May 19, 2011

Dirty Photos

Most people around the world will have seen the photograph of the group of men and women who sat in the White House lair during the raid on "O" (that’s Osama not Obama, of course). What some may not have seen is the Photoshopped version published by a Chasidic newspaper in New York called Der Zeitung, in which the two females in the room, including Hillary Clinton, were removed. As they explained, "We do not publish pictures of women in our newspaper." Never mind that they have broken the law by tampering with an official White House document. When did they ever give a toss about the law? That's surely, as Nietzsche would have said, only for the others. Once again they have succeeded admirably in making a laughingstock out of Orthodox Judaism, as if we didn't already have enough problems.


But of course this is not new. Anyone familiar with ultra-Orthodox schoolssuch as the Yesodei Hatorah in Antwerp knows that their authorities regularly go through state textbooks cutting out unsuitable pictures. I recall when the Hasmonean High School in London put stickers over naked African breast in a geography textbook. The amusing thing is the mindset of God's policemen. They are so completely out of touch they were unaware that most of the children they were trying to protect from corruption spend the summer vacations around Mediterranean resorts where they play in and out and round about females in bikinis and topless (not all of them likely to offer any temptation).


If Hillary had been naked or her décolletage was unseemly, I might feel less strongly. But she was very modestly dressed and demur and there was nothing sexually arousing about her unless you include her hair. But then Donald Trump’s is more likely to arouse than hers. I find it offensive to women that the fundamentalists of all shades expect them to be non-persons, Photoshopped out of history and cover themselves from tip to toe while no one questions what’s wrong with men they are so easily turned to paroxysms of sexual lust. Let’s blame their wives. It’s all Eve’s fault. If you don’t want to see a woman find another photograph or print a picture of a beard instead. Don’t mislead.


There is a problem, I agree, with the way sex is thrown into one's face at many street corners in open societies. I am embarrassed by much of what is available on primetime television. I'm not sure I'd want to go to see many movies nowadays in the company of my grown children any more, for fear of feeling acutely uncomfortable at what I might be shown. The extent to which youngsters are exposed, encouraged, and pressurized to throw off any kind of restraint or self control is frightening. The Free World has disseminated devalued, degraded, and trivialized sex to the point that it seems no different to sucking a lollipop. But what is the response? To retreat into a cocoon? To bury one's head like an ostrich? As the Good Book says "stolen waters are sweeter, secret bread tastes better".


The fact is that closed societies still have problems: domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse. They are all there hidden under the black. Where would you rather live? Under the Taliban or Times Square? The more you close up a society, the more the evil runs underground. People think they can get away with things because they are protected by the ayatollahs. Ayatollahs and rabbis think they can get away with it because their gear gives them privileges. It is no different to the way the rich sexually used and abused the poor in Victorian times and before.


Behavioral constraints are one thing. We are all constrained in one way or another by laws, rules, taxes, conventions, and social pressure. It's the attempt to control the mind I despise most of all, because that teaches hypocrisy. It teaches people not to think for themselves, which leads to the worst form of dictatorship. It is like education. One must encourage and guide people to think for themselves. Otherwise it is called indoctrination. And you know where that word comes from!


Moses Mendelssohn, in his book "Jerusalem", asserted that Judaism had no dogmas. By this he meant to differentiate Judaism as a religion of behavior, ethical and ritual, from Christianity as a religion of theology. Although he was an impeccably Orthodox Jew, he was excoriated by Eastern European Orthodoxy for enabling assimilation by translating the Bible into German. Tell that to Artscroll!!! The sad fact that his children converted out had more to do with the anti-Semitism of European society and the desire to get on in life than it did with genuine religious faith.


Several modern thinkers, amongst them Menachem Kellner and Marc Shapiro, have highlighted the fact that historically Jewish thought has been highly flexible and un-dogmatic and the current Orthodoxy of Thought is not typical. This doesn't mean that anything goes and nothing matters. There are basic ideas and principles that have to be engaged with, but the Bible never uses the expression "You must believe that..." It invites one to engage, emotionally just as much as intellectually. Our traditional texts wisely avoid defining and wisely avoid trying to control minds. There are views that are heterodox. But so long as you live in a way the Torah approves of, that is what matters.


That is what I despair about and dislike in so much of religion around the world now. Any thing challenging must be wrong. If you find a text that is problematic, instead of dealing with it, say it must be a forgery. Powerful rabbis for years have been saying this about new commentaries unearthed in ancient libraries; opinions, even expressed by renowned giants, that the pygmies do not approve of, must be forgeries. Muslim scholars now do this over recently discovered variants in early Koran manuscripts.


It is all part of the same pathology. If you don't like the argument, pretend it isn't there. There's something you don't want to see? Photoshop it out and it's gone. It is gone in the minds of the censors, but human minds are beautifully flexible things. You can damage them but they are resilient.


