Why Did a Hasidic Newspaper Photoshop Women Out of a Pic?

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Dear Jew in the City,

I would like to know what your thoughts are on the recent articles about the newspaper Hamevaser’s photoshopping of female leaders out of the photo of the French Unity March in Paris the other day. By the way, I love your site and I’ve gained a lot of insight into how to be a more observant reform convert.

Thanks,

Steve

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your question and glad you’re enjoying our site! This one picture has gotten a lot of attention since news of it broke a few days ago. As of now, there are thousands of articles about it on Google news*, and it’s being covered by outlets as big as the New York Times, Slate, Daily News, Huffington Post, and Newsweek (where I was quoted). While I don’t agree with removing women from newspaper photos (I’m neither a fan of not showing them at all, but am even more bothered by altering pictures), and while modestly dressed woman are allowed to be seen by men (according to Jewish law) – I am still troubled by how obsessed the world is with the goings-on of one tiny Hasidic newspaper.

Although I strive for a middle-of-the-road type of observance (our sages warn us that someone who is lenient about everything is a heretic while someone who is stringent about everything a “wise fool”), I do my best to understand the viewpoints of those to the right and to the left of me. Not because I necessarily agree with them, but rather because the more we can understand where people are coming from (as long as they are not doing things like massacring people!) the more we can co-exist in a tolerant way.

So let’s try to understand where the idea of not publishing photos of women (which as I understand it is a newish phenomenon in the Haredi world) comes from. My guess is that as the secular world has pushed boundaries of immodesty, the more right wing elements of the Orthodox Jewish world have reacted with a push a more stringent view of modesty.

And think about it: As we sit and attack this paper for cropping women out, I’d like you to take a look at the publications sitting in your home right now. Are we dealing with photoshopped pictures of women here too? And are women’s body parts in these photos being used to sell products? I am no fan of marginalizing women, but I am equally troubled by the exploitation of women.

In fact, the root of the “no women in public photos” concept comes from an extension of an idea that is (in my opinion) one of Judaism’s most beautiful laws protecting women, called shomer einayim (guarding of the eyes). While the mitzvah of modesty appears at first glance to fall solely on the woman, men actually have their own set of responsibilities in the sphere of modesty. That’s because, according to Jewish law, any area of her body that a woman is supposed to cover up from men who are not her husband or close blood relative (upper arms, upper legs and chest), a man is forbidden to see those parts of a woman who is not his wife or close blood relative. What these laws end up leading to is a woman saving her body only for her husband’s eyes because he saves his eyes only for her body.

For all the ladies out there who have husbands with wandering eyes – women who worry how they’ll compare to the next younger, fitter girl who walks by, the mitzvah of shomer einayim gives a wife the security of knowing “he only has eyes for her.”

Now, to be fair, shomer einayim still permits a man to see modestly dressed women, which begs the question: does never showing women in publications somehow hurt them? I can see this issue from both sides: on one hand, I have many female friends who are happily living in the Haredi world who feel respected and cherished. Then again, I am friends with several people who are formerly Haredi who certainly did feel stifled by these extreme measures of modesty.  That’s part of the reason why Jew in the City recently launched Project Makom – an initiative for former or questioning Haredim who do feel that the stringencies are too much and who are looking for a more open type of observance. At the same time I don’t judge those who are happy with a more closed off lifestyle–and I hope after reading this response, you will also be better able to see where they are coming from.

Sincerely yours,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)
*When you do a Google news search for: “HaMevaser” – the name of the paper.
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Allison Josephs About Allison Josephs

Allison is the Founder and Director of Jew in the City. Please find her full bio here.

Comments

  1. Its not like the women they arent showing are Playboy Bunnies!Lets get real,its just another form of control.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sue. You are correct that the women in the photo were modestly dressed and that according to Jewish law they were able to be seen by men. While there are certainly some men in the ultra-Orthodox world who want to control women, my sense is that this is not the motivation behind the no photo thing.

