Does this dog stoning story hunt?

This weekend I came across this Tweet from Josh Greenman, the New York Daily News opinion editor:

Fear halakha law. RT @TIME: Why did a Jewish court sentence a dog to death by stoning? |

The link goes to a remarkably unsourced story headlined “Shocking Sentence: Jewish Court Condemns Dog To Death by Stoning.”

Written by Nick Carbone, the article quotes precisely no one in describing how “ultra-Orthodox judges” thought a dog was a reincarnation of a secular lawyer and are calling for the dog to be put to death.

I am pretty sure that Carbone lifted the story without attribution from Ynet, an Israeli news site. I met some reporters from Ynet when I was in Israel on an Act For Israel media fellowship. They seemed like nice enough chaps. I also know that the news site has a less than stellar reputation for getting the story right. It was just last week, for instance, that they reported on an upcoming Glenn Beck rally and announced:

The multi-million dollar production is expected to be attended by a convoy of American dignitaries, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. US Senator Joe Lieberman, a independent, and Republicans Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman are to join Beck at the rally as well.

Within minutes, reporters discerned that this was completely true except for the parts about Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachman. Even Lieberman isn’t “expected” to attend so much as “hasn’t yet declined.”

So when I realized the story was from Ynet, I wondered if there was any other corroborating evidence to support this story about ultra-Orthodox judges sentencing a dog to a stoning death. I mean, stranger things have happened from the ultra-Orthodox community so I wouldn’t be shocked if it were true, I was just being my natural skeptical self.

While I did find an unbelievable number of stories about this stoning sentence (including a few on some rather unsavory sites with anti-Semitic commentary), I found very little in the way of original reporting or corroboration. I mean, the Ynet site claimed it found out its info from a website called Behadrei Hadarim. And I heard that an Israeli newspaper called Maariv had reported the story, too. Maybe it’s a language issue — I don’t read Hebrew and I feel that might be important for my sleuthing.

Perhaps your mileage will vary. What do you think? Does something smell iffy about this story? Or am I being too skeptical?

Print Friendly

  • BC

    Who is meant by “ultra-Orthodox”? What religious communities use this to describe themselves …?

  • Mollie

    We’ve discussed the use of the phrase before here.

  • Mike Hickerson

    Time has posted this “update,” which the WSJ’s James Taranto would surely file under “Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate”:

    UPDATE: According to Hebrew news sources, the story originally published in the Behadrei Haredim newspaper may not have been based on factual reporting. The court denies the sentence was ever handed down, claiming the only action taken against the dog was in calling animal control officials to remove the dog.

    Even this update is a bit odd. Time says the court “denies” the report and “claims” something else happened – in such a weird news story, isn’t the burden of proof on the journalist?

  • Mollie

    Wow. That “update” must have been added moments ago. I just re-read the story during this hour looking for such an update — having given the story a couple of days for debunking.

  • Jerry

    I saw this story and chased it around the internet looking for any original reporting. I read on Yetnews that they asked some children to drive the dog off not stone him to death. But it was still very mysterious. Now I’m not sure if it happened followed by a cover-up and denial or if it did not happen and the truth is coming out. Whatever the facts are, it certainly started a media and blogosphere firestorm.

    One interesting point is that the story does mention the beliefs some Jews have in reincarnation. Of course, being one, I can joke that if you have three Jews in a room you get four opinions, so this belief in reincarnation would not be accepted by other Jews.

  • Will

    “Down with Because! Let him be damned for a dog!” — Liber Al

    (Sorry, I could not resist that.)

  • Martha

    So do the “ultra-Orthodox” believe in re-incarnation? That sounds suspiciously Buddhist to me, but I could be wrong – after all, I’m not an experienced religion reporter who’s all up on the fine nuances.

    *snark button off*

  • Stuart
  • carl

    The story had to be false. Who would believe something as disreputable as a lawyer would be re-incarnated as a Noble Canine. A cat perhaps. Now that would have been believable.


  • TheresaEmilyAnn

    How about just in having been reincarnated should give the dog’s soul another chance at being the best being he could in this life time… no?

  • Jerry

    To speak to Martha’s point, I think the wikipedia entry is pretty good:

    Jewish mystical texts (the Kabbalah), from their classic Medieval canon onwards, teach a belief in Gilgul Neshamot (Hebrew for metempsychosis of souls: literally “soul cycle”, plural “gilgulim”).

    If you don’t agree with me, we can continue this discussion in our next lives :-)

  • Mike Hickerson

    Isn’t one of the points of being a newsWEEKly that you can take time (no pun intended), slow down, and get news stories right?

    I just noticed that the tagline for Time’s Newsfeed blog (where they posted this story) is “What’s vital and viral on the web, in real time.” How many people are visiting for breaking news or viral web memes? Is this really a good niche for them?

    BTW, despite the “update” that contradicts everything in the original story, Time is sticking by its 100% wrong headline and teaser, complete with reincarnation claims and “ultra-Orthodox” label. Here’s a screenshot:

  • Karen

    The more mystical Haredi (Hassidic, Ultraorthodox)Jews do believe in reincarnation in a manner that differs from the Hindu method. The Wikipedia article is a pretty good rundown. The likelihood of them believing a lawyer who died 20 years ago was reincarnated as a dog is not particularly high. And the beit din (court) says that no allusions to reincarnated lawyers were made. The newspaper Maariv which originally published it issued a retraction, but it was picked up on the internet and lives on. The secretariat of the court is calling it a blood libel, saying there is nothing in Judaism that permits stoning a dog.

  • Karen

    Incidentally, not on topic, I read somewhere that the same Hebrew word translated in Greek as “resurrection” also translates as “reincarnation.” Although Jewish theology on reincarnation was not spelled out until the 1500s, I believe that the theory was significantly older. Can anyone verify the translation issue?

  • Sherry