Photographing conservative Jews on the Sabath

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by BradS, May 31, 2005.

  1. BradS

    BradS Member

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    I only know that this is not OK. Would like to learn why. What is the belief? TIA.
     
  2. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    My husband is Jewish, and being an interfaith family, we go to services at a reform synagogue, "Judaism lite" if you will! :tongue: I really don't know the answer here. There is a prohibtion to work on the sabbath, and that may have a lot to do with it. We have a good friend who is a conservative Rabbi in California. If you'd like to research it further, I'll ask him for you.
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Since "conservative" in the U.S. refers to a kind of observance that is more than "reform" and less than "orthodox" (and there is a good deal of variation within each of these general categories), you should probably rephrase that to refer to "observant Jews," meaning those who keep the Sabbath, keep Kosher, observe the holidays, and among the orthodox do a good deal more, like saying daily prayer, observing traditional standards of dress and head covering for women, and having stricter Kosher standards.

    I don't know that there is per se a prohibition against photographing observant Jews on the Sabbath, if they are not doing anything to cause themselves to be photographed, and if it isn't taking place in a synagogue or a cemetery or other religious edifice. For instance, if you were a journalist photographing observant Jews leaving a temple on the Sabbath, I don't know that they would feel violated or offended, but the orthodox wouldn't allow you to photograph inside the temple on the Sabbath, and they wouldn't go for a portrait session on the Sabbath. The prohibition against "working" includes things like lighting a fire, which in turn includes things like using electricity. Exchanging money would be another prohibition that could be relevant.

    Many "Conservative" Jews who consider themselves observant, incidentally, but who have a more liberal interpretation of these rules than the Orthodox, might take photographs for pleasure on the Sabbath without thinking anything of it. For instance, in an Orthodox synagogue you won't find microphones or an organ (the organ, interestingly, relates to prohibitions about idolatry, as I understand it), but you might find them in a Conservative synagogue.

    I'm not observant myself, and I come from a fairly secularized family, so if there's someone who is Orthodox with a more precise answer, I'd be interested in hearing it.
     
  4. jovo

    jovo Membership Council Council

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    Over twenty years ago, on a Saturday morning, I was driving by the then nascent Chassidic Kyrias Joel (village of Joel) when I was "flagged down" by a resident who asked me if I would be willing to enter his house and plug in an extension cord to a heater in the master bedroom, because his wife was sick, and, in accordance with his practice, doing so was "work" he could not perform. I did so, marveling at so seemingly bizzare a request. In exchange, I later asked him if I could photograph him in or near his "Succoth booth" (it was during the holiday of that name...Succoth). He respecfully and courteously declined...I've never been sure why...religious issue or simple shyness, but the gulph between his world and mine seemed insurmountable.

    However, some years earlier, there had been an extraordinary photographic essay in National Geographic about this particular sect of Chassidim, the Satmar, on the occasion of a significant anniversary (I think) of their 'sainted' rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum. Such gorgeous photographs...so intimate a portrait! So, go figure...if you are gifted with the ability to lubricate an apparent social and cultural impasse with whatever it takes to do your work...even the unassimilatable members of such a sect as the Chassidim (or the Amish for George Tice and others, for example) may open up to you.
     
  5. BradS

    BradS Member

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    I guess I should elaborate a little. I was in Israel on business recently and seized upon an opportunity to spend a Saturday walking around, and documenting the city of Haifa. It being the Sabbath, there were very, very few signs of life anywhere in the city other than the occasional person walking to or from synagogue (and, seemingly, hundreds of thousands of feral cats). I may have seen three other people not dressed in...well, I don't know what it's called but, the best description I can come up with right now is: "very conservative, traditional, jewish costume".

    I happened to "grab" a few photos with such people in them. I showed a few of the proofs to a colleague and he scolded me severely for taking pictures of "religious people" (his words, not mine) on the Sabbath. Judging by the tone of his voice, I don't think he was kidding. I had done something very wrong.

