On the right is a bunch of people in the Sitch Room at the White House watching in-house coverage of the Navy Seals taking out O-b-L. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Counter Intel Adviser Audrey Tomason are, notably, the only women in the room. There are not a lot of women in the highest echelon of power in the US, it would seem. The photograph on the left is the same shot published in the ‘newspaper’ Der Zeitung, a Brooklyn Hasidic publication. Here, the two women who actually were in the room have been deleted for religious reasons.
People noticed (Hasidic Paper Removes Hillary Clinton From Osama Picture, Spot the differences, When religion protects sexism, Hasidic newspaper regrets editing Hillary Clinton out of photo, Eating your cake and having it). The reason given for blanking out the two women in this photograph is straight forward: It is against the Hasidic religion to depict women in photographs in newspaper stories about them.
Don’t believe me? Leviticus is explicit:
19: And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
20: And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.
21: And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
22: And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
23: And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.
24: And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
25: And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.
26: Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation.
27: And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
28: But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.
29: And on the eighth day she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
Well, OK, not so explicit, but you can see the logic.
Can’t see the logic? Well, me neither. But that’s how a lot of religious stuff works. Apparently, if Hillary and Audrey had only taken two pigeons to the tabernacle, we would not be having this conversation right now.
If you are Catholic, and a woman, you are supposed to wear a hat in church. A man is supposed to take his hat off in church.1 If you are a woman and you are not a Catholic but you go to church, you should wear a hat, and if you are a non-Catholic man you should take your hat off in church. Right? Just out of respect for the religion of the people in the church. No biggie.
A Catholic who passes in front a tabernacle or monstrance, where a eucharist may be stored, or an altar that may have a relic, is supposed to genuflect while crossing him or herself. Should a non-Catholic do this? That’s a little more than just not wearing your hat indoors. This might be a little more than one should be expected to do, but if a non-Catholic decided to do it out of respect for the people in the church, then whatever, no biggie.
And we could continue… asking if it is a big deal or not to follow some religious prescription or proscription out of respect even if it is not your own religion, or perhaps to sanction the practice when other people do it.
It is part of the Jewish religion that the foreskin of a man-infant be cut off. No one calls the police when this happens, even though an infant is being sliced up with a knife. It is part of the Pokot religion that a woman’s labia and clitoral hood be sliced off with a spear when she starts to menstruate. Anthropologists and others have noticed this for years but accepted it as part of Pokot culture, but recently many people who have nothing to do with the Pokot (or other groups with similar practices collectively known as “female genital mutilation”) have started to loudly complain that taking a knife to a person’s body and removing parts for religious reasons is unacceptable behavior.
Where is deleting the American Secretary of State and a senior National Security Council official from a photograph on the no-biggie to is-biggie scale? It could be worse. The Hasidic newspaper did not cut off Hillary’s genitals. In fact, the two women who were directly offended by this did not suffer at all. And, the American Government and the American People did not suffer either. And, the quaint beliefs of a minor religion was accommodated. No biggie, right?
Well, no. In the broadest perspective, this is a minor issue compared to many other things that have happened in the name of religion, but that does not mean that it is not without harm or, more importantly, not without meaning. The newspaper is shown by various headlines to feel badly about what they did and to have apologized, but that’s a lie. They have explained, not apologized. They have not indicated that their policy of never depicting a woman in their rag will be changed. They simply explain that they are a good newspaper, good at what they do, bla bla bla, and that it is simply their religious belief that out of “respect for women” they shall never be shown.
Funny. Somewhere in some paper factory somewhere there was a woman menstruating at work. She handled the wood chips, or the pulp, or the roll of paper, which in turn contacted other rolls of paper while on a train which in turn has previously been touched by menstruating women or things that had touched menstruating women, and so on and so forth, and then this Hasidic newspaper bought some of that paper and printed a picture of the Sitch room at the White House with the women deleted from it. But the paper itself is surely unclean. And all who have touched it and, for that matter, read it are also unclean. There is no Kosher paper. Everyone who reads this Hasidic newspaper is obligated to bring two pigeons to the temple. But I digress.
The point is, do we view this quaint and offensive act on the part of this obscure and unimportant newspaper as similar to a man removing his hat while entering a Catholic church even if he is not a catholic? Or do we view it as, say, a city ordinance requiring all pedestrians to genuflect while walking past a Catholic church? Or do we view it as accepting female genital mutilation as a cultural trait that is none of our business?
Perhaps all of the above, perhaps none of the above, at the same time. Perhaps the best response to this idiotic editorial practice is to use it as an empirical demonstration of two things:
1) The Hasidim are an absurd medieval cult that is so out of touch with the modern world, in important ways, that it should never be taken seriously (and this would have real policy implications in The Settlements, one would think) and perhaps a good look should be taken at their practices vis-a-vis the treatment of women and girls in their homes, just in case this misogyny extends into other areas of life (which it does); and
2) There is no safe place to draw a line within which we can reasonably accommodate. The decision to keep your hat off/put your hat on in a sacred building should be a personal one, and there should be no expectations from those outside the religion as to what is appropriate. Ignoring any religious rule is, simply, perfectly OK in the modern world, and when a religious rule becomes offensive at any level, as we see in the above photograph, while there may be no default response, ridicule and disdain is quite acceptable, and accommodation is done at the risk to the accommodator’s credibility.
If I’m going to take my hat off, it will be to Ophelia Benson for her remarks in response to the newspaper’s “apology” for this pictorial editing:
Not accepted. Worthless. Fundamentally insulting. Fuck your rabbinical board. You don’t get to delete women from history, and pretending to apologize after doing it doesn’t salvage anything.*
… well, OK, there is another response that is appropriate. This one.
UPDATE: Second Hasidim Paper Deletes American Secretary of State … link … do they not know that this is the person most directly influential on policy in Israel?
1It is quite possible that these rules have changed since I was an altar boy. If so, then something is terribly wrong, because I was taught quite explicitly that all the rules of the Catholic Church were handed down by God via The Pope. If they’ve been running around changing the rules, then that can only mean that that Anti Christ has arrived and has taken over the Vatican. Expect property values in Rome to drop. Or perhaps go up. We shall see.