NEW YORK (JTA) – Hillary Clinton could be America’s next president, but her picture will never appear on the pages of the country’s only Jewish daily newspaper.
The English-language version of Hamodia, which touts itself as “The Newspaper of Torah Jewry,” does not publish photographs of women because its editorial board believes that pictures of the female form are immodest and displaying them, even in the context of news coverage, would be out of line with Jewish law.
Cringe or laugh, but the English edition of Hamodia – its forebear started out in Eastern Europe as a religious Yiddish paper in 1910 and was resurrected as a Hebrew publication in Israel in 1950 – is on the rise: In its decade of existence, the English edition has seen its circulation grow to 45,000 households.
“In the strictest interpretation of halachah, it is a question of modesty,” said Menachem Lubinsky, the marketing consultant for Hamodia, when asked about the policy of not running photographs of women.
Lubinsky, who spoke to JTA after the paper’s publisher, Ruth Lichtenstein, declined through a publicist, citing modesty reasons, said Clinton wouldn’t be the first female leader to be affected by the policy.
“We never featured a picture of Golda Meir,” he insisted.
Last week, when the paper covered the presidential primaries and ran a photo of U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), it avoided showing a photo of the former first lady, featuring instead a photo of Bill Clinton stumping for his wife behind a podium with a “Hillary for President” sign.
The policy is not an issue of belittling women, Lubinsky insisted, noting that the paper has female editorial staffers, its stories quote women and Lichtenstein writes unsigned editorials.
Hamodia, which is headquartered in the heavily Jewish New York City borough of Brooklyn, is attempting to provide global coverage of news for the Orthodox community, Lubinsky said.
Unlike most Jewish publications, its copy is not all Jewish news, all the time. It presents the major news of the day as would a major daily, along with Jewish fare.
For instance, the lead story on the tabloid’s front page Feb. 6 was about the presidential campaigns, while the kickers highlighting stories inside featured the 40th anniversary of the Bais Yaakov school in Denver, a guide to Jewish weddings and a story about “Modiin Ilit, a Pioneer of Shabbos Observance.”
Inside the paper, articles about the housing crisis in Buffalo and the conviction of the “Terror Lawyer” were offset by photographs of prominent haredi rabbis making visits to Jewish communities.
Hamodia tends to ignore racier topics, such as sex scandals, or write stories with “careful language, because there is a concern that the paper is passed on to younger family members,” Lubinsky said.
The paper does not have a Web site because rabbis in the haredi world have banned using the Internet for anything aside from business purposes, Lubinsky said.
Even Hamodia’s ads are modest. One for The Lingerie Store taking two-thirds of a page has no pictures of women in their underwear. The only wares mentioned in the text are velour long robes, spring long robes and cotton knit nightgowns.
Lubinsky painted a rosy picture for the paper, noting that America has an estimated 800,000 to 1 million Orthodox Jews, with half living in the New York metropolitan area. According to Lubinsky, the paper’s readership has a mean income of $60,000 per year.
Hamodia’s Feb. 6 issue featured four separate news sections and two glossy magazine supplements – all filled with ads.
The paper is attracting younger generations of Orthodox Jews who are moving to the right of their Modern Orthodox parents.
They became more fervently Orthodox after spending time studying in Israeli yeshivas, according to sociologist Samuel Heilman.
“These are people who are relatively new to this haredi outlook, and they need to know how to think and they need to know what” the haredi worldview includes, Heilman said in a phone interview from Israel, where he is on sabbatical. “This is the kind of thing that in a different culture and society, they would learn on the street.
“These are people who have slid to the right, but slid late. They didn’t grow up speaking Yiddish or Hebrew. They are steeped in American life and their mama loshen” – Yiddish for mother tongue – “is English.”