Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Hirhurim double standard

Those of you who remember the brouhaha over Maharat/Rabba Sara Hurwitz may be surprised to see Gil Student's latest post. When Avi Weiss made Hurwitz into something like a Lieutenant Rabbi in his shul, Gil was among those leading the screams of protest over what amounted to one organization's private human resources decision. Though Maharat Sara was not given any new religious powers nor authorized to break any longstanding religious rules Gill still objected.

Contrast that heated overreaction with his cool discussion of Der Tzeiting's decision to Photoshop Hillary Clinton right out of history. Though Gil starts off by saying that the newspapers decision was "objectionable" I find it noteworthy that however "objectionable" it may have been, Gil chooses to argue that a community is entitled to live according to its own standards. I agree with the point, just its surprising to see Gil Student articulate it. If all of us are expected to nod tolerantly when Der Tzeitung acts towards women in a way we find offensive, why didn't Gil extend the same courtesy to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale? Or, more to the point, if he can find the energy to give a calm explanation of Der Tzeitung's "objectionable" behavior why couldn't he perform the same service for Rabbi Weiss?  Gil's a smart man. He understands Rabbi Wiess's perspective, and knows full well that Avi Weiss believes he is acting l'shem shamayim. So why haven't we see a Hirhurim post in which their perspective is calmly explained? When the "objectionable" behavior comes from the left, Gil leads the crusade. When it comes from the right, he calls for calm. Why?

This double standard is not the only thing wrong with Gil's post. It all seems to rest on the premise that people were outraged about Der Tzeitung's over-the-top avoidance of all things female. Not so. Not one of the "mocking class of commentator" Gil derides would have objected if Der Tzeitung had simply refrained from publishing the photo. Everyone acknowledges a publication's right to follow its own community standards. The New York Times, for instance, does not publish nudity. No one minds. Likewise, the editors of Der Tzeitung, who recognize no distinction between a clothed woman and a naked one, are free to ban all photographs of women from their paper. That's their right, and their privilege. No one would object if the paper chose to exercise it.

What Gil fails to concede is that the paper crossed a line when it chose to remove the Secretary of State from the picture.  No matter how pure and innocent the underlying motives may have been, photo-shopping a woman out of a photograph is an insult. Its way of saying that women, as a class, don't matter, that they aren't wanted or needed, and that they and their contributions can be ignored. That statement - intended or not - is one of the things that rankled me. Another was the casual falsehood. Micheal Rogovin who commented on Gil's post, gets the last word :
I cannot understand the basis for Gil’s defense. His arguments would make sense IF the picture was cropped (though that would apparently also be a violation of the use restrictions) or if it were omitted (though who would know?), but neither is at issue. The issue is only the concept of altering a photograph. Presumably the newspaper, however else it is challenged in journalistic ethics, understands that a photograph is a powerful statement, otherwise why print it. That it would alter the photo to suit a philosophy shows contempt for the truth and a willingness to print a lie if it suits the philosophy of the editor. That this particular case is about women and tzniut is a side issue. The alteration of a photo to present evidence of a falsehood is dangerous, always wrong and indefensible (and while I prefer condemnation to ridicule, the latter is deserving), whether by the left or the right. That a publisher of Torah-related books would seek to somehow find a justification for such actions is extremely troubling. Will the OU Press alter photos to suit ITS world view as well? This post provides ample justification for such an action.

Speaking of double standards....

This is the editor of Der Tzeitung looking an immodestly dressed female reporter directly in the face as he explains to her that its against the JEWISH (not hasidic, but JEWISH) rules of modesty to have pictures of women in a newspaper.

Related:  Gil on the famous bears, and my fisking

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