By now the "oylam" has read about how two (and counting) Yiddish newspapers recently published the famous photo of Barack Obama and his senior staff watching Osama bin Laden get taken down by the Navy SEALs (Kol hakavod, by the way) but used Photoshop to remove the two women that were in the picture, in particular Hillary Clinton.
Naturally there has been a storm of controversy over this decision. On one side are the people who note that this kind of hypersensitivity to images of women in public, especially neutral ones in which the women in question are modestly dressed and supposed to be part of the picture, is not part of traditional Jewish sensitivities. On the other side are the folks who say the opposite, that this is in fact a very mainstream Jewish sensitivity and if those on the first side think they're so religious why don't they know that?
Here's my thoughts on the issue. On one hand, this matter did not have to go viral the way it did but the blame for that happening can be fixated on all the blogs that made the photoshop issue a headline one. Yes, the decision to print the altered photo was stupid but had important Jewish blogs not picked up on it and given it all the publicity they did the outside world would not have discovered it either. It would have remained the domain of the Yiddish speaking extremists these papers cater to. If there is any ridiculing of Torah Judaism going on out there then the mainstream Jewish blogosphere has to take some of the blame.
On the other hand, there is the issue of photoshopping in the first place. First of all, the photo was released by the White House to be used "as is". Adjusting it was a breach of law as well as of establish protocol. The newspapers in their apologies claimed that their right to religious freedom trumps everything and gives them the right to photoshop at will but claim doesn't stand up to scrutiny through the simple rejoinder: if you don't like the photo as is, don't print it! In addition, the impression the rest of the world gets from these self-declared standard-bearers of Judaism is that our religious side is simply a shtreiml-wearing version of the Taliban, minus the suicide bombers. All the protestations from the newspapers that they don't hold women to be second class citizens rings hollow. They see them as lust objects that have to be kept out of sight lest their pure neshamos become tainted. (Judging by the idea that they consider Clinton a lust object, their standards are pretty damned low) Do they not see the damage they are causing?
However, there is one more thing I'd like to consider. Given the hyper-politically correct atmosphere in North America these days there are very few religious groups one can mock with impunity any more. In fact, other than Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Jews most other religions and ethnic groups guard their turf quite jealously to avoid being insulted.
All this makes me wonder: if the Yiddish newspapers were actually written in Arabic and catered to a Wahhabist population in the New York area, would the same photoshopping have come under such scrutiny and ridicule or would all the mainstream media outlets that picked up on this have looked the other way the better not to insult Islam?
Any way you look at it, this is a mess.