Effacing Women

Could be that I have used the verb in an improper manner. But it can’t be even remotely as improper as the phenomenon itself.

I haven’t seen any really good treatments of the hugely disturbing trend in parts of the community to deny the existence of the chromosomally-challenged (how’s that for a new euphemism for she-who-must-not-be-mentioned!), or at least their faces. One very good contribution now appears in the Jerusalem Post, authored by Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll. Here is the strong beginning:

Imagine a world without women. No mothers or daughters. No female doctors, MKs, teachers or even real estate agents. No girls swinging on playgrounds or young women going to school.

Open one of the numerous pamphlets or magazines in towns around the world with large haredi communities – from Bnei Brak to Lakewood, New Jersey, from Betar Illit to London – and that is what you will find. Even the magazines created for women, like Mishpacha and Bina, have no women or girls in them.

It relates developments in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and what happened when a group of mostly Anglos decided to counter the trend with a local advertising flyer that welcomed names and faces of women.
There is much good material in the piece, including the position of Rav Ovadia, zt”l:

Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of late Shas spiritual adviser Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, expressed horror: “I fear that if this continues, we will have to veil our faces.”

She recounted how her father reacted with shock and anger upon seeing a published family photo with the faces of his wife and mother blurred out.

“What nerve… what is this supposed to be? Ultimately they’ll all be in veils,” she recalled him saying.

Occasionally, a good throw-away line as well:

[A] Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef rabbi who had called Metziah and arranged a boycott was responsible for the near-firing of a local healthcare manager a few years earlier.

In that case, someone had deemed her dress immodest, as she did not wear stockings. Every day, men came to the clinic to see what she was wearing; there were demonstrations outside her workplace, and her husband was threatened. When her boss asked her to capitulate to make peace, she told him she would agree to wear stockings through the long, hot summer – as long as he did the same.

I related best to the opinion of a local chasid:

Asked about the issue of erasing women and using threats to enforce modesty, a hasidic man from Beit Shemesh, speaking on condition of anonymity, says, “Today, more than ever, we need to ascertain if pictures of women are forbidden or permitted. If it is permitted according to Halacha” – which, he asserts, it is – “then it is not okay to make it forbidden. When you forbid things that are permitted, people say, ‘Forget it all, [the Torah] is all made up!’”

He adds, “I don’t think there is a problem with a normal picture of a woman. Someone who sees a problem with this should perhaps check if there is something wrong with himself. This type of behavior causes hatred between people; people see fanatics, and assume we are all this way.”

The conclusion is pointed:

If erasing women is not bringing more holiness; if it creates a reality where women’s needs are not met; if the ways it is done are not pleasant, but threatening and harsh; if the rabbinic sources of yesterday and today reject it outright as un-Jewish; if women’s reactions to it are further extremes and anger; if girls are feeling lost, confused and left out; and if it thwarts those working to show the beauty of Judaism, then it is clear that this practice is causing far more harm than good, and is not protecting the Jewish people.

The article, which should be read in its entirety, poses a challenge to all of us who agree, and have been silent as we watched a new form of behavior take hold that we know will be unhealthy for our community, and for kavod ha-Torah. The article documents the actions of a small group of people in the Dati Leumi community in Israel, for the most part. What will we do about it, here in our communities?

[Thanks to Menachem Lipkin for the contribution.]

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41 Responses

  1. leah says:

    Finally, a voice of sanity. When a story ran about Rebbetzin Kanievsky, following her petirah, in a women’s magazine, yet there was no picture of her, I couldn’t help but think: Orthodox Jewish men must be really sick and twisted if they can’t be trusted to see a photo of a woman who was elderly, dead, and righteous, without having improper thoughts. What other explanation could there be for not printing her picture?
    Societies that try to restrict women from driving, demands that they hide their faces, refuses to allow them to treat male patients – don’t look pretty. Do we want to become Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan under the Taliban? I have no doubt that this is turning potential BTs off, and worse, it creates a backlash with women not trying to be modest at all – after all, if a woman who covers her knees, elbows, and collarbone is immodest, why bother trying?