    So, now I wonder about the ethical implications because one of the photos is actually quite interesting - to me anyway. I'd like to post it or, perhaps make an enlargement but would like to first understand who would be offended and why.
     
  6. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    If you're in Israel (and probably if you're in a self-contained chassidic enclave like Kiryas Joel), things are different. There are orthodox groups in Israel who would like for the entire country to observe the Sabbath as they do, so they would prohibit, for instance, all driving and demand that all businesses close without exception.

    Perhaps the more militant orthodox in Israel would object to the existence of photographs made in Israel on the Sabbath. I don't think many others, including orthodox and chassidim in other countries, would be too concerned about it.
     
  7. noseoil

    noseoil Member

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    I look on this issue as a simple matter of manners. If someone asks you not to take a picture on the sabbath, respect their request. You might enquire about the reasoning behind the request, as a way of understanding the cultural implications.

    There was a Pow Wow here in Tucson several months ago and in one ceremony, a request was made that no pictures be taken. I found it annoying to see some people acting like they never heard (announced over a pa system with plenty of volume) this request. There was no problem with other dances, but it was not polite to take pictures, so I waited until that portion of the ceremnoy was finished.
    I think it is just an issue of cultural beliefs and decent human behavior. Why be rude? tim
     
  8. shyguy

    shyguy Member

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    Respect for others is something Americans seem to be perceived as being short on in the eyes of much of the rest of the world I’m afraid.

    A bit of respect for other cultures and tolerance for different beliefs and practices would go a long way with respect to world opinion.

    You really raise a very good question about the appropriateness of the act. Now that the image has been captured, what is the implication of displaying it to the public? Regretfully I can not comment on it as I am a white Christian American. I applaud you for considering the implications before allowing the image to "go public".

    Just my two cents.

    S.
     
  9. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    Interesting question, and probably good to ask it. I guess my question, sidestepping the cultural sensitivity issue, would be whether the image looses its significance if removed from the Sabbath context? That is, would it still be interesting if you called it "Tuesday Scene"? (Whether doing so would be ethical is a separate question, of course. :wink: )

    Ever notice how "respect" is always a one-way street?
     
  10. bon-jip

    bon-jip Member

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    This is a very good question of ethics as I feel the answer of how "right" this situation is truly does lie within your self. I am not religious in any form, but have the pleasure of being married to a Religious Historian. So as for a religious reason, the best I can offer is an objective one. I see that what people may be offended by is a transgression of the ritual. As in Tim’s example there are often religious rituals where those involved feel the taking of photographs is inappropriate.

    As I understand it the Sabbath is the sate of ritual purity, and this is held though out the day. While an observant will refrain from working, this state of purity could be compromised without their knowledge.
    If I am allowed to generalise you might say it could be seen by some as the spiritual equivalent of taking photographs through a bedroom window.

    I have travelled throughout the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) and have found myself in similar situations. Some strict Muslims object to the representation of the human form, including photographs, and while I asked every time it was practical, there were one or two occasions where people yelled ”No ” from across a crowded market place. If this was the result of a religious belief I could not say, there are numerous other reasons. I have been allowed to take photographs inside a mosque, as long as I did not point my camera directly at anyone praying, admittedly though this was not on a Friday.
    I used a wide-angle lens and on close inspection of some prints there are one or two people praying, however I would have no reservations in displaying these prints, as they show just how the mosque is used in a social context as a meeting place, playground or picnic area.

    Religion and ritual are very personal things and photographs in either context I’m afraid are open to the viewers’ interpretation and some may well react strongly. The reasons for these reactions are what I would find interesting though. For example why did your colleague object to your shots? Was it for any concrete reason or just the vague notion that it was improper to photograph “religious people”? I wonder then if a photo of a Catholic Priest on Sunday would evoke the same reaction?

    Jason.
     
  11. shyguy

    shyguy Member

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    photographing a catholic priest in a sunday mass will not cause anyone any trouble. hell, they televise their mass all the time.

