Putting Israel in the Best Light

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The NY Jewish Week


Yesterday’s news was focused on photo editing. A national conversation on the ethics of doctoring photos was kicked off when a Brooklyn-based Hasidic Yiddish language newspaper used Photoshop to airbrush out two prominent women — Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason — from an iconic photo released by the White House. More than a rant on the extremes to which the ultra-Orthodox will go to keep photos of women from the pages of their newspapers, what I find most interesting is the question of when it is appropriate to alter a photograph.

But rather than presenting all the instances when one might alter a photograph and arguing that there are times when it’s acceptable to touch up a photo without misrepresenting the historical record, I thought that in honor of Israel Independence day I would focus on one artist who alters photos to create beautiful art that pays tribute to Israel’s cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv.

Israeli artist Ron Shoshani produces images of Tel Aviv and other contemporary scenes from Israel using the latest technology. Producing such photographs in the past with the use of high-end filters and processing was too expensive, he says. Today, Shoshani is able to create digital photo manipulations in just minutes by applying different post-production filters to his images.

After shooting between 500-700 photographs at each location with an array of different angles, Shoshani then experiments with different lighting and filtering effects that can be applied to all the photographs through batch filer processing. A technique that once took days now only takes him a couple hours.

The artist developed a unique process that consists of a mix of stand alone digital manipulation tools, commercial digital retouch applications and layered textures that have created a unique “signature” of his works that is being recognized around the world.

When I asked Shoshani why he chose Tel Aviv as the subject of most of his photography he gave me two answers. First, he explained, “My family, as pioneers, came to Tel Aviv around 100 years ago and established their life and business in the city. I was born and raised in Tel Aviv as well, and although I was traveling around the world a lot, as a Jew, Tel Aviv is where my heart is. I love the city… this is the ‘Big Apple’ of every Jewish person.” He also has chosen Tel-Aviv as the main focus of his photography as an effort to create iconic photos of the city and to present Tel Aviv like every other international, modern and cosmopolitan city.

Known on the Web as “Ronsho,” Shoshani’s photo collection has been receiving much attention. His photos are displayed and available for sale throughout the Web at such sites as Flickr and Red Bubble. He’s frequently asked to have his photos represent Israel in the media and Time Out Tel Aviv magazine used one of his Tel Aviv skyline photos for its cover story about Tel Aviv.

He explains, “When people see the city the way it was presented on the cover of a magazine, it’s a perception change. It contradicts the regular daily news in which they’ve been hearing about Israel. It makes people think ‘I wanna’ be there. I didn’t know that Israel looked like this.’ With this in mind, the strong power of a visual is being translated into a different mindset.”

So, this week when so many are chastising a newspaper for altering a photo in a negative way, let’s recognize Ron Shoshani who is altering photos with artistic talent to represent Israel in the best light (and filter). Happy 63rd year of independence to Israel!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Another Altered Photo in Jewish Newspaper

While everyone is talking about the altered photo with Hillary Clinton in the Haredi newspaper Der Zeitung, there have been other examples of these ultra-Orthodox newspapers editing photographs to suit their purpose.

TIME Magazine reported on a poorly doctored photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet from 2009 in the Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman. In the photo, two female Cabinet members, Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver, are replaced with men’s faces.

The faces belong to ministers Ariel Atias and Moshe Kachlon, who in the original photograph can be seen toward the periphery of the group (standing, second from left and second from right). As TIME explains, “In Yated Neeman‘s version of the image, they have been cropped out. Much of the newspaper’s readership consists of ultra-Orthodox readers who do not think it proper for women to serve in the government.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Statement from Haredi Newspaper Regarding Hillary Clinton’s Photoshop Job

The Haredi Jewish newspaper Der Zeitung (sometimes spelled Der Tzitung) has issued a statement about its alteration of the official White House photograph that included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason, the director for counter-terrorism.

I’m glad that Der Zeitung has issued a statement, but I’m STILL cancelling my subscription (I will keep the lovely tote bag though).

The White House released a picture showing the President following “live” the events in the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden, last week Sunday. Also present in the Situation Room were various high-ranking government and military officials. 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. 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 allegations that religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office, is a malicious slander and libel. The current Secretary of State, the Honorable Hillary R. Clinton, was a Senator representing New York State with great distinction 8 years. She won overwhelming majorities in the Orthodox Jewish communities in her initial campaign in ‘00, and when she was re-elected in ‘06, because the religious community appreciated her unique capabilities and compassion to all communities. The Jewish religion does not allow for discrimination based on gender, race, etc.

We respect all government officials. We even have special prayers for the welfare of our Government and the government leaders, and there is no mention of gender in such prayers.