  2. Raymond says:

    On what was my second of seven trips to Israel, I happened to be in Jerusalem on the very day that the late, great Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s funeral was held in Jerusalem. Standing near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station with my younger sister, I could not help but be impressed, actually overwhelmed, by the hundreds of thousands of Jewish men in their long black coats walking respectfully toward Rabbi Feinstein’s burial place. Suddenly, however, a group of such men angrily stormed the bus bench I was standing near, and destroyed private property by violently ripping apart an advertisement posted at that bus bench. Apparently, they did not like the fact that the advertisement had a picture of a woman. It would be really difficult to make a case of her immodest dress, however, since all it showed was her face. I never forgot that incident. It is one of the key experiences I have had, that has turned me off from ever becoming formally religious.

    I understand the concept of each Jew watching out for the welfare of others. Applied to this topic, it could be said that Jewish law mandates women to dress modestly, not only for their own sake, but out of concern for us men, who apparently have no control over our physical drives. And so I can understand the concept of Jewish women covering themselves up to their collar bones, elbows, and knees. According to my understanding at least, anything beyond that, goes beyond the letter of the law. It would seem to me that it is therefore at this point, that women should be under no further obligation to control a man’s passions. At that point, us men have to have enough self control, that we can handle noticing and even interacting with women, without becoming complete animals out of control. And if we men cannot do that, then that is our problem, not theirs. Women are half of our world, and are said to be a more spiritual, and higher creation than are us men. To hide them from general society, only sinks our society to a lower level.

  3. YEA says:

    The Jpost article is behind a pay wall.

  4. Michael Berman says:

    I believe Rabbi Adlerstein is mistaken to call this a “trend.” The Chassidic community is this way and remains this way. Contrary to what people think, women on separate-gender buses were at least as likely to request a male reporter go sit up front as the men were to ask a female reporter to go back.

    If a magazine or newspaper prints photos of women, it will not sell among Chassidim. Everyone knows you don’t need a hechsher on salt or sugar, but Morton and Domino both carry an OU because it sells better that way.

    And if the free market is insufficient, the following is from Torah Tavlin, online at http://www.torahtavlin.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/36-Korach2.pdf:

    In the summer of the year 5683 (1923) the holy Chofetz Chaim, R’ Yisroel Meir Hakohen Kagan ZT”L, attended a Knessia Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel that took place in Vienna, Austria. While the men filled the main hall, the women sat on a balcony that was not fully screened off as would be done in a shul, although there was no question whatsoever of any type of intermingling.

    One of the Rabbonim voiced an opinion that a proper mechitza must be erected so that the men should not be able to see the women at all. Most other Rabbonim disagreed and were of the opinion that since the occasion was neither a gathering for tefillah nor an emotional occasion such as a wedding or similar simcha it was sufficient the way it was. Due to their disagreement, they decided to seek the opinion of the venerable Gadol Hador, the Chofetz Chaim, and do as he says.

    R’ Yisroel Meir responded with a typical sagacious piece of advice. He said that it could well be that there is no halachic obligation to erect a proper mechitza as most of the Rabbonim had maintained. He nevertheless felt that when it comes to questions of Kedushas Yisroel one should be stringent and heed even the opinion of an individual. “The Torah tells us that immorality is what causes Hashem to detach Himself from Klal Yisroel. It follows that when tznius prevails, Hashem is very close to those who practice it and His presence is acutely felt.” He then added that when Hashem is close to us, we are safe, as the posuk says, “Even as I pass through the valley of death I do not fear evil for You are with me”.

    Shoshanna Jaskol writes regularly against mainstream Orthodoxy in pursuit of her feminist agenda, and I am surprised to see anything of hers praised on Cross-Currents without at least taking note of this fact.

  5. Cvmay says:

    So Rabbi Adlerstein, any ideas how small changes can be made? In New York, the 5 towns Jewish times & Jewish Home weekly magazines are popular for their upright & normative reporting & photographs.

  6. Menachem Lipkin says:

    Michael Berman, Shoshanna is writing here in Israel where it certainly *is* a trend as she clearly elucidates. Also, this trend is in no way limited to just Chassidim. (And there are plenty of examples.)

    While your story about the Chofetz Chaim is cute, it hardly addresses the current trend to erase women completely from view. Even the most “frum” publication of his day showed pictures of women.

    And frankly I’m surprised that Cross Currents would allow an unsubstantiated (and false, IMO) ad hominem attack in the comments.

  7. Amanda Bradley says:

    The word you are looking for is ‘erasing’. I am very glad to see cross currents covering this topic. it’s easy for many Jews to ignore such ‘minor’ topics as the entire removal of images of women from the public sphere, since it doesn;t really affect most of us directly. However, it will affect every single one of us indirectly, in ways ranging from increased violence against women to young men incapable of upholding a relationship with their wives, from increased numbers of girls and young women going of the derech as they feel unable to relate to a religion which writes them out to women being unable to make a parnassah since their ability to advertise is restricted. it is far-sighted of r’ adlerstein to recognise the pernicious effects of the movement to erase women.

