May 9th, 2011
12:17 PM ET

Religious paper apologizes for erasing Clinton from iconic photo

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Faith has outweighed fact at Di Tzeitung, a Hasidic newspaper based in Brooklyn, New York.

The ultra-Orthodox Jewish publication ran a doctored copy of the iconic “Situation Room Photo” last Friday – you know, the one taken of President Barack Obama and his national security team during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

Scrubbed from the picture: the two women in the room.

It’s as if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with her hand clasped over her mouth, and Audrey Tomason, director of counterterrorism, weren’t there and weren’t part of history.

The newspaper later apologized for violating White House instructions against altering photos.

"We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department," the newspaper said in a statement Monday.

The original photo, taken by White House photographer Pete Souza, shows Clinton and Tomason.

The news of this broke Friday when Shmarya Rosenberg, 52, posted a quick piece on his blog Failed Messiah.

Rosenberg, of St. Paul, Minnesota, said he wasn't surprised by the photo doctoring and only posted something about it because "it was a slow news day."

A former ultra-Orthodox Jew, Rosenberg has been writing about the ultra-Orthodox community - mostly about crime and what he dubbed "strange media" - for seven years. He said the newspapers in that community have become "increasingly strange with their censorship of women's faces and women's bodies" over the past few years.

He said readers of the Yiddish-language paper used to see photos of rabbis with their wives and that there was then a time when the women were blurred. Now, they're just not there.

In the doctored photo published by Di Tzeitung, Clinton and Tomason are gone.

But in a written statement issued Monday afternoon by Di Tzeitung, the newspaper said that its decision to leave women out of photos is religiously mandated and that the right to do so is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press," the statement said.  "Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board.

"Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging women, which is certainly never our intention," it continued. "We apologize if this was seen as offensive."

But offensive it was to Robin Bodner, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

At JOFA, "we educate and advocate for increased ritual, spiritual and leadership opportunities for women within Jewish law. And sometimes we get the feeling that men wish women were not even in the room," Bodner told CNN in a written statement.

"This picture by [an ultra-Orthodox] newspaper goes a step further by revising history to remove important women leaders from the historic room in which they were present.  It reminds us of how much work is still to be done!"

Within Judaism, there are a number of denominations - Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and modern Orthodox, to name some - and ultra-Orthodox Judaism accounts for just one branch of the faith. And within all of these branches, matters of Jewish law and obligation are often debated.

It's worth noting that the White House included its standard instruction with the photo caption when the image was released:

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.

"We're not going to comment" on this matter, a White House senior official told CNN.

The leadership at Di Tzietung, though, apologized for breaking official White House photo rules.

"Our photo editor realized the significance of this historic moment, and published the picture, but in his haste he did not read the 'fine print' that accompanied the picture, forbidding any changes," the newspaper said in its Monday statement.

Furthermore, Di Tzeitung noted the Orthodox community's respect for Clinton, who served as a senator in New York for eight years.

"She won overwhelming majorities in the Orthodox Jewish communities ... because the religious community appreciated her unique capabilities and compassion to all communities," the statement said. "The allegations that religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office is a malicious slander and libel."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: History • Judaism • Women

soundoff (1,711 Responses)
  1. Candace

    ......and we are worried about Islam? No wonder the tide is turning for Isreal ....I just WANT to say the F-word...as in what the F___ are we puttiing up with HERE in AMERICA?
    I WANT TO SCREAM!!!!!!!!

    May 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  2. Brandy

    As a woman, I find this so unbelievably offensive. The men (and women) who subscribe to this religion are no damned better than those who would keep women covered from head to toe. It's unreal how this type of discrimination is allowed in religion, in this country, in the world. This story would've spread like wildfire if it were someone of color who'd been 'erased', as if their image alone were an affront to decency and morality. Makes me sick!

    May 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Elmo

      Agree completely. But then ya have to pick your battles, and come on, no one really takes these nut jobs seriously. They are seriously engaged in worrying about whether it's ok according to their legal system to flick a light switch on the Sabbath. They all need meds for OCD. The good thing is, they pretty much only exchange their DNA with the same group members, so there is little risk to the outside world.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  3. andy

    Stupid Yids. You are no better than the Fundamentalist Islamics. Guess what- I don't respect you anymore. I'll throw you guys in with the lot of nethanderal-backwards-monkey-societies who don't understand basic human values.
    This is in the US? In brooklyn? How embarrassing. Everyone part of this stupid sect should feel ashamed. Any women involved in it who stay, deserve what they get. Go get a haircut and join the modern age Yids.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  4. StupidWhiteMan

    I wonder if the good folks who publish this paper would mind if someone removed a Jew from a picture prior to publication.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • ItsTime

      Hahahahaa! That would serve them right.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  5. JJ

