Sunday, 26 February 2012

Charedi dictionary excludes church, mosque, penis and vagina

Stamford Hill's ultra orthodox Jewish (Charedi) community has published a dictionary that left out hundreds of words including church and mosque as well as penis and vagina.

The publication, which was overseen by the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC) came under scrutiny at the end of last year when the Jewish Tribune (a Charedi paper distributed mainly in Stamford Hill) wrote about it - an image of the original story can be found here.

According to a spokesman for the UOHC a group of Rabbis decided which words should be excluded.

In a comment piece on the dictionary historian and Jewish Chronicle columnist Geoffrey Alderman said: "The Charedi dictionary is intended for young people studying for the GCSE - say, 14-16 years of age. In two more years, some will become adults - full citizens of the UK with the right to vote. I do not have a complete list of the words of the genuine Oxford school dictionary that have been omitted or modified in the Charedi version. But I have been told by various spokespersons that these words amount to "several hundred" and include "homosexual", "gay", and "prostitute"."

He added that the justifications provided for excluding these words were "lame" and that the publication was "irresponsible".

The UOHC were not prepared to show a copy of the dictionary to Blood and Property but Geoffrey Alderman had been provided with one which I have now seen. Alderman said that the book should be available in a number of locations including the British Library (publishers have a legal obligation to send a copy within a month of publication).

Another source of controversy was the UOHC's references to the Oxford University Press ("The world's most trusted dictionaries") in its marketing which led to a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. Apparently the UOHC has agreed never again to say that the dictionary was published by Oxford University Press.

The Oxford University Press provided this comment: "The dictionary in question is exclusively for distribution through the UOHC and its affiliated schools as part of a licensing agreement with OUP. While the dictionary is based upon high quality lexographical data supplied by OUP, all editorial decisions were taken by the school, and the dictionary does not carry the OUP imprimatur."

In a recent interview with Blood and Property Rabbi Abraham Pinter, principal of the Yesoday Hatorah School for girls in Stamford Hill, was asked: "Do you approve of an English dictionary that doesn’t include words like church, mosque, penis or vagina?"

He said: "I haven’t seen a copy so it is difficult for me to comment. But I can understand that there may be language that, when my children were at an impressionable age, I would want them to avoid.

"I can understand why it could cause concern but I really don’t know the thought process that went on behind it. All I can suggest - with the diversity of views that there are - when you have something that gets approved by everybody they have to cut down more and more words as everybody’s interests have to be met. I’m amazed there’s any words left at all."

Asked whether he would have the dictionary at his school he said: "We don’t have it at the moment but if individual pupils want it then we will not object."

(Hopefully I'll get around to posting the full interview with Rabbi Pinter by Tuesday)

Here's an example of how the censorship of this dictionary might confuse students:

What is a bishop?

Ok, so what is a mitre?

All clear?

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