  8. danny says:

    What can we do about this in America? We can refuse to be honored by an institution that only publishes a picture of the husband honoree in its advertisements. This has become a trend even in moderate yeshivish institutions in America.

  9. Michael Berman says:

    Menachem, the fact is that publications are simply following what their readers demand. Chassidic influence is growing, and that’s not a negative, it’s just reality.

    While your dismissal of the advice of the Chofetz Chaim is revealing rather than “cute,” the average publication of his day had no photographs at all. Please respond with specific evidence of a publication for the frum community of Radin during his lifetime that featured close-up photos of women.

    An “ad hominem attack” is one against the person rather than the person’s positions and opinions. Keats-Jaskoll is “offended” by “certain practices in Judaism” — including traditional gender roles. She claims that Judaism permits wife-beating “to educate them or get them to do their work,” a distortion of a simple Ramba”m promoted by Rivka Haut. She advocates for Women of the Wall, which just today blew seven shofaros in unison to disturb Shacharis at the Kotel. She demands “solutions” to the problem of women unable to obtain a Get including civil marriage, and she suggests that women sitting separately on buses will lead directly to them wearing burkas.

    None of this is hidden, it’s all from her Times of Israel blog page. So what you term my “attack” was none of ad hominem, unsubstantiated, or false.

    [YA – I do not know the author at all. But the definition of an ad hominem argument is one that focuses on the person’s character or background, and not the merit of his/her argument. The issue here is not whether the author should be a candidate for principal of a Bais Rochel. The issue is the removal of women from public mention. Either her arguments are true, or they are not. That is what readers ought to be considering.]

    • SKJ says:

      ‘She’ does not advocate for WOW, rather she advocates for leaving them alone and caring more for the kedusha of the makom than making a hillul Hashem with outrageous behaviors against them. Further, ‘she’ does not claim that Judaism permits wife beating but rather quotes the RMBM’s phrasing which dayanim have used to prevent women getting a get. Nor does she claim that women sitting in the back of the bus directly leads to burkas. Yes, ‘she’ does demand solutions to the horrific situation of women being chained in a marriage causing pain and suffering and massive hillul Hashem. None of which makes her arguments untrue nor herself a person to demean. As you state, either her arguments are true, or they are not. She suggests you take issue with them and not what you claim she says.

    • Moshe Dick says:

      Dear Mr. Berman: Is there anything wrong with asking for a solution for an agunoh? If my memory serves me right, there are dozens, probably hundreds of teshuvos who make every effort to free agunos. Why is that wrong? And, as far as the story of the Chofetz Chaim, like so many other apocryphal stories, it is a figment of someone’s imagination. Lastly, I distinctly remember a photo of the “alte of Slobodka” , Rav Finkel,on the boat, on his way to Israel , with the rebbetzin at his side and her face was very clear.- I think it may have appeared in the biography of Rav Brodie.

    • Michael Berman says:

      SKJ, thank you for replying. But no. I don’t think “caring more for the kedusha of the makom” means saying let these women make a deliberate, provocative disturbance (which the organizers said is their whole point), and only criticize those few who respond inappropriately. In one article you criticized women for a really radical reaction — coming, in the thousands, to pray. Your article is still up on Times of Israel. I didn’t demean you at all, I wrote that you write “regularly against mainstream Orthodoxy in pursuit of her feminist agenda.” That’s true, at least as I see it. There’s nothing wrong with helping Agunos, and everything wrong with endorsing civil marriage.

      Moshe, see above. I don’t see your point about pictures in books at all. I have to agree with David — I don’t ever recall a picture of a woman in any charedi newspaper or magazine.

      And despite what you said, the account of the Chofetz Chaim appears in multiple places. The first Kenessiah Gedolah went on for several days. See http://share.pho.to/9eYmp … one day there is no curtain on the balcony, and at another time there is. So it seems a very odd coincidence it changed in middle, and everyone agrees there’s one reason why that happened, and yet it’s just a “figment of someone’s imagination.” That someone must be a really good story-teller — or else history recorded what happened accurately.