      • Hi, The Shulchan Aruch says clearly that someone that’s “Mistakel” even on a finger of a women, is just as prohibited, the Shulchan Aruch distinguishes between “Mistakel Al Yofyoh”, which is looking on her beauty and simple looking.
        Once you know this, the reason religious newspapers don’t put in pictures of women is pretty obvious; in order not to come to be “Mistakel” (Stare).
        Another reason the Frum papers don’t put in women is because once you start putting in, you’ll have to start being busy with each picture if it’s appropriate or not, and exactly where does the line cross?
        And how is it possible not to cross the Tznius line without discriminating against someone down the lane? The papers that put in women, do compromise on Tznius sometimes, since it’s impossible not to.

        Here you have the reasoning, since you were brought up in a different background, you might not want to accept this explanation, but this is the logical rational explanation.

        Thanks!

        • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

          Chazal tell us that a man may not be mistakel, even at a woman’s pinky. Halacha does not require women to wear gloves.
          Similarly, Rav Moshe ruled that a man may sit next to a woman on a crowded bus or subway unless he’s aroused by it. If that’s the case, then that particular man may not.
          In short, halacha does not proscribe things that are not sexual in nature. If a certain person is “turned on” by them, then that person is obligated to remove himself from the situation.
          And, seriously, it would be too time-consuming to decide which pictures are appropriate or inappropriate? Every newspaper in the world does that. It’s by definition the photo editor’s job! I fail to see how PhotoShopping women out of pictures is less time-consuming – that’s clearly more time and effort!

  2. When Charedi magazines photoshopped Hillary Clinton out of the situation room picture back in May of 2011, there was another issue: that photo had been available for reprinting on the condition that it was not to be edited in any way. Isn’t reprinting a photo not in accordance with its terms forbidden by Jewish law? If not, isn’t it unethical?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, AJ. I believe that editing a photo is far more problematic than simply not showing a woman (I mentioned that initially) and yes, for the ethical reasons you noted.

    • Check your facts. The picture was in the public domain (or whatever the legal term for photos), had no copyright issues or restrictions attached. If you’re gonna bash, check your facts first.

  3. I agree it doesn’t seem terribly significant compared with everything else going on in the world. But if HaMevaser had simply blurred or pixelated the women’s images, it might not have attracted so much outside attention. Instead, they made an editorial decision to present an altered reality. It’s one thing that Angela Merkel was cut out — she was attending to show solidarity — but cutting out the Mayor of Paris seems worse because she was there in an official leadership capacity. The same goes for the removal of Hillary Clinton from the photo of the situation room scene during the operation to storm Osama bin Laden’s compound. Changing the scene itself makes it seem to outsiders that these publications are trying to rewrite history. Don’t worry, though. By this time next week we’ll have moved on to obsessing over some other minor thing.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, ZFMD. I’m not a fan of pixelating women either (I’ve seen it in other publications) – it reminds me of what’s done to criminals on those cop shows! And yes, I agree that photoshopping is worse than not showing.

  4. Behind the facade of trying to reshape the way the world views Orthodox Judaism this blog is in fact excusing if not inciting the prejudice driven censure against the values of Orthodox Jews. Otherwise why even acknowledge and bring attention to the matter?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Joel. Once the issues was being written about in every major paper and had thousands of hits on Google news we felt it was time to give some nuance to the discussion.

  5. Robin Silver-Zwiren says:

    The Hassidim who believe it is necessary to crop women out of the photo are perpetuating their ignorance. There is no halachic basis for their action just stringencies that our forefathers, and certainly matriarchs, would have frowned on. These are often the same Hassidim who stone women who go without stockings in Mea Shearim (yes I have witnessed this). If they keep teaching their sons that this is okay soon we will have Jews who act like radical Muslims and they too will to torturing homosexuals and young girls. We need to spend more time learning the positive lessons that are actually in our Torah rather than the biased ones.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Robin. To be clear – I am NOT a fan of the cropping or not having women at all. You are completely correct that halacha doesn’t require it and as I noted, I fear that it could make some women feel marginalized. However – for the record – I do not believe the croppers are automatically in the same camp as the rock throwers. Rock throwing is *against* halacha and violent whereas not publishing pics of women is just an extreme behavior that doesn’t necessarily break any law (except for the photoshopping which is unethical).

