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. Hmmm

    So much of human behavior seems OK to some and yet to others a bit 'wacky'. What concerns me is that the constant censoring of women by various groups smacks of the extremes of "sharia law". Obviously this is contrary to the scriptural injunction that indicates there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, but that ALL are equal in God's sight.

    May 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  2. Elad

    As a person who become "ultra-orthodox" in his 20's, I am saddened to see how many people are so quick to judge an entire group of people they have, presumably, little contact with. Especially when they are doing it in the name of tolerance.

    Is it tolerance to attack a group of people for their religious beliefs? Is it logical to think that erasing a woman from a picture can be equated to the oppression of women that happens in middle eastern countries? Is it enlightened to presume that the Chassidic people who did this did it out of some sort of malice, with very little facts to back yourself up?

    As someone who has lived in both a secular and chassidic, "ultra-orthodox" culture, I can tell you from experience that the women in my religious sphere are extremely strong, enlightened and fulfilled. These are not oppressed women. They are women that strongly believe in the religion that they have either been born into or chosen. Some of them choose to work, while most of them believe that they do a much better thing for the world by being able to spend as much time with their children and family as possible. There is a reason that a recent poll indicated that religious Jews are the happiest group of people in the world.

    I am not necessarily arguing that all women should be erased from pictures. What I am arguing is that it is wrong to judge a group of people because we do not understand their actions. Perhaps there is actually something deeper going on.

    May 11, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Artist

      Then it weould appear your group needs to step up and speak out against such things. As we know silence means you condone. Oddly you don't see Jews speaking out...where is the outcry? I think we know what is really going on and lets drop the tolerance bs.

      May 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      All of this is likely true but the women in the photo were not ultra orthodox Jews and they are very much a part of the Government that is making war on your biggest enemy. Your group took that away from them. And, ultimately, you did what the government specifically said not to. So, does this mean that you have the right to dump on women who are not your kind and go against the government at will? You revised history for your people. How are they to do accurate analysis if what you feed them is lies?

      May 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I think I can understand your point, however, I also think there are limits to "understanding." In this case for example, I find it hard to justify altering the photo, not just because of a particular view of women good or bad, but because it's false, not accurate. If they don't agree with printing photos of women then don't, but don't falsify docu.ments in order to achieve some goal, be it political, religious, monetary, or ideological.
      They did have the choice of not printing any photo. Heck, they might even have been able to crop it and still been honest and legal.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Know What

      Yes, Nonimus, these people and their ancestors have been manipulating reality for over 5000 years - adding imaginary supernatural beings and events to their writings and calling it fact.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Elad wrote: "As a person who become "ultra-orthodox" in his 20's, I am saddened to see how many people are so quick to judge an entire group of people they have, presumably, little contact with."

      My initial impulse was to comment that I'm saddened to see someone who has given up critical thinking while in his 20's in order to join a cult. Then, upon reflection, I started to doubt his level of intelligence, and that perhaps, living in this community is all that his brain is willing or able to endure.

      Elad also wrote: " What I am arguing is that it is wrong to judge a group of people because we do not understand their actions. Perhaps there is actually something deeper going on."

      I'm sure that the Muslims who don't permit women to go out in public unless accompanied by a male relative (among other quirks of their culture) have their reasons for living this way. Do we need to understand their actions, in case there's "something deeper" going on, before condemning the paternalistic suppression of their lives.

      May 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  3. Joey


    Jews. jew vs, jew. WHO. WILL. WIN.... I mean care? Who will care?

    May 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  4. Artist


    The problem is, this makes Jews look as rediculous as Muslims in their religious behavior.
    I have to agree, appears jews aren't much different.

    May 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  5. Grumpster

    Religion is evil.

    May 11, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  6. oh please

    religion is a joke that uses lies to spread a false reality.

    May 11, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  7. William Demuth

    And we say that Osama was an extremist.

    Frankly, this should be illegal.

    Furthermore, I hope our security apparatus tracks these people, because at some time in the future it will become QUITE apparent that ANYONE who is a religious extremist places his loyalty with his imaginary God, and not with the nation he resides in.

    We really can not afford to be fooled. Assimilate or leave.

    We can expect it now, and eventually demand it, but I am afraid the barbarians are already within the gate.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • vasechek

      paranoia alert

      May 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  8. William Demuth


    Men created God, God did not create men.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  9. William Demuth

    And we say that Osama was an extremist.

    Frankly, this should be illegal.

    Furthermore, I hope our security apparatus tracks these people, because at some time in the future it will become QUITE apparent that ANYONE who is a religious extremist places his loyalty with his imaginary God, and not with the nation he resides in.

    May 11, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • CalgarySandy

      Well said.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • vasechek

      you mean this completely tramples everything osama ever did in terms of extremism....
      and freedom of religion means religion should be illegal (do you also propose burning the offenders at the stake?)
      well said indeed. did you come up with these mature thoughts yourself or did someone assist you?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Israel Cohen

    These religious interpretations and edicts are not very complicated. They are just another version of POWER SEEKING, by men who cloak themselves in religious purity and absolute certainty. No room for doubt. This is a universal religous gimmick which succeeds in asserting raw power. All major religions resort to it, but in Judaism, it is supported by mainly by a rapidly growing fringe composed of those who have power, and those who hope to have power.

