Hasidic Paper Disappears Hillary Clinton To Preserve Its Existence

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Hasidic Williamsburg newspaper Der Tzitung removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counterterrorism Audery Tomason from the now-famous photograph showing the President White House and military staff watching the assassination of bin Laden. Why did they do this, and does it matter?

The photo as it appeared in Der Tzitung


The photo released by the White House.


Der Tzitung has not publicly explained its reasons for deleting the women from the photograph. Many people have written online that it the photoshopping was part of the paper’s strict policy of not showing women. (As an aside, the White House release the photo under the specific conditions that “the photograph may not be manipulated in any way.”) The policy stems from the religious traditions within Hasidic judaism, where given the strict prohibition on premarital sexual contact, photographs and images of women’s bodies are avoided in the interests of rousing any illicit feelings in men.

Of course, the problems with this line of thinking are legion. First, it presumes a patriarchy. Why not delete all the men from the photo, and leave the women, to prevent women from having lustful feelings? Because men control the papers. Secondly, it presumes that the religious interests that motivated the photo manipulation trump the rights of women to depicted in positions of power or to see other women in power. And so on.

The truth is that communities that define for themselves strict gender lines correctly perceive that crossing those lines as a . In other words, it is wrong to say that the Hasidic community would be unaffected or improved by extending to women the same rights and treatment as men. In fact, it would completely alter Hasidic existence, destroying the old way of life and replacing it with a new one. The entire Hasidic way of life depends on not extending equal treatment to women.

Consider the Amish. The Amish cannot be Amish if they use tractors, electronics, and watch TV. Likewise, Hasids cannot be Hasidic unless they live in a world were women are invisible in culture and secondary in society. Similarly, the Catholic Church cannot ordain women and still be Catholic.

To change these fundamental rules would not simply change these communities. It would transform them into something else incompatible with the original, or annihilate them as “cultures”. Now you can argue that the people within those cultures would be better off after equality, and you are probably right–but they wouldn’t be members of those cultures any more.

The question is not one of rights, the question is one of existence and conversely one of tolerance. If there can be no Hasidic community without the relegation of women to the background, and you want to change that, are you comfortable obliterating the culture even as you liberate (or “enlighten”) its members? Do you liberate the members but destroy their culture, or do you tolerate or even celebrate the cultural differences, knowing that you are also tolerating what you yourself would consider intolerable?

And who is to say? What if Hasidic women consciously and with great deliberation chose to cede their rights and equality to join these communities? Do they have the right to make that choice? Or does the mere existence of women in this condition (voluntarily or involuntarily) somehow threaten the rights of all other women? In other words, is the mere existence of a even a choice between patriarchy and equality for women itself an oppression?

Can there be gender equality in mainstream culture if the mainstream permits pockets of inequality to flourish within it?
 

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28 Responses to Hasidic Paper Disappears Hillary Clinton To Preserve Its Existence

  1. PhilR says:

    What I’d like to know, is why they felt the need to remove the women seamlessly, rather than for instance, blurring or pixelating them out .

    • Dan Dravot says:

      Good point.

    • Guy Fox says:

      Because if they had just pixelated them, it would leave people asking what the $%&*! was being left out, why the !@$%& they weren’t being told something. Seamless editing doesn’t just redact reality, it makes a whole new reality. It’s why a hot woman in lingerie (i.e. pixellated) is often sexier than one butt-_____ing naked. It’s also why smart dads put their G*dd**n girlie mags under the floorboards instead of just in the “Shoebox You’re Never to Touch”.

      As for the rest of the post, cultures are never stable. There is no way to take a snapshot of them (and if you could, it would be soon useless). Destruction is constant, as is the creation that goes with it.

    • wisegirl says:

      Great point. If the purpose was to protect Hasidic law, they could have just blurred the women and even mentioned them in the text of the article; yet, they chose to remove them completely. It’s like saying women in power do not exist not just in our culture but in the world at large. They must really find the concept threatening.