    Does anyone need any more evidence that orthodox judaism is as anathema to what this country stands for as radical islam? What kind of a moron argues that religious freedom is a justification for such a disgusting action?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  6. mhklein

    I think people should leave the Hasidic paper alone. The only people who read it are the Hasidim. They're not hurting anybody with the doctored photograph. If their religion forbids them from publishing pictures of women, then just let it go. Aren't there more important things to worrry about?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • ItsTime

      That is how extremists are born. They just wait till their numbers are big enough to force other people in following their ways.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  7. George

    Religious extremism is as bad non-religious extremism. For the peoples of the world to coexist peacefully we will all have to move to the middle somewhere, rather than solve the problems as we have done in the past with wars and genocidal actions. This will mean that the women of the world have the same freedoms as the men, regardless of what some guy told some other guy 3000 years ago, or whenever it was.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • andy

      Amen brother!

      May 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
  8. David

    Altering the photo is essentially lying. Are they telling me freedom of religion gives them the right to lie?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  9. vcroellandpmccasky

    I live in an Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn. While I am an observant Orthodox Jew, they really do take things way too far here. Things like this just frustrate me.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  10. AT

    All of these comments are completely ludicrous. Everyone needs to quit connecting eating pork with being Jewish, and EVERYONE needs a reality check about what really is going on here. In the Jewish religion, women are considered holy because they can bring life into the world. Just because they are mandated to dress a certain way does not mean that the Jewish religion does not value women....In fact Judaism respects and values women very highly. Ultra orthodox Jews go exactly by what the book says and follow laws of modesty which most orthodox women agree upon and actually prefer to abide by. The manipulation of the photograph was wrong, that I do believe, however CNN exploited the community and made people perceive it as a community of backwards barbarians who don't value women and their place in society. The issue here is not the religious practices and conservation of the laws of modesty, but rather the manipulation of a historical photograph which was a mistake that was apologized for.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • vasechek

      one note to add. the hasidim are actually a lot more strict on what the men are allowed to wear than women. women get rules – such as: clothes must cover this and that, pants not allowed, etc, but they pick their own colors and fabrics, men pretty much get an all-weather uniform with no flexibility at all.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • andy

      All this BS about them respecting women is BS. You can make all the excuses you want- in the end you are holding women back and you are NOT respecting them. Keep telling yourselves that you are. The rest of us see it as it is- a total farce where you control woman because you are too weak to do it right yourselves. Less worry about afterlife- more worry about problems now. religion is plain stupid.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • vasechek

      actually the irrelevant BS, andy, is what you think of it. it's a matter of the hasidic jews and hasidic jews only. if this is how their men express their respect and how their women agree to receive it then that's that... unlike some other religions no one is forced to be a hasidic jew. you won't get stoned or beheaded if you decided it wasn't your cup of tea.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • MJ

      I get it – 'yer holy now shut up, cover up and disappear'

      May 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  11. meccano

    IF they understand the significance of the moment and the corresponding photo and their intent is not to denigrate woman in general and the Security of State in specific, was it NOTED under the picture that Secretary Clinton's image had been removed (for religious reasons)? Maybe they did make it clear that they picture was altered and how and I just haven't heard that part of the story reported. It is a problem if they erased her from the picture without comment making in seem as if they erased her role from history. In my humble opinion, that is denigrating, disrespectful and dishonest. I'm not really sure who they think they are going to sue "for malicious slander and libel" based on comments made about their lack of editorial professionalism? They seem a wee bit defensive about their lack of journalistic credibility.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    I hope Hillary Clinton goes after them for the sake of other women. Why is the White House silent about this. This is an insult to women in this county. If they live in this country they have to abide to the rules of this country.

    The publisher seems to be repressed people if they are so affected by the image of women in this pictures.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
  13. Artist

    Quite simply they are a pathetic group in my book now. They are no different than such groups like the Taliban.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • HasidicJew

      I guess you could say that... if wrongly editing a photo is the same thing as blowing up the World Trade Center with thousands of civilians inside and attacking London's subway system.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • frontgate

      ANY fundamentalist group is dangerous, extremist and just plain crazy.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      HasidicJew wrote: "I guess you could say that... if wrongly editing a photo is the same thing as blowing up the World Trade Center with thousands of civilians inside and attacking London's subway system."

      Perhaps you should read a real newspaper some day... The Taliban didn't blow up the world trade center or attack the London subway system... that was al-Qaeda...

      May 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • HasidicJew

      Although I agree Artist's comment would have worked better for me had he said Al-Quida (which he could just as easily have said and gotten the same message across), I went with the Taliban, as he had mentioned, seeing as from 1996-2001 Al-Quida was stationed in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, and the two terrorist groups had close cooperation.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • vasechek

      semantics. taliban is a dangerous and violent movement. they are responsible for terror attacks in afghanistan and pakistan and only lack of reach prevents them from taking it to you and i. hasidic jews are "mostly harmless".