  6. Now how about an article about why secular Jewish newspapers/bloggers will highlight the stupidest non-issues that they know the non-Jewish mind will never understand, bring it to the attention of the world just so they can enjoy bashing orthodox Jews. They KNOW why the women have been erased. They KNOW non-Jews will never be able to wrap their heads around the reason. They KNOW it will make Torah Jews look bad, so they do it.
    By the way, there’ is no halacha that a man may look at a modestly dressed woman. A man must avert his eyes from any strange women, modestly dressed or otherwise. That’s what shmiras anayim is about.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Leah, but this was not only highlighted by secular Jewish outlets – it is ALL over the internet and we have written about how much people love to mock Orthodox Jews http://jewinthecity.com/2013/05/the-man-in-the-plastic-bag-the-woman-and-the-foundation-how-the-world-loves-to-mock-orthodox-jews/

      I do not think that your average non-Orthodox Jew understands the reasoning ultra-Orthodox Jews have for not putting photos of women in publications. They see it as pure misogyny. I also don’t think it’s fair to say “non-Jews will never be able to wrap their heads around it.” There are groups of non-Jews who believe in ultra-forms of modesty as well – that is not only a Jewish value.

      In terms of “there is no halacha that a man may look at a modestly dressed woman” I’d like to correct you there. The law is that a man may not *stare* at a modestly dressed woman, but he can look at her as he’s talking to her, or glancing by her picture as he’s reading an article.

      • It was splashed all over the internet AFTER an Israeli (read secular Jewish) paper highlighted the story, as has been the pattern with most everything marking orthodox Jews as misogynistic fools.
        I don’t know where you are coming from, but modesty is ONLY a Jewish value, one that many non-Jews have also adopted along with many other Jewish values, albeit not with all of the nuances associated with it.
        But you digress.
        Even in the most modest circles of non-Jews none have shmiras anayim the way the Torah prescribes, and the Torah has very harsh words about men who look, gaze, or stare (choose your favorite word) at women, even modestly dressed, wrinkled, old or fat. No he may not look at her even when he speaks to her. A YIrei Shamayim will find a discreet way to just not look at a woman he is talking to. The newspaper you write about caters to a readership that does not want pictures of women floating around the house, for this very reason.
        Unless you know otherwise, the photo was in the public domain (as was the White House photo of Hillary Clinton).
        Sorry for confusing you with the facts.

        • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

          Thanks for your comment, Leah, but the gemara tells us that modesty is an innate value – not a Jewish value. The gemara in Eruvin says “Had the Torah not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat.”

          From what Muslims have told me, they have some form of shmiras aiyanim too. In terms of “gazing” or “staring” – I beg to differ with you – it is different than “looking.” Nearly every single religious Jewish man I know looks at women when they talk to them and a good deal of those mean are yirei shamayim.

          In terms of the picture – it most certainly was not in public domain. The rights belong to the photographer and/or news agency. You have not confused me with “facts” as many of your “facts” are incorrect.

          • …How are you so certain the picture was not in the public domain? The White House picture was, yet you let an accusatory comment pass. Just tell us how you are so certain the picture was altered illegally.
            Shmiras Anayim is not an innate value, Allison. It is human nature for men to look/gaze/or stare at women. “Look” does not mean “see” as you wish to insinuate, and Shmiras Anayim and modesty are not the same thing.
            Your blog is beginning to smell of rotten fish.

          • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

            Thanks for your comment, Leah. I am sure that the picture was not in the public domain because we have dealt with pictures like this before. It belongs to the photographer and news agency. (When you see words like “Reuters” or “AP” next to an image, it is their way of saying they own it.)

            You didn’t mention “shmiras ainayim” before. You mentioned “modesty.” The gemara I quoted says that modesty could have been learned from a cat, so to ascribe “modesty” only to Jews does not seem to be what the gemara is telling us. Also, while not all religions believe in shmiras aiynayim, there certainly is a secular concept of men whose heads turn as other women walk by (and that being a bad thing). Unfortunately, pornography is rampant in secular society and even the most “liberated” women have men who do not respect them in this way. (That’s why I called out the secular world for not being kind enough to women in this regard.)

            I’m not sure why explaining copyright law and gemaras smell like rotten fish.

          • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

            The White House photo was definitely NOT “public domain!” In fact, it was subject to strict terms of use:

            “The newspaper says its photo editor did not realize he was violating White House conditions that prevent the altering of any official photographs when he digitally removed the women before publication last Friday.”

            http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2011/05/12/newspaper_apologizes_for_digitally_removing_women_from_white_house_photo.html

            See also: pretty much any news report that covered the story.

          • Wrong again. The White House picture was definitely a picture in the public domain with no copyrights owned by anybody. If you consider The White House a copyright holder (which it isn’t) it merely translates into “we the people.”
            So if you are, indeed, a Rabbi, as you claim, pray tell us what Jewish law (halacha), criminal law, or civil law was broken. No hogwash about “ethics” please. It was nice of the newspaper to apologize when they didn’t even have to.
            What is certain beyond the shadow of a doubt is that this blog has seriously violated the laws of shmiras halashon on a scale where teshuva is almost impossible.

          • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

            Respectfully, you clearly know nothing of intellectual property, copyright law, or the public domain. Allow me to quote the White House Terms of Use for photographs in full:

            “This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”

            Offhand, I can think of two halachos that might potentially be violated through manipulating a photo in violation of its terms of use: (1) dina d’malchusa dina (for violating the White House’s rule, and copyright law in general) and (2) geneivah (because they used something beyond the stated parameters of its owner, which is halachic theft).

            I could also argue that it violates geneivas daas and midvar sheker tirchak. Yes, you said earlier that the Hasidic readers of this paper know that women are airbrushed out but how are they to know what women were in a photo before it was airbushed? Doing so still alters the reality of a visual presented even if readers assume an edit was done.

  7. pnina baim says:

    Allison, I really appreciate your perspective on this matter. As a professional orthodox woman, deleting pictures of women is my biggest pet peeve. It does seem to smack of chauvinism when males can be pictured but not women. In the interest of equality and fairness, nobody should have their pictures printed (and that is probably a closer interpretation of the law). Although you are right, it is a small issue, almost no Jewish publications print pictures of women, modest or not, young or old (or even dead) anymore, and that is truly frustrating.

  8. Catholic Mom says:

    “I also don’t think it’s fair to say “non-Jews will never be able to wrap their heads around it.” There are groups of non-Jews who believe in ultra-forms of modesty as well – that is not only a Jewish value.”

    Well, I can’t speak for any other group, but as far as Christians go, there is no law whatsoever that forbids a man from looking at a woman, whether she’s dressed modestly or not (unless, obviously, you’re talking about pornography) and there are no groups that forbid depiction of women but not men. For example, Amish do not allow photography in general but not for “modesty” in the physical sense but for “modesty” in the spiritual sense (that is, taking a photograph of someone is seen as somehow distinguishing or elevating them above others). And this applies to men as well as women. With the sole exception of these groups, depiction of women has never been an issue. Certainly most of the great Western religious art (which is to say basically all of the great Western art up until about 500 years ago) depicted women. And the depictions of Eve were pretty racy. 🙂 There are certain extremely small groups today with dress codes but none of these groups forbid men to look at women who are not dressed according to the code, much less not looking at women who are.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Catholic Mom. Muslims for sure have laws of modesty and Muslims have told me that men have a similar law of guarding their eyes. Also, for the record – even the most ultra ultra Orthodox Jews don’t forbid the depiction of women – it’s that they don’t want that depiction put in a public place.