    S.
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Just to throw a little gas on the fire here, since this is a relatively free country, and if anyone is out in public, are they not a fair subject for your camera.

    If they are in a church, home, business or other place of religious significance then I believe they have a right to their rites and customs. BUT when they venture out into the open space, are they not infringing on my wishes and my rights by refusing to be in any photograph that I wish to make.

    Do their wishes have veto power over mine. Is it not a lack of manners or rudeness on their part to object to my wishes to make a photograph. Of course this said photograph could not be used for commercial purposes.

    Does the fact that I have a press pass affect this issue.

    How about that.

    Michael
     
  13. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Of course. And their religion has absolutely no authority over you,, either.

    BTW, on Catholic TV broadcasts: the pope ruled some time ago that watchers can be saved by watching mass on TV, but ONLY if it's a LIVE broadcast (no one fileld him in on the nature of satellite relay buffers, I guess).
     
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  15. BradS

    BradS Member

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    Thanks for all of the excellent insight and comments. I'll try to follow up on some of the points and questions that have been directed to me....

    Would the image loose significance or impact if removed from the context of having been made on the sabbath?

    On the one hand this is the root of my question. Not being a jew and having had very little contact with people of that faith, I really have no idea what the implications are. To me the fact that the image was made on the sabbath means nothing and thus, if the same photo could have been made on Monday for example, It would have the same impact for me.

    to ask permission or not to ask

    Sometimes I ask but, when I'm out on the street shooting under available light, most times I do not. It usually just depends on what I feel is my intended subject. If the subject is the person, then yeah, I will usually, but not always, ask permission. If the subject is the feel of the place and the place contains people. I don't ask. I don't hide the camera or the fact that I'm using it though.

    respect is always a one way street.
    and...
    Do their wishes have veto power over mine?

    Good point. This was on a public sidewalk. There were signs implying that dogs' bowel movements were not allowed, but nothing suggested to me that cameras were prohibited.
     
  16. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Remember that the photo equipment importing industry in the U.S. at least until relatively recently, and the retail photo business in New York is largely an Orthodox Jewish economic niche. If you need film after 3:00 on Friday, go to Calumet. The Amish and Islamic objections to photography relate to the prohibition against making "graven images," but Orthodox Jews have no particular objection to photography on these grounds.

    I really think you just got caught in the Israeli politics relating to the Sabbath. The objection is that you shouldn't be operating a camera in the vicinity of the Orthodox, because they might believe that everyone in Israel should observe the laws of the Sabbath, whether they are Jewish or not. The more radical people who hold this view have been known to throw stones at cars driving on the Sabbath. In other words, being there and taking the photograph could potentially have offended some people, but having and displaying or publishing the photograph after the fact would most likely not offend very many people.
     
  17. BradS

    BradS Member

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    Ah-ha, Yes! I believe you've hit upon it. This explanation makes a lot of sense and gives me new perspective on several other things that happened that day. Thanks David et. al. -Brad.
     
  18. haris

    haris Guest

    As I know, beside Islam, some religions are not allowing photographing of people, but those religions are less known for general public. Reason for those religions is: soul is connected with appereance, so if someones appereance is on photograph, then that photograph takes soul of that person. And, of course, no one wish to loose its soul.

    For Islam reason for not allowing photography is: Humans are made of god, at his likeness(simillar, but not same, as in christianity). And it is forbidden to show likeness of god. For that reason you can not take(show) not only photographs of people, but you are not allowed to make paintings of people or sculptures of people. Some radicals says that even animals are not allowed to be photographed or to be paint. That is reason for not having Isamic painters or sculptors and only a landscape photographers. They replace that direction of art with caligraphy...

