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  1. #1
    BradS's Avatar
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    Photographing conservative Jews on the Sabath

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

  2. #2
    SuzanneR's Avatar
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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! 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. #3
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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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.
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  4. #4
    jovo's Avatar
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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.
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  5. #5
    BradS's Avatar
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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. #6
    David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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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.
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  7. #7
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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. #8
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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. #9
    rbarker's Avatar
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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. )

    Ever notice how "respect" is always a one-way street?
    [COLOR=SlateGray]"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus." -Mark Twain[/COLOR]

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  10. #10

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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.

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