All Government employees are sworn into office, promising adherence to the Constitution, and our Constitution attests to our greatness as a nation that is a light beacon to the entire world. The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. That has precedence even to our cherished freedom of the press! 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.

We are proud Americans of the Jewish faith, and there is no conflict in that, and we will with the help of the Almighty continue as law-abiding citizens, in this great country of our’s, until the ultimate redemption.

This story (Hillary Clinton’s HarediGate?) has been the hot topic of the day. I have to agree with Shmarya Rosenberg of FailedMessiah who wrote, “there is no Jewish law mandating the removal of normally clothed women from pictures like this.” Refusing to publish photos of women in a newspaper is but one more example of extremist Jews being so scared of modernity that they erect high fences around Jewish laws to keep their adherents from from “harm.” Is it really better to misrepresent the truth and deceive people than to see a photo of a modestly clothed Secretary of State?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Hillary Clinton Removed from Iconic Photo by Hasidic Newspaper

A big hat-tip to Failed Messiah (who gave a hat-tip to Critical Minyan) for breaking the news that an Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper, Der Tzitung, has determined that the photo of top U.S. leaders receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden was too scandalous.
What was so offensive about the image? U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the photo and, based on good intel, the editor of Der Tzitung discovered that she is a woman. The Hasidic newspaper will not intentionally include any images of women in the paper because it could be considered sexually suggestive. The iconic photo shows President Obama, Vice President Biden, and members of the U.S. National Security Team in the Situation Room of the White House. Secretary of State Clinton, wearing a long-sleeved suit jacket, sits with her hand over her mouth. I’m not sure how Der Tzitung determined this was a racy photo. Perhaps they just don’t like the idea of a woman with that much political power.
Der Tzitung Photophopped 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). I wrote about this subject a year ago following the Flotilla debacle in Israeli waters outside Gaza when the Reuters news agency doctored photos that it published by removing weapons from individuals aboard the Mavi Marmara. The doctoring of photographs like this is referred to as “Fauxtograpphing.” I’m curious to hear how Der Tzitung responds to its attempt to remove Hillary Clinton from this iconic photo and thereby from this historic event.
This official photograph was released from the White House and includes the following disclaimer after the caption: “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.”
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Saturday the Rabbi Wore a Pantsuit

I wrote this in praise of my female rabbinic colleagues. I have always been impressed by how women rabbis are able to juggle motherhood with the daily grind of the rabbinate. I wish a happy Mother’s Day to all the “Rabbi Mommies” out there – many of whom have made a profound impact on my own rabbinate.

Originally posted at JTAThe Jewish Journal and The Daily Rabbi

On a recent trip to Berlin with a dozen other Conservative rabbis, we made certain to stop at the apartment building that Regina Jonas once called home (photo below). I had never heard of Jonas before, but to the four female rabbis in our group she was a hero. In 1935, she became the first woman in the world to be ordained as a rabbi. My colleague, Rabbi Gesa Ederberg, hosted our group at her beautiful Berlin synagogue during our visit and doubled as a knowledgeable tour guide. We also had the opportunity to meet with rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College, where in 2010 Rabbi Alina Treiger became the first woman to be ordained in Germany since Jonas. Today there are hundreds of inspiring, smart and passionate women rabbis who have followed in the steps of Regina Jonas.

