all of her details about the ritual and personal aspects of Bedrick’s faith, Schoenberg mostly neglected to examine its collective aspects. How does his Orthodox faith inform his politics or social vision? Readers aren’t told.
Yes, Schoenberg notes that Bedrick is a political conservative on many issues; he favors school choice, seeks to build a culture of life, and limited government. Yet how his Orthodox faith informs his positions is unstated.
This criticism is not a quibble. With an unusual story like that Bedrick’s, the reporter ought to tell readers the full picture.