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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. Denese

    This is a prime example of why no one likes them. What backwards, prehistoric thinking.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  2. Mark Michigan

    wow, these ultra orthodox jews are just like the muslims in the middle east. they say they 'revere' women. the truth seems the opposite.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  3. Jeffrey

    I think what everyone fails to realize is that this is a paper for a very small specific community. It's not the official record. Who does this harm.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • AngieS

      Sadly, Jeffrey, similar "omissions" and revisions were made to small newspapers during the rise of the third reich and look at how many that harmed...

      May 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • vasechek

      don't hold your breath waiting for the hasidic jews to fire up the gas chambers, angie

      May 9, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  4. bronx bomber

    Just like a Jew.... always imposing on something
    No matter what it may be.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • gonavy

      gee Bronx, sorry the gas chambers aren't around anymore?

      May 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  5. jay

    Before you all run off screaming about the Hasidic Taliban and about Orthodox Jewish “fundamentalist” that are deriding women – please give me a minute to explain why we don’t condone viewing pictures of foreign women that are not our spouses or intimate family members.

    The secular mindset formed by the inundation of explicit images day in and day out from billboards to blackberry's and on the web, in social media, magazines and romance novels etc. won’t be able to begin to fathom that a religious newspaper would edit out a picture of a modestly dressed women sitting in a situation room. Their intellect is not capable of digesting such a tidbit that absolutely makes no sense to them so they end up doing what all haters of G-dliness do, they call names. “Throwbacks,” “fanatics,” “chauvinists” etc. etc.” “These Hasidim are no better then burka wearing and turban touting militant Muslim jihadists.”

    It’s simply because these secularists have no more purity or for that matter any shame left in their lives. There are no limitations in their lives, its just do what I want, say what I want and be what I want! The tragic results of such a secular society is the moral morass with which we find ourselves today. It’s a society that has a divorce rate of 50% in large part because of social media like Facebook and indecent image viewing. It’s a society where children are giving birth to children and it’s a society that has completely lost it’s sense of shame and modesty. And the most tragic part of that is that we end up with a world that has lost any vestiges of a moral compass and all we are left with- is my rights, my desires and my needs.

    But for all those of you that are willing to hear our perspective please give me a second to explain two points:

    1- Let us consider the following analogy: if you were to walk down the street and pass an abandoned house you would probably find a simple “no trespassing sign” posted on the door. it would probably not be safe to walk inside; the floor might be rotted and one misstep could mean injury. But the only warning is this one simple no trespassing sign because the potential damage incurred by entering this house would probably not be catastrophic.

    On the other hand if you were entering a military nuclear facility you would see warning signs miles before you actually arrived at the site. you would be put on notice well in advance. “Beware! you are are approaching a nuclear missile facility. Authorized personnel only! as you got closer to the facility the warnings would become more alarming and the security even tighter- all in proportion to the potential which your trespassing or G-d forbid a potential terrorist could cause. There would be perimeter after perimeter of security and barrier after barrier buffer zones to protect this all important facility.

    We have to understand the male and female attraction can be the most enticing draw that can have devastation consequences. Therefore our holy Torah has mandated that we provide ourselves with perimeter after perimeter, barrier after barrier of protection so that there should be no devastating consequences.

    Was it so necessary to crop out the women in the ‘situation room” photo probably not but in order for us to give an objective opinion we must view this incident in the larger picture of self defense. defense of possible material that might slip through. If we work to understand that pictures of women that are foreign to us need not be viewed then that creates a strength on our part to be able to possibly withstand the temptation to look at more sensuous photos when they do come our way. But if the images of women are simply a part of the fabric of our every day cultural absorption then we have already lost the fight even before it began. We try to hardwire our mindset to deal with temptation even before it lurks in front of us.

    2- Women, according to Judaism, share a special trait called binah, loosely translated as "deep understanding." In the Torah, women are exemplified as having a rich inner world, possessing a unique power to influence people's character; they are described as having insight and perception beyond logic, external facts and superficial facades.

    If women are viewed externally, devoid of internal character and spirituality, they are stripped of their unique gift and strength. A danger exists that they will be objectified and degraded. In fact, we see that cultures which admire women primarily for their physical characteristics, ultimately degrade them and take advantage of them.

    In view of this dangerous possibility - coupled with a strong tendency among males to notice the physical and external and be stimulated visually - women would do well to de-emphasize their bodies in order to emphasize that which is their real beauty: their inner strengths, their souls.

    All of the honor of the daughter of the King is within. (Psalms 45:14)

    Of course, none of this implies that women shouldn't look beautiful. In fact once the physicality is not distracting, and the internal holiness is realized, it is a mitzvah to glorify the vessel for holiness, that representation of spirituality.

    Just as the Tabernacle and the Jewish Temples were stunningly attractive, so too a woman, an obvious vessel for a rich and potent inner essence, is further enhanced by a beautiful exterior. One which is infused with spiritual content and NOT an empty shell.