  9. Thank you for addressing this issue. I have two questions:

    First, could the decision to edit Angela out have anything to do with the fact that she represents Germany? Given the politics of national representation at this particular rally, it does not seem preposterous.

    And second, if observant Jewish women strictly follow tzniut but Jewish men come in contact with non-Jewish non-modest women all the time, could that have the unintended consequence of overly sexualizing the Other? What would that mean for Jewish partnerships?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Hannah, but this was a modesty (i.e. female) thing, not a Germany thing.

      Second – men are supposed to do what they can to minimize seeing body parts of women who are not their wives, so it means avoiding beaches when they’re packed with scantily clad women, etc. It is not always easy to do, but it’s what men are supposed to be working on.

  10. I bumped into your site by accident. It seems to me that your preaching tolerance while you are being very intolerant. In other words this site is perpetrating a fraud.

  11. Allison, thanks for taking the time to patiently reply to everyone ( or most). Where i take isssue with your argument is that you say that its the same as what we are seeing on a daily basis of photo shopped women. I would agree at some level, but more importantly the issue of women s body image and the photo shopping of women is a very talked about issue. Its very much out there in the forefront of discussion. As an Israeli the issue of invisible women is much more than just Andrea Merkel, its everywhere. Advertisements, news, government ( recently a picture all the women in Government were photo shopped out. Only recently the courts said that Egged had to put posters on the buses that included women in adverts. So yes its like photoshopping, but Photoshop is a big issue and its much more than a simple Merkel disappearance.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      thanks, Bill – i am trying to be patient! i was speaking more about some small Chasidic newspapers that serve the Chasidic community so they can keep the standards they believe in their own homes. when it starts creeping into other communities, that is FAR more troubling and i believe it needs to stop.

  12. I’m sorry to burst the bubble, but (some) Hasidic men, even and most poignantly those from communities where gender segregation is the most extreme and discussion of women’s invisibility would be considered absurd, do cheat on their wives (just like anybody else.) Of course there’s no way to quantify this, to name percentages, and my anecdotal experience will differ from someone else’s. But it happens. It very much happens. Riding the bus between Crown Heights and Williamsburg, I rejected crudely worded indecent proposals almost daily for a while, and they never came from the more ideological, less isolated, and less behaviorally restricted Lubavitchers. I felt very sorry for those men from Williamsburg, for their palpable desperation, for their lack of social understanding once faced with a neighboring culture, for whatever happened along the way to convince them that baggy jeans and eye contact must signal an unquenchable desire to bring strangers home. This isn’t to paint the Williamsburg communities with a broad brush by any means- I know so many happy Satmar families. But just as women who consciously feel the sting of marginalization suffer, so do many men.

  13. It distresses me that women are being unrepresented.

  14. Diana Trimble says:

    Religion is so ridiculous. And the picture that it paints of men as being constantly in danger of being sexually aroused by “strange women” is as insulting towards males as the resulting bans and endless controlling rules about conduct and dress are to women. Religion is for people who somehow have become detached from the inner compass that tells a person what is right and wrong and what doesn’t really matter either way. I don’t need rule books to lead a good life. And plenty of people who dedicate themselves to following this or that one don’t end up leading good lives anyway. Sad.

    • Rabbi Jack Abramowitz says:

      I wouldn’t exactly call this incident – the work of a tiny sub-group – a scathing indictment of Judaism, let alone of religion in general. There are plenty of moral atheists, but also a good number of jerks; the same is true for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. People are people, regardless of their theology. Yes, plenty of people of all faiths do manage to miss the point of their religions but as a whole, they are no worse than secular individuals. And many people are definitely better individuals because of their faiths!

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