  2. gzuzsaves says:

    Institutions aren’t static. The Catholic church has gone through many changes in its history and will go through more, and yet will still be called the Catholic church. Why? Because none of these changes affect its core principles, its Aristotelian essence, which I would argue is along the lines of transubstantiation, not denying women the rights to be priests.

    The Catholic church could allow women priests, Hasids could allow women more autonomy, and the Amish can and some do use cell phones. Progress doesn’t mean abandoning institutions but can happen within them.

  3. kejia says:

    As commentators have pointed out elsewhere, the newspaper need not have printed the photo. In doing so, they are implying that mainstream American culture follows the same strictures about women’s roles. In the guise of respecting the uncontrolled sexual urges of their male audience, they are creating a fictional universe and presenting it as fact.

  4. JohnJ says:

    It’s a complicated question. I take the view that the more serious concerns are the places where women are not even given the choice of whether they want the role. Men and women do often want to relax in homogenous groups, whether it’s an all-boys club or the girls going out for the evening.

    When a culture feels threatened by merely giving people the choice of whether or not to participate, it often responds by engaging in more subjection. I think attempts to control the perception of reality in this way are a sign of a dying culture. A culture that relies on the subjugation of others, whether by gender, race, or any other measure, will be threatened if the subjugated are given the choice of whether to continue participation. Really, I think, all that can be done is to give people a choice.

  5. mwigdahl says:

    What if Hasidic women consciously and with great deliberation chose to cede their rights and equality to join these communities? Do they have the right to make that choice?

    I would say yes, but that’s a softball. What about Hasidic women that are born into it, and don’t “consciously and with great deliberation” choose to cede their rights and equality? Do their parents have the right to make that choice for them?

    • CubaLibre says:

      Did my parents have the right to raise me to be an open-minded quasi-liberal with notions of gender equality? You’re going to run into nature vs. nurture problems very quickly in this line of inquiry. Shouldn’t we presume, absent very compelling evidence, that all adults choose to associate with a given culture of their own free will?

      • philtrum says:

        But what’s “compelling evidence”? I think you could argue pretty convincingly that people who’ve grown up severely separated from the rest of the world don’t have the information needed to make a choice. There are in fact organizations devoted to helping ultra-Orthodox Jews transition into lives outside that community, just as there are for other people leaving highly isolated/separated religious groups. They may not know anyone outside the group, they may have very limited education and be short on practical or marketable skills for a non-Haredi setting. In other words, the costs of leaving the group may be astronomical. It’s a very complex matter.

        • CubaLibre says:

          “I think you could argue pretty convincingly that people who’ve grown up severely separated from the rest of the world don’t have the information needed to make a choice.”

          Sure, maybe. Requires evaluation on a case by case basis, doesn’t it?

          Granularity extends infinitely in both directions. Analogies are an old lawyer’s trick. To make things seem alike, expand your focus to a group that includes both; to make things seem different, dilate your focus to make them seem distinct. Meanwhile, of course, the two things in consideration have merely remained what they are. All we can do is construct rough guidelines about when it is appropriate to expand and dilate our focus, and about how much we can analogize the proper response to one situation into another.

          So, if Hasidic women are indeed shut up all their lives and have no opportunity even to see, or hear about, other possible organizations of gender relationships, maybe we ought to do something to help get them that information. What if they continue to want to be Hasidic? At what point do you say, “I’ve done all I can – this woman really must just want to be subordinate by her own free will?” Would you ever say that? Or do you hold some kind of moralistic impulse that denies that any human could ever truly want to be subordinate – and therefore keep pushing, keep pushing always, trying to get the woman to see her mistake?

          • JohnJ says:

            I certainly think we have a responsibility to make other people aware that they do not have to continue living in what we consider bad circumstances, and that we should do as much as we can to give others a choice, but without taking that choice away.