      May 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Artist


      semantics. taliban is a dangerous and violent movement. they are responsible for terror attacks in afghanistan and pakistan and only lack of reach prevents them from taking it to you and i. hasidic jews are "mostly harmless".
      I disagree, the jerry curl sideburns are very dangerous and bad a rse weapons. As well as the hats...what was that guy in the James Bond movies with the black hat....granted he was oriental. What we are seeing is simply oppressive and that is where my comparison is. Religious bs oppressiveness.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • vasechek

      sorry, didn't realize the depth of your comparison was the fashion choices. no argument there...

      May 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      vasechek wrote: "hasidic jews are "mostly harmless".

      I disagree... on many grounds... one of which is that their representatives in the Israeli Parliament are constantly pushing the country's government towards the Right and present a constant impediment to any type of reduction in aggression in the region. There are many other objections I could detail... no time...

      May 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • HasidicJew

      As far as the "oppression" goes, while I can't speak for everyone, my wife is hands-down the boss of my family! 🙂

      And don't worry, she's in LOTS of pictures. In fact, she's in charge of the pictures. As well as our Sabbath plans. As well as my checkbook. As well as the kids' education. As well as what I'm wearing right now. 🙂

      I guess I should object and oppress her hard like everyone assumes we do, but I love her too much.

      And like so many other Hasidic "ultra-Orthodox" women, she works. She's a mechanical engineer.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Doug

    It is one thing to not show pictures of women but they could do that by blurring the image or showing them in silhouette. In that case it would be apparent that something was left out of the original picture. However they chose to remove the two women and photoshop the picture in a way that it would appear they were never present. There is a HUGE difference. The former is stupid (in my mind) and the latter is clearly deceitful.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  15. Artist

    Why dont we chip in and buy a year's worth of Play boy for one of their places of worship?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  16. Really?

    So if the president is a woman, I guess they will show "empty" pictures?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Shawn

      They'll probably set it up like the invisible man, a suit hovering with missing head, hands and legs.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  17. Mike

    I don't really see how they can argue that doctoring the photo is ok because they wouldn't publish a picture of a woman. If they don't want to publish a picture of a woman, then don't include that picture with the article. No one says you have to use it. If they can't or won't publish the picture with a woman in it, then don't publish the picture at all.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • pazke

      I think it is fine if they alter it as long as they include a caption stating that it has been altered and naming the women that were removed. (Except that the White House said "don't do it", so they were wrong in that respect).

      May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • gurleegirl

      The owner of the photo has rights. In this case, the paper violated them. It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the law. If the WH wanted to, they could sue the paper. They have decided not to. End of story.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • andy

      I think we are all missing the real point here- and that is if you believe and follow a religion you are a total idiot...

      May 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  18. Ted

    I saw a cattle truck pull into a truck stop last week and every heifer on that truck was better looking than old Hillary Rotten Clinton.They did everyone a favor by erasing her.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Jeffrey Latten

      Ted, wake up! This is the 21st century, like it or not. Your comments on Hillary are totally out of line.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • frontgate

      ted, the aasssshole

      May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • gurleegirl

      You are a moron

      May 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • andy

      I will give you $100 for you to post a real picture of yourself to prove how beautiful you are. I bet you look like crap.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  19. a_virtual_me

    Once again...extreme religion used as a weapon against truth? One would think the jews would have had enough of that during wwII to demand the whole truth of the Press forever.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • JewGoneSouth

      I was raised Jewish and find it to be the least dogmatic of the monotheistic religions...and yet, the reason I am an atheist, in part, is the ridiculous behavior of orthodox adherents (of any religion). Orthodoxy gives us an accurate picture of how one must follow a religion "by the book." Orthodox people of any religion are the least hypocritical. You may not agree with them, but they stay consistent with their teachings. Everyone else who realizes how archaic and non-sensical Abrahamic traditions and stories are, choose a less strenuous version of their religion. That's just pure hypocrisy. You either take what you joined or you don't. The minute you begin to carve out an exception, you've put yourself in the shoes of your god. So, I say judge the religion by the behavior of the orthodoxy. In this case, the treatment of women speaks volumes.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • HasidicJew

      JewGoneSouth, you said the following: "the reason I am an atheist, in part, is the ridiculous behavior of orthodox adherents (of any religion)."

      If my life experience has taught me anything, it's not to base my logical reasoning and beliefs about something that has nothing to do with people's behavior precisely on people's behavior.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  20. JT

    You'll notice that any fundamentalist of the god of Abraham have very much in common. Jews, Christians and Muslims are exactly the same at their root....Abraham. It's after Abraham that they diverge and become enemies.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • christopher neal

      Correct. Not many people know that.

      May 9, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.