Noah Feldman (Photo: Harvard Law School)Harvard law Prof. Noah Feldman has come under fire for an essay he published in the New York Times Magazine. Feldman, an authority on international law and relations and a regular Times contributor, wrote an emotional account of his Modern Orthodox Jewish upbringing in Brookline Mass., where he attended Maimonides School, a yeshiva day school. The essay, "Orthodox Paradox," seemed more of a cathartic exercise for Prof. Feldman, who was deeply and understandably wounded by his schoolmates' and teachers' outright rejection after Feldman married a Korean-American, than a pointed analysis of the dilemma that modernity poses to the observance of traditional Jewish law. Now, the Orthodox Union, an American umbrella organization, is calling for the NYT to fire Feldman for a breach of journalistic ethics, calling him the "Jewish Jayson Blair," a reference to the serial fabricator who once worked at the newspaper! The controversy? Feldman begins his essay with an anecdote. After a high school reunion photograph is taken, he discovers that he and his then fiancée are missing from the final print. This exclusion is the jumping off point for Feldman's entire reflection. Unfortunately, it's also the most problematic bit of the essay. It appears that even before the article was printed Feldman had good reason to believe that the photographer did not manually remove him and his girlfriend from the photo. Feldman told The Jewish Week:
“When I first wrote it I was doing it from memory. When [the photographer] turned up the contact sheet there was no contradiction at all, as far as I could tell. They had several photos to choose from and they chose one that I wasn’t in. There’s no question that one could offer other explanations for what happened,” other than that it was intentional. “It’s not as if [the photo] was an outlying event. It fit right in with the other things [refusing to print his lifecycle notices]. This was a memoir of my experience.”At a glance, the text of the article accords just fine with Feldman's explanation. There isn't any outright accusation of an early- to mid-nineties PhotoShop job, just the melancholy implication that the man was wronged. When Feldman confronts the photographer, nothing substantive is said, only a very muted of admission guilt. But guilt of what? Of excluding Feldman or of cropping him and Jeannie Suk out of the picture? It seems to me that Feldman's got a good case. But then again, I am the son of a law professor.