    Of course, not every muslim society has same "toughness" on those rules. For example, in Bosnia where I live, in my town(Sarajevo), you can take and show photographs, we are like western Europe regarding life style. And Sarajevo is over 80% muslim town.(well that is how people react if you ask them about theire religion, but our way of life is like in rest of Europe, except small gorup of "ortodox muslims", but you will not have chance often to see them and to be in contact with them. For example I came from muslim family, but I am atheist and have "western European" life style with included my culture elements)
     
  19. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    How interesting. Would not the act of throwing a stone be a violation of the no-work aspect of Sabbath law? Or, do they pick up the stones the day before, and are just "dropping" them in the direction of the passing cars? :wink:
     
  20. mark

    mark Member

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    There is no right to privacy in public. A person cannot expect it. So everyone is fair game for your camera, as long as they are in an area designated as public.

    I do not take pictures of people in public, nor do I like having my picture taken. But, I understand what my rights are and the rights of others. If I prohibit the rights of the person taking my picture (not that many would want to) they might prohibit my right to ruin their picture. Freedom runs both ways.
     
  21. haris

    haris Guest


    Mark, sorry, but you are wrong. Not that I disagree with you, but not all people and not all societies think same about freedom, demokracy, etc. To think that all societies or countries have to have same rules as society or coutry in which I(or you) live is very arrogant, and non democratic. Yes maybe county in which I(you) live has more freedom than others, but it is from my point of view. And who am I to say to others that I(my society) are in absolute truth and that others must follow our rules...
     
  22. mark

    mark Member

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    You are right I should have said in the US.
     
  23. titrisol

    titrisol Member

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    AND if for any reason you cannot go to church (i.e. sickness, old age, etc)

     
  24. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    I think both Mark and I were speaking about the US. I prefaced my comment, "that we live in a free country"...

    Perhaps before we push the button we must ask ourselves "what would Eisenstaedt do?"


    Michael
     
  25. haris

    haris Guest

    Yes, I understand that you Mark and you Blansky talk about situation in USA. My point is not to get after you two. My intention was to underline how easily, without any bad intentions, we(from where ever we come) think that whole world plays by rules we are used to. It is nothing bad, simply we (people, humans) are like that. And that we can get in some unpleasent situations without any bad attentions, simply by not understanding differencies between our and other cultures.

    Regards
     
  26. Jeffrey A. Steinberg

    Jeffrey A. Steinberg Member

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    I am orthodox and a member of this community.

    The following is for background for those that care

    There is no issue with taking pictures of people in public. In a shul (hebrew for temple), its another matter.

    The issue with the organ is that we don't make music for fear of fixing the organ. Its called a "Gezera" (fence; a rule put in place to guard us from breaking a biblical negative commandment--"thou shalt not...").

    There is nothing inherently wrong with making music and in fact some could argue it goes a long way to "celebrating the sabbath." There is no biblical prohabition that I am aware of but I am not as learned as a rabbi who should be consulted in all Jewish Law questions (called Halacha). There is, however, a rabbinic gezera around playing music on the sabbath since if the piano breaks or a guitar breaks, we might fix it and that is work, which is biblically prohibited.

    I have been in a lively debate with a rabbi regarding a "shabbos" camera. We now have shabbos lights that are on all through shabbos but have a shade that allows you to cut their output to 0 and thus "turn" it on and off without reallying creating a flame or extinguishing a flame....

    I was thinking of a fully mechanical camera that uses springs for the shutter and no batteries. The photographer would have to rely on ambient exposure and his estimate of light levels. All we are doing is then exposing film for development after the shabbos. Its like taking film out of the canister and exposing it to light. That is ok. It revolves around the concept of "grummah" (doing a permitted action that creates a second action).

    Suffice it to say, he really didn't agree with me. The thurst of his argument was not with the technical aspects of my argument but "is it in the spirit of shabbos?" I have to agree with him since shabbos is a state of mind spiritually where we dedicate ourselves to god, family and study of the torah (bible).

    If B&H photo video can operate an e-commerce website during the shabbos--and take orders--, then this has to be somewhat ok. B&H, owned by orthodox jews, relys on a rabinic rulling that the monetary transfer actually occurs on Monday when the banks process the records. Very interesting.
     
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