            When slavery was ended, most blacks left their former enslavers. I think that those who helped them make better lives for themselves deserve praise for that.

          • mwigdahl says:

            I think you can certainly say, given this example of Hasidic “information engineering”, that there’s certainly an attempt to not show Hasidic women that there are powerful women in the surrounding culture. This sort of thing is ridiculous — it wouldn’t be out of character in Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

          • philtrum says:

            Or do you hold some kind of moralistic impulse that denies that any human could ever truly want to be subordinate – and therefore keep pushing, keep pushing always, trying to get the woman to see her mistake?

            Whoa. I never said that. I just said it’s very complex, and people can be held in these situations by factors other than free will.

        • CubaLibre says:

          “Expand” and “dilate” should totally be “dilate” and “constrict.” Oops.

  6. CubaLibre says:

    As others have pointed out, the Catholic church has indeed changed mightily over its (thousand year) lifespan, yet it remains the Catholic church. The real question you’re asking about is the continuity of consciousness, as magnified in social institutions. The old Athenian ship: if you replace one plank in the ship every year, eventually you will have replaced all of the planks; by what right can you call it the “same” ship? This is an ancient philosophical quandary.

    For practical purposes, you can only really refer to those who self-identify as part of the culture at issue. In a sense it’s a pure democracy, count-the-votes kind of thing. What is the Catholic church? Whatever Catholics say it is. (Could it possibly be anything else?) There’s at least as much discontinuity, taken objectively, between immediately pre-reformation Catholics and immediately post-reformation Protestants as there is between the pre- and post-Vatican II Catholic church, but one is considered a cataclysmic shift that completely severed or even shattered people’s identity (and predictably led to some horrifically bloody wars) and the other is considered an act of theological housekeeping (but see: the staunch conservative opposition to Vatican II). The Reformation made some people into Not-Catholic; but Vatican II kept everyone Catholic. There’s multiple reasons why, but the point is that it is people who call themselves Catholics who have the right to name the reasons.

    • philtrum says:

      What do you make of Catholics who have been excommunicated, or whose beliefs are so in conflict with the current teachings of the Vatican that they could conceivably be excommunicated? If they call themselves Catholics, are they?

      • CubaLibre says:

        Exactly. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody does. That’s the problem with group identity. It would be easy enough for me to say, Catholic mainstream, you are Catholic; Catholic fringe, you are just a different kind of Catholic. Then we could all sit around singing Kumbaya – except that’s not good enough for the excommuniquee. What do you mean, different kind of Catholic? Does that mean I’m not a real Catholic?

        As an upper middle-class Anglo-Saxon living in America, I admit it’s hard for me to see the import of this question, though it’s impossible to deny its importance to almost all people throughout history. I guess they need to feel the validation of being “really” part of the group – they feel they need to qualify as authentic in order to access the group’s history as their personal history. I’m real Irish, not some diluted whitebread Hell’s Kitchen Irish, don’t you tell me about the struggles of Sinn Fein (um, not that I personally am in or know anybody in Sinn Fein, but, you know, they’re “my people”).

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        Though it may not be officially recognized, there is a Catholic culture that intertwines with the Catholic religion but which is somewhat separate. In the same way that a person who has had a bar mitzvah, never goes to temple, and eats bacon on a daily basis can call themselves Jewish, I believe that someone can call themselves Catholic. (full disclosure: I’m a liberal agnostic who doesn’t go to church. But I was confirmed and went to church every weekend until I was 20.). Many people distinguish between the two by saying they were “raised Catholic” or whatever, but many do not.

        You can dance around it, and as a thought exercise, it’s far more difficult, but to me it comes down to: Do you identify as Catholic? If you’re a liberal evil-doer like myself, and don’t know the answer, this was how I cleared it up:
        Am I Catholic? I don’t know. Probably Not-ish?

        Am I not Catholic? When people talk about Catholics as a group, where I am I relative to that? Oops, okay, looks like I am. Or at least I am to me.