Website Note: The complete text of several of Jeremy's books have been added to the Jeremy Rosen Online website, including historical works about Kopul Rosen and Carmel College, as well as fictional stories. These books are also available to purchase in bound form through Lulu.com. Additionally, the website has been upgraded such that comments can be made on any and all of Jeremy's writings. So feel free to take advantage of the new functionality to let Jeremy know what you think.

10 Comments:

At 5:16 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

God save us all from fanatics. Intelligent thought is totally absent from their philosophy be they Moslems, Jews or any other group. And you are totally correct about "closed societies" being able to cover up abuse within.

Narrow-minded bigotry, as you say, should not prevail amongst Jews especially as it gives nourishment to anti-Semitic tendencies in others.

Another great article, Jeremy - thanks and Good Shabbos to you and all thinking people.

 
At 8:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can only see that women in the photo have been removed. I do not believe that there is any law written that women cannot be together with men. I think it is men invention. A non-Jewish commentator believed that was the case as women were always stuck behind a curtain and seperated from the men. If men are so scarred of women maybe men should marry men and women should marry women.

I am aware of all the films and other things on TV showing sex like a public event everybody should see. I found always shocking. It is already planted in the children's mind since the 1980s. In Germany I had the feeling that children are no longer children from the age of 6. They talk about everything they saw on TV in a very disgusting way. It put me off in school from an early age ever considering having a relationship with a boy. I was scarred of everybody. I had some experience much later that were no fun either. It was just my curiosity. I guess I will always have problems getting into a normal relationship with a man. I am sure there are other people who grow up with fear or disturbed attitude to intimate relationships.

Sabine

 
At 10:19 AM , Anonymous B.R. said...

Well I must say, I did get a bit bent out of shape with how the media was putting this story out there. I do not consider the producers of Der Zeitung to be 'normative' Orthodox Jews; just like I do not consider The Nation of Islam to be normative Black Americans. That was the first issue that I had. The second issue that I had was with all of the random feminists that were so outraged. You get a glimpse into an extremist group, and you get so upset? Yet where is your (the feminists) outrage at such blatant anti-feminist entertainment like "The Good Housewives of New York" or "Sorority Life".

So while I do not agree with the photoshopping at all, I do bristle at how easy it is to point the finger at marginalized minority groups and not be able to clearly see the problems in the culture and society that you find yourself living in and emulating.

Great points about true Torah Judaism having respect for the human mind. Movies and TV are horribble I agree. However the vice that I struggle with more than any other as an observant Jew is that of music. I grew up in a household where people sang, danced and played instruments. However as a woman, dancing in public is assur. Listening to music with 'rhythmic beats' is assur. I read a piece by a rabbi who's hashkafah I hold a lot of respect for. But when he addressed the music issue, he defines assur music as "anything that appeals to the bottom portion of your body as opposed to the upper." Oh my!

It's such I slap in the face I feel. Music...in it's many different forms is beautiful. It is unrealistic to say that some of the most beautiful music was not inspired by love...either falling in love or heartbreak. These are strong and inspirational feelings and musicians capitalize on that. Just because I enjoy hearing someone sing about how wonderful their girlfriend is doesn't lower my own inhibitions towards my relations to the opposite sex. Of course I'm talking about tasteful references and not things that are just crass, foul-languaged, and just downright disguisting.

So in that vain, I will be keeping my Temptations records. :-)

I cringe when I think others see Orthodox Jews as brainwashed people. I really hope the reality is still more myth than fact in that regard.

Good Shabbos!

 
At 11:33 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

To BR
The Vishnitzer Rebbe Imrei Chayim said "Music does not contaminate." He was responding both to complaints that his Hassidim were taking non-Jewish tunes and adapting them to religious themes and to the suggestion that music somehow corrupts. It is the way some humans USE music that corrupts. No one would say Speech, corrupts but people can use speech and words in a corrosive way.
Listen to music my friend and let it elevate you!
Shabbat Shalom
Jeremy

 
At 11:36 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Sabine
I think its true that a lot of young women are traumatized by this exaggerated display and commoditization of sex ( others of course revel in it and encouage it). The abuse and misreprresentation of women is endemic though I believe and hope it is changing tho still far too slowly.
I only hope you will find a sensitive partner who help you overcome your anxieties.
Shabbat Shalom
Jeremy

 
At 11:38 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Thank you Leila. We are not alone!!!
J

 
At 11:18 AM , Anonymous Henry said...

Illuminatingly candid. Thank you. Might one learn a little more with regard to the reference to the so very well marketed " "
Henry

 
At 8:45 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Henry
Wish I knew what you were referring to!
J

 
At 5:46 PM , Anonymous graham said...

challenged as ever - I assume what it comes down to is Przsysucha or the correct focus thereof.
value above (group) self-interest.

Graham

 
At 7:50 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Graham:
Peshiska (I prefer the sound to the local name) would never have approved of such dishonesty!
Jeremy

 

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