    May 10, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      These edicts in a tribal religion are at least 3000 years old so it is ignorant to paint them as attempts at grabbing power in the present. Their women have never been free in the limited sense that the rest of women in the west are actually free. Not all branches of all religions behave this way, including most takes on Judaism by the Jews. Paint the radicals with your brush but learn the difference first.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • vasechek

      their women, sandy, are as free as you are. they can leave the religion or this particular branch of it and do whatever the heck they want without fear that their father or their rabbi will go after them with a chainsaw. the lone reason why they don't is because the CHOOSE to stay. they may be brainwashed and their views may vary drastically from your or mine, but saying that they are not free is insulting the truth.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  11. Mott the Hoople

    I wonder if the Jews would get upset if people used Photoshop to erase Jews from images. I'm just sayin'

    May 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Grumpster

      Yeah...how about erasing all the jews from those images of Auschwitz? Hmmm....the logic of removing someone from a picture is to deny the truth. No matter how you analyze this, yes, they have a right to do what they do...but that doesn't make it right with history or society as a whole. Same fuzzy logic keep women covered up in burkas head to toe and beating them into submission to say they actually want to be covered up.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  12. thinkhard

    I really like your opinions and way of explaining things, Robert!

    May 10, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  13. phils

    Does the publication mention the attendees? I feel like if they had included who was actually in the room but did not picture the two women then their Photoshopping because of this Rabbinical rule would make this event less newsworthy.

    I really think they could have avoided this disparagement if they had a little foresight and covered their press bases responsibly.

    May 10, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  14. eqJustice

    These types of omissions are pure hypocrisy and potentially dangerous. Based on this perverse logic, it would be OK for Jews or Christians or Muslims or some other group to be eradicated from photos to suit so called religious sensitivities. I thought one of the main purposed of religion was to provide guidelines to followers on how to be true to oneself and their God. This is a far cry from that. It is also behavior we have seen in the not to distant past in Germany and the USSR in the name of righteousness.

    May 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      It is not an "omission". It is a commission. He was so intent on getting it into the paper quickly that he sat down and put it through Photoshop first.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  15. Robert Hagedorn

    Do a search: First Scandal.

    May 10, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  16. Informed

    You guys are all a bunch of kooks. Orthodox jews do not hate women nor does their religion. However since the law is to be ultramodest so they censor out the picture of 2 women. Yay. Now lets move on with our lives and graduate our trollmanship and focus on the next piece of distorted news the media has to offer

    May 10, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jeff in SF

      Distorted? What's distorted about this story? In our country a conservative branch of the Jewish faith is denying women their status in our country's leadership. It is not at all a stretch to see this as "white-washing" history or putting women in metaphorical burkas.

      May 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Jeff: The Ultra-Orthodox Jews DO NOT deny anything. They DO NOT agree with publishing images of women in newspapers... just like ultra-orthodox Muslims do not agree with publishing images of HUMANS (men and wen alike). I hope you do not claim that ultra-religious Muslims deny HUMANS their status in country's leadership, do you?

      May 10, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Grumpster

      Kooks do not go out of their way to alter history and basically deny the hard facts that women do occupy a place in the world that can be equal or better than the idiotic men who painstakingly remove them from pictures. Simply stone-aged is what mentality this religion has. Denying they have basic morality issues, repression of others, prejudice is silly. If they didn't, they'd have not altered the truth to their own benefit.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Moshe

      The problem is, this makes Jews look as rediculous as Muslims in their religious behavior.

      May 11, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • CalgarySandy

      Nor do Muslims hate their women. They just feel differently about them. Like this sect of Jews does. As a woman, I don't care if you are repressing me for being a woman or being a liberal or being anything at all. I do not want to be repressed and not one argument for allowing others to repress me is going to change that. Repression is morally reprehensible no matter who the target it. It is a human rights issue and these particular Jews are trying to repress the Secretary of State and the woman responsible for the work done on terrorism. They have shown themselves to be on the same side of the road as radical Muslims.

      May 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • vasechek

      "They have shown themselves to be on the same side of the road as radical Muslims."

      sigh, yes, if you take a multidimensional issue and project it onto your one-dimensional view of the world.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  17. jillis

    Religion or not. Unbelievable. Why even bother publishing the photo... just stupid. Get with the 21st century!

    May 10, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  18. VANN

    What about Golda Meir? Do these "female deniers" feel that she should be removed from all historic photos. Playing around with the historic record is dangerous and leads to a slippery slope.

    May 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • DEE

      Well said.

      May 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Thinker23

      Of course they do. Golda Meir was a Zionist and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, something these Ultra-Orthodox do not accept.

      May 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  19. Chris

    And bad Photoshop work to boot.

    May 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  20. NW1000

    The second photo looks much better.

    May 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      NW1000 wrote: "The second photo looks much better."

      Did putting out that snide remark make you feel good? Write again when you've graduated Yale Law school and gotten elected Senator...

      May 10, 2011 at 1:38 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.