        (Besides, the church isn’t currently in the habit of booting people out completely these days, they need all the help they can get, plus I could always hit the confessional and stage a comeback)

  7. Balsamred says:

    “And who is to say? What if Hasidic women consciously and with great deliberation chose to cede their rights and equality to join these communities? Do they have the right to make that choice? Or does the mere existence of women in this condition (voluntarily or involuntarily) somehow threaten the rights of all other women? In other words, is the mere existence of a even a choice between patriarchy and equality for women itself an oppression?”

    I thought that part of modern feminist thought was allowing women to make their own choices, even when that choice is to remain in a patriarchy. Women convert to Orthodox Judaism and Chasidism in droves. Large numbers of women who were not raised with these traditions willingly take them on. And plenty of women who were raised in these communities do leave.

    I also wonder if the Chasids are the best example of this. There are different streams of Chasidism, and each has somewhat different customs. Satmar women are probably some of the most repressed, but Chabad women are largely college-educated and many work outside the home. In other streams of Orthodoxy it is common for the wife to be the primary breadwinner.

    Also, there is generally a distaste for displaying photographs and paintings of anyone in general, because of the whole graven image thing, so the more conservative papers don’t carry any photographs at all. Just editing out the women is a slightly more liberal interpretation.

    I don’t think that Orthodox Jewish communities in general pose a threat to the rights of women at large, because they tend to be insular, and they don’t proselytize. Also the women tend to be better educated and have more of an internet presence (and thus more of an independent voice) than, for example, some of the fundamentalist Christian groups out there.

    • philtrum says:

      Well, “droves” is probably putting it a bit strongly, seeing as the number of Chasidim in the world is pretty small, but I take your point. And I agree that Chasidim aren’t necessarily the best example to use here.

      I thought that part of modern feminist thought was allowing women to make their own choices, even when that choice is to remain in a patriarchy

      Well, yes; but this is where it gets sticky, because feminists are very deeply divided on what constitutes “making one’s own choices”, whether that choice is to sell sex or to adhere to a patriarchal religious tradition or to do something more trivial like wearing makeup. Many harsh words have been exchanged over the years.

      I think it’s fair to say that not everyone who’s in a super-patriarchal, separatist fundamentalist group is there by free and informed choice. What outsiders do with that information is another question entirely, one that probably lacks a good answer.

    • mwigdahl says:

      Just editing out the women is a slightly more liberal interpretation.

      More “liberal”? Maybe. I find it more unethical, myself. Not showing the image is more honest and ethical than editing it to reflect your worldview. One is withholding information, the other is actively deceiving.

  8. Micah says:

    The Catholic Church ordained women into the second millennia. Not for all roles, of course, but definitely for some. Don’t have the cite on me but it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      I’d be interested in seeing that, because it sounds wrong to me. Ordained them as what, exactly? Nuns, duh, maybe I’d believe deacons, but if they’d ever ordained female priests there’s a small group of catholic ladies who would be shrieking it on the mountaintops.

      • sunshinefiasco says:

        Never mind, I found it. There are reported rare instances of the “Eastern Church” that later fractured off into Greek Orthodoxy/other churches ordained some women as deacons. Still, not really the same.

    • Pastabagel says:

      Why do you say “of course,” like it should be obvious that that the gigantic multinational, multi-billion dollar institution that has been around for about 2000 years wouldn’t ordain women for all roles?

      The point I think you are making is that the Catholic church recognized a place for women in its ranks a thousand years ago. But implicit in that is that it’s been two thousand years and they still aren’t comfortable with women in all ranks. This suggests that part of what makes the church the Church is the exclusion of women from certain positions.

      Ask yourself how it is possible that in 222 years the United States of America went from endorsing slavery of blacks and excluding women and the poor from voting managed to elect a black President, whereas these religious institutions after thousands of years still exclude women from their official ranks.

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