As another “rabba” will soon be ordained, American Jews are just getting used to the idea of female rabbis in the modern Orthodox world. However, in the more progressive streams of Judaism women rabbis have been on the scene for decades and are now part of the fabric of everyday Jewish life. In fact, one funny anecdote demonstrates that for some of the youngest members of the Jewish community, women rabbis are the only form of rabbi that exists. A female colleague tells the story of when she introduced her 5-year-old son to a male rabbi, he reacted in shock: “But Mommy, I thought only ladies can be rabbis.” Out of the mouths of babes!
In Newsweek magazine’s recent ranking of the top U.S. rabbis for this year, there were many more women listed in the top. Among these superstar rabbis were women who are leading institutions and large congregations, as well as highly sought after authors and entrepreneurs who have launched their own communities.
Like other professions in which women were once not welcome to join, the rabbinate has been forced to learn how to accept female rabbis into the ranks. Certainly, this acceptance is most challenging for the oldest generation of rabbis who came of age in the “Old Boys Network,” a rabbinate sans women. Middle-age rabbis were the first to welcome women into the profession, but also have memories of the controversy that took shape around the seminary doors opening. But for the younger rabbis (and I include myself in this cohort despite the fact my doctor tells me I’m aging a bit each day), there have always been women rabbis and we wouldn’t want it any other way.
I recall the first time I jumped into a New York City cab and noticed that my driver was a woman. I did a double-take, but then things progressed as usual. She got me to my destination, I paid the fare and her tip, said thanks, and was on my way. Not so with female rabbis, however. There are noticeable differences between the sexes and we shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. Having women as rabbis has added immensely to all aspects of Judaism and these female rabbis have helped shape the conversation.
Women rabbis have added beautiful new rituals to our tradition. They have introduced spiritual rituals that most men wouldn’t have dreamed up like prayers for fertility, teachings at the mikvah, and meaningful customs following a miscarriage. Women rabbis have brought naming ceremonies for our daughters to the meaningful level of the bris. They can relate to the teenage bat mitzvah girl in ways that male rabbis never could or would never even try. Their commentary on the Torah and Talmud is fresh, and they can provide voices to the hidden personas of the many female characters of our rich text that have been missing for generations.
When I was in rabbinical school, I gained new perspectives from my female peers who at the time numbered just one-third of the student body. I cherish the wonderful professional and personal relationships I have with our female rabbis in town. They offer so much to our community and I feel sorry for the previous generations who missed out on the female rabbinic voices.
Many women might yearn for the day when we no longer use the term “woman rabbi” or when the Forward doesn’t publish a list of the top fifty women rabbis. But we should embrace the changing face of the American rabbinate. Men and women are different creatures and so too it is in the rabbinate. It will only be to Orthodoxy’s benefit to welcome more women into rabbinic leadership roles. Regina Jonas would be proud.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Death of Osama Bin Laden Reported on Yom HaShoah

Today was Yom HaShoah, the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in which we remember the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis. As I read the names of children from Hungary who were murdered in the Shoah, I thought about my recent trip to Berlin. I thought about how different Berlin would be today had the majority of its Jewish citizens continued to live and procreate.

I plan to write some reflections from my Berlin experience soon, but the big news now being reported is that Osama Bin Laden has been confirmed dead. It would truly be poetic justice if he were killed on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.

However, the reports are saying that Osama Bin Laden was actually killed over a week ago. If so, that would put his death right in the middle of Passover, the time of our liberation. The theme of Passover is freedom, the principle that Bin Laden tried to crush on September 11, 2001. It would be fitting if the U.S. was able to finally kill Bin Laden during the Passover holiday. (This year, the secular anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fell during Passover.)

In Judaism, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to us and blot out its name from under heaven. I have no doubt that Osama Bin Laden’s name will be blotted out, but that the American people will also never forget the atrocities committed on 9/11.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Jewish Calendar Primer for Gabe Carimi

The Chicago Bears top draft pick is Gabe Carimi, a 22-year-old from the University of Wisconsin. The 6-7, 314-pound All-American is nicknamed “The Jewish Hammer.”

I’ve written on this blog several times about Jewish Major League Baseball players and the conflict of playing on Yom Kippur, but I’ve never discussed how the Yom Kippur decision affects NFL football players. This is likely because when there’s a Yom Kippur conflict in pro baseball it is often an important post-season game, yet, in college and pro football it’s only the beginning of the season.

Gabe Carimi, however, has brought the Yom Kippur holiday conflict to the NFL when he responded to a question about whether he’d play on Yom Kippur in a Chicago Bears game.  A self-proclaimed Reform Jew, Carimi fasted until an hour before the Big Ten opener in his freshman season for the University of Wisonsin when the game fell on Yom Kippur. When Yom Kippur again fell on a game day last season, Carimi fasted for 24 hours, but not according to the time zone he was currently in. Rather, he fasted according to the Israeli sundown so he could eat and take intravenous fluids right before game time.

Gabe Carimi was quoted as saying, “It’s pretty big in my life. I’m religious, but I try to tweak it so I can still do my job.”

At the NFL Combine this year, when asked whether he would play on Yom Kippur, Carimi told NFL scouts, “I already looked out over the next 15 years, and Yom Kippur doesn’t fall on a Sunday.”

So, here’s some information on the Jewish calendar for Gabe Carimi. First off, the Jewish calendar was fixed in 358/359 CE by Hillel II so that Yom Kippur will never fall on a Sunday. I’m pretty certain this wasn’t done with the NFL schedule in mind, but rather because if Yom Kippur fell on a Sunday, it would not be possible to make the necessary preparations for Yom Kippur, including candle lighting, because the preceding day is the Jewish Sabbath.

So, Gabe Carimi doesn’t have to worry about any NFL games that are scheduled for Sunday conflicting with Yom Kippur. Ever. And had he kept looking beyond the next 15 years, he would find that there are no Sundays on which Yom Kippur falls.

What Carimi neglected to look for are Yom Kippur conflicts on other days of the week since there are the occasional NFL games on Monday nights, Thursday nights, and Saturdays when Yom Kippur can occur.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller