JTA — New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens has taken on a side gig as the editor of a new limited-run journal of essays about Jewish issues.
The journal, titled Sapir, is an initiative of the Maimonides Fund, an increasingly influential force in Jewish philanthropy that supports Jewish identity-building through media, education and Israel engagement. Over the past year, the fund has also become known for its leadership on COVID relief efforts.
The first of four print issues scheduled for 2021 will land in mid-April and will focus on social justice — a topic Stephens has addressed in columns that criticize progressive efforts.
“Our first issue is on the subject of Jews and social justice,” Stephens wrote in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “This is a complex, controversial, multidimensional topic. We cover it from a variety of angles — religious, historical, political, ethical — and a range of political persuasions.”
The new journal comes as the Jewish world debates challenges gripping wider American culture, including racism, anti-Semitism, political polarization and the erosion of democratic norms. Stephens has chimed in to lament “cancel culture” and “wokeness.”
Sapir appears to be an attempt to address these and other controversial issues, with the stated goal of providing possible solutions to an audience of leaders and professionals in the organized Jewish community.
Maimonides President Mark Charendoff said he wanted to invigorate a communal conversation that he said has become impoverished amid the shuttering of Jewish publications and the increasing tendency of people to consume news content that conforms to their preexisting views. (Disclosure: The Maimonides Fund supports 70 Faces Media, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s parent organization.)
“The country has become more polarized. And social media is a bad place to unearth new perspectives,” Charendoff said. “Could we create a neutral platform that could afford to present different points of view that are controversial? My vision was this journal.”
He said he tapped Stephens, who has written a biweekly column for the New York Times since 2017, because he trusts Stephens’ ability to produce a high-quality product that’s not beholden to a single point of view.
“I view Bret as center-right,” Charendoff said. “He has been such a public anti-Trumper so I am not sure the right embraces him. He’ll ensure good quality writing and a diversity of opinion.”
Stephens noted that his role with Sapir is to commission work from authors and to frame each issue with an introduction, but not to write any of the essays. He said he maintains full editorial control over the content of Sapir.
Stephens said the Times is aware he’s editing Sapir and that he anticipated no conflicts.
“Given the format (a journal of ideas), style (long-form ‘think pieces’), themes (Jewish dilemmas of various sorts), and purpose (helpful ideas for Jewish leaders), I do not think there is any overlap with subjects I might plausibly cover for The Times,” Stephens said in an email. “If there is, I would certainly disclose and discuss it with my editors.”