    Are we perfect absolutely not but we try real hard. We set the bar even higher as we continuously strive to better ourselves, our families and the communities we live in. We are not looking for accolades but before you rush to judgment please give us a chance to tell our side of the story. Thank you

    May 9, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Heather

      How is this different than Muslims? Orthodox Jewish women also cover their hair, like Muslim women. I don't understand the hate. When you boil all three of the major religions down, you get the same deity. All three are descended from Abraham, yet all three (thousands of years later) continue to bicker and fight over pretty petty things. There's constant hate between Muslims and Jews that really needs to stop. Neither side is any better than the other...and at the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Tom

      Blah, blah, blah! Pure excrement or religion...take your pick.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • vasechek

      heather, guess what, we are all earthlings.... let's start with that.
      jay, I understand where you are coming from, but there must be rational limits to everything, otherwise what you end up with is extremism. putting up barrier after barrier does not help and there are perverts and sinners of the highest order among hasidic jews all the same... the barriers do not protect you, in a way they make you more vulnerable should they fail for any reason. the barriers ought to be inside you. if they aren't – you're gone anyway. taking this particular episode – there were a few ways to not display the ladies without making it look like they were not even there. as it is it looks very much like the editor was trying to twist the truth in the crudest way possible

      May 9, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  6. rosethornne

    Revolting in too many ways.

    May 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  7. Mister Tomorrow

    Well said. I too neither belong to or condemn anyone's religious beliefs but it amazes me that millions of people remain deaf and dumb to the hypocrisy of any ideology that simultaneously says "love each other" and "hate each other." Hunh?
    Also, what is the difference between saying "ultra-orthodox" and "extremist" ? What's the difference between women having to cover themselves with a veil or a wig?
    Right on our own Brooklyn streets, there are xerox signs all over reminding the women that their skirts better not be shorter than 4 inches below the knee because it's "forbidden". I wonder why no one ever calls these poor women repressed or oppressed or discriminated against?

    May 9, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Rational thinker

      Personally, I think they ARE repressed but the difference is, if they choose to dress more liberally/modernally, the worst that will happen is being shunned by the more traditional parts of the Orthodox community. And Orthodox women do not cover their faces.

      In the analogous Muslim orthodox community, many women have been murdered in so-called "honor" killings.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  8. Jim

    Oh, religion. The lulz you net me.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Paul Ronco

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

    May 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  10. BB

    Stop funding Israel and redirect the money toward promoting women equality and the abolition of patriarchal stoneagism. In the west we call the "I'm sorry" scenario, Caca Del Toro

    May 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  11. Frank

    What a nutty religion. Its 2011 not 1411

    May 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  12. BB

    muslims cover their women in burkas and jews photoshop them out of existence altogether. Both are disgraceful. Both are a religious cancer on humanity. Both should be abolished from civilization.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • gonavy

      toss in Christianity, and you've got a deal.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Rational thinker

      Stereotyping isn't rational behavior (nor is it nice).

      Before you denigrate a religious system that has sustained a people for 3000 years, learn some more about it, and the historic forces that shaped it in ALL its many manifestations.

      I recommend a mix of a religion's most important doctrinal works, along with an overview of how that belief set is taught and practised in the modern world.

      If you do sincere and in-depth research, you will find that there are thousands of female rabbis and educators. You will find that Judaism teaches that all people, REGARDLESS of religion, can find redemption. You will find that Jews are taught in every synogogue service that a person should be kind to others, and never do to anyone what they wouldn't want done to themselves.

      And you will find that in every religion, in every ethnicity, in every nation, there are good people and bad, and that most are in between, just like you.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  13. Eric Nicolas

    >>"The allegations that religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office is a malicious slander and libel."<<

    They only denigrate IMAGES of women and only disrespect the EXISTENCE of women in public office. So you can't realy call this a "newspaper" or journalism of any real sort – just religious propaganda. As such it violates all the terms of the use agreement for the image.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  14. ChcukB

    Kosher Taliban?

    May 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Artist

      lol good one

      May 9, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  15. Shirley A

    I wonder what they thought of what they did about Golda Meir, who was Israels fourth Prime Minister and the only woman. Too bad they don't remember that Deborah was a judge in Israel, and there were many other women who brought great honor to themselves and their country.
    Obviously are still writing the laws with men's eyes, not Gods.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  16. BB

    religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office

    May 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  17. thatbrutha

    I'm sorry but this isn't an I'M SORRY MATTER, as a matter of FACT this is the historical revisionist type stuff that out right scares most normal people. You don't just accidentally hit photoshop CLINTON ERASE, or WOMAN ERASE FUNCTION if so the new photoshop is gonna be scary.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Hasidic Judaism, Shariah-based Islam: What's the difference? To me, they are both radicalized version of religion, equally so.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • vasechek

      one is religion of death, the other religion of life. the magnitudes may be comparable, but the poles are reversed.

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

      Can't ever remember a Hasidic Jew as a suicide bomber.

      May 9, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Yoann

      One has better PR people than the other

      May 9, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • vasechek

      yoann, exactly. when was the last time you saw messages from hasidic patriarchs played over all news channels world wide and everyone taking notice? heck the islamic PR is good enough to paint terrorists into innocent victims and to brainwash young and gullible people into becoming suicide murderers

      May 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  19. Yisroel

    Point, they have apologized. To this Hasidic community, Truth is Truth. When you sensor you are telling lies and the Torah is clear.. You may have to accept seeing flesh when reporting outside your own community to protect your rights within your community. America is not an easy place to live. Nothing is black and white, shades og greasy.

    May 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  20. Tammy

    I wonder if they realize that by "omitting" certain aspects of history based on their relgious views (or for any other reason for that matter) is not changing it?? To me, it only serves to set you apart from the rest because you're pretending that something didn't happen or someone wasn't there when it did or they were. It makes you much less credible.

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

      They omit information all the time about how many Palestinians they kill

      May 9, 2011 at 8:00 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.