Photoshopping Women’s History

When Brooklyn-based Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Judaism) newspaper Di Tzeitung published the now-iconic photograph of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the U.S. national security team watching the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, something was missing: images of the two women who were present in the White House Situation Room.

Failed Messiah was one of the first to catch the digital alteration. That blog has since found another Hasidic newspaper, De Voch, that also removed Sec. of State Clinton and Director for Counter-terrorism Audrey Tomason from the photo.

Di Tzeitung responded to The Washington Post to explain why the photograph was altered:

In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. 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 to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.

Di Tzeitung edited image

As Sociological Images pointed out, this isn’t the first time an Orthodox newspaper has digitally manipulated a photograph to hide or remove women. In 2009, Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman removed all the women from a photograph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.

The ultra-Orthodox newspapers explained that photos of women are “sexually suggestive,” and that’s why they must be photoshopped. With his usual wink, Stephen Colbert said,

I’m with the Hasids on this one. There’s nothing more sexually suggestive than a woman killing a terrorist.

Added Gothamist,

De Voch‘s photoshop job is pretty amateurish—Clinton is transformed into a dark shadow and a gravy stain on Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough’s sleeve—but at least no Orthodox Jews will be led astray by her lusty Siren call.

But seriously, Rabbi Jason Miller, columnist at The Jewish Week, writes:

I’m not sure how Der Tzeitung [sic] determined this was a racy photo. Perhaps they just don’t like the idea of a woman with that much political power. Der Tzeitung edited Hillary Clinton out of the photo, thereby changing history. To my mind, this act of censorship is actually a violation of the Jewish legal principle of g’neivat da’at (deceit).

In an interview with CNN, Di Tzeitung publisher Albert Friedman explains that “Jewish laws of modesty” prohibit Di Tzeitung from printing photographs of women, but Shmarya Rosenberg of Failed Messiah says, “There is no Jewish law mandating the removal of normally clothed women from pictures like this.” Rabbi Miller agrees.

The Situation Room photograph was originally posted on The White House’s Flickr with the following disclaimer:

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.

Clearly, removing two people from the photograph constitutes manipulation of the photograph, and in their apologetic statement, Di Tzeitung also said:

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.

Whether Di Tzeitung really is afraid of women in power or not, the newspaper has effectively erased two significant public figures from an important political and historical moment they were a large part of. Writes Leah Berkenwald of the Jewish Women’s Archive blog,

It is the denial of feminism–the denial that women have a place beside men in the “Situation Rooms” of our government, our communities and our own lives. It is also an insult to men, suggesting that they are nothing more than animalistic sex machines unable to concentrate if a woman is present. It also represents the denial of the GLBT community by suggesting that all men desire women, and vice versa. Basically, it’s an insult to everybody.

Original image from Flickr user The White House


  1. GREAT BLOG, thanks. I couldn’t help compare the visual obliteration of Ms Clinton and Ms Tomason to sticking women in Burqas… So much effort to make women invisible! What’s up with that? Rhetorical question.

    • I think men who need to make women invisible must have parts of their own anatomy so small as to be non-existent.

      What? I was thinking BRAIN. (As well as balls.)

  2. Natalie Rose says:

    It truly is offensive to everyone involved. The idea that ANY picture of a women is sexually suggestive reduces women to mere sex objects. Certainly they don’t have other functions, especially not in governing… And saying that making women in positions of power literally invisible “in no way relegates them to a lower status” is the biggest load of bullocks I’ve heard in a long time.

    • couldn’t have put it better myself Natalie

    • Heather Lockhart says:

      Good point. I also think these religious fanatics tend to place blame on women. Certainly one can not get very far in life if one believes that their lack of self control comes from external sources. Whether it is sex, food, alcohol…we are all faced with learning self control and that is an internal force. The idea of not printing pictures of women or having all women dressed in burqas is very myopic.

  3. Wow. And what if Hilary Clinton had (or does) become President? No more pictures of her, at the inauguration, giving the State of the Union address? Shaking hands with the Prime Minister of Israel, would she always be a gravy stain?

    At least the Taliban are upfront about hiding women in beekeeper suits.

    REAL men don’t need to make women invisible.

    • Teresa Welby says:

      Exactly Beverly, had Hillary been President as she should be would they spend eight years never printing a picture of the President of the United States? That’s Crazy.

  4. Teresa Welby says:

    This is what happens when the DNC intentionally rigs the primaries and the voters choice, the woman is made to look like the loser. I guess it was okay with many women and the rest of us were called all kinds of names by the OBAMA campaign, as well as cheated and intimidated at the caucuses (than God PA. has a primary). Obama even got delegates in a state where he wasn’t on the ballot, more delegates from Florida where he campaigned against the rules and where they PROVED they did all they could to try to right the wrong of the republicans moving the primary forward. Donna Brazile really had her way didn’t she…..and the rest of us did nothing. Then Ms Magazine printed that pic of obama with “this is what a feminist looks like”..huh, did you guys ever look at his record? What a joke of an election. And now we are surprised that women are erased in pictures by religious fundamentalists? We let the DNC and Obama campaign cheat us out of our first Woman President. Why should be shocked when other men treat us like we don’t exist?

    We have all the political power we need if we would just stop voting for men when there are so many women to vote for, and yes, even republican women. Remember that if women were not voting Democrat in huge numbers not a single democrat would ever win a single election anywhere.

  5. Ann Deluty says:

    For years I have wondered how it is that Orthodox men and certain other religions cannot be with women without losing control, while 95% of Christian, Jewish and even atheist men have no problem controlling themselves. Is it cultural or genetic I wonder?

  6. As an Orthodox Jew and feminist, I really find a lot of comments I see on this article, and others about the topic, a little disturbing. Do I think that Di Tzeitung was wrong to do that? Of course. I agree with Rabbi Jason Miller in that it’s g’neivat da’at, deceit, to do so, and felt horrified when I first saw the article. But when Hasidic Jews do this kind of thing, it’s not meant in a purposely misogynistic way. They believe that women’s light should shine from the inside (a statement that Gloria Steinem has also said), and should not feel the need to be on the outside world. Clearly I disagree with this, but I just want to explain their reasoning – it’s not “women are lustful and we must hide them!”

    Ann Deluty, “For years I have wondered how it is that Orthodox men and certain other religions cannot be with women without losing control” – way to stereotype Orthodox men. I assure you that the vast majority of Orthodox men can be with women without losing control. If you’re gonna stereotype Orthodox Jews like that, you might as well say that all women love to cook.

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