  10. Cvmay says:

    Dear R. Yitzchok,

    This is not a trend rather a permanent decision within Israeli CHAREDI culture to minimize & even erase females from any & all visual media. It is slowly infiltrating within the USA, without much protest or concern. In many areas of life, Rabbanim & leaders accept Israeli trends as holy, proper & blessed by Gedolim.

    A poll is necessary to gauge WHAT DO PEOPLE (men & women) think about this trend? Are they for or against? Have they experienced a backlash affecting their
    daughters/talmidos in this area? & are they willing to be trend Blazers to change it?
    Of course, answers & thoughts will differ depending on kehillos, background, understanding, etc. Most people are content to follow the masses without complaint until it personally hurts/stifles/effects them.

    Remember in a society driven by the dollar, business & even personal decisions are measured by “who is the consumer?” & “what sells (magazine/advertisement wise)”?

  11. SA says:

    I’m not sure what “chassidus” has to do with it. Neither Yated Ne’eman nor Mishpacha are run by chassidim (perhaps younger Cross-Currents readers need to be reminded that once upon a time, the Hebrew Hamodia represented all of Haredi Jewry in Israel). I seem to remember a picture of Rebbetzin Kaplan in the Jewish Observer, z”l after she was niftar; I hope I am remembering correctly. I worked for a Frum magazine in the 1980s that featured women on its front covers. That magazine collapsed for financial reasons unrelated to any boycotts. This erasing of women is part of the overall move to the right of the Torah community.

    As someone who worked eight years for a Haredi publication, I can assure you that polls of readers will accomplish nothing in this particular area. The editorial offices of these publications operate based on the public’s right NOT to know, as they see it. They truly believe they have to protect the readers from themselves.

    That having been said, I must say that, at least in the publication I once worked for, there has been a broadening of topics treated and terms used, including many that were “verboten” in my time. Part of that is the result of competition, part that publication’s increasing confidence, and part its internal upheavals, but it has definitely happened, and that’s a positive trend. Anyone who knows the Haredi community knows that “slow and steady” is the way to go. Demanding sharp changes like pictures of women may bring that trend to a halt.

    There is, unfortunately, another factor. When these publications are perceived by some crazy as having crossed some line, they get threats. Not (just) threats of advertising boycotts, but threats of violent attacks on their offices. How serious are those threats? Do you want to take chances? The bottom line is determined by the “kanoyim.”

  12. dr. bill says:

    I was hesitant to post this comment, until I was able to see a DVD of the event to verify what I thought I saw. The DVD verified that my eyes were not playing tricks on me.
    I attended the last annual Torah Vodaath dinner. One of the speaker’s extolled Rebbitzen Pam ztl and her persistence in following up after someone turned down her husband ztl to persuade the individual to reconsider. Very nice – praise for the Rebbitzen as well. Surprise, surprise when showing Rav and Rebbitzen Pam with another individual, (I believe it was the speaker) the Rebbitzen’s face was blurred.

    • Shades of Gray says:

      Speaking of the Pam’s ztl, this is the quote about a Shuvu dinner from the Esther Reisman/Flatbush Jewish Journal letter I mentioned:

      “At a recent Shuvu dinner, the video presentation included moving accounts by Baalos Teshuva. There were many Gedolei Yisroel present. I am not aware that any of these great Rabbonim expressed disapproval. Certainly, the story of the Shuvu revolution would have been incomplete without the testimonies of both the men and women whose lives were changed.”

  13. Shades of Gray says:

    This reminds me of a bus tour I was on which was run by a very frum woman. She wanted to show the movie “Raid on Entebbe”. Some people were for it, and some against. I remember one woman saying that when she was in a Chasidishe girls camp, they used to show, on rainy days, certain movies (one can argue that Chasidishe boys camps wouldn’t do the same). There were two boys on the tour who didn’t want to see the movie. Someone stuck up for them, and said, “they are yeshiva bochurim, and want to be careful what they see”. The movie ended up being shown, and the two boys didn’t watch it –two Jews, three opinions.

    Charedi publications similarly wish to cater to these sensitivities. They don’t show even elderly women, as a “lo plug”, single standard, or as R. Shafran similarly explained, the editors of these haredi papers.. “do not want to be in position to pick and choose” between women who are appropriate for publication and those who are not. “It would be insulting to the women they pick,”(Jewish Week, 5/17/11).

    On the other hand, when people criticized the “Flatbush Jewish Journal” for printing a picture of an elderly rebbetzin in an obituary, there was a letter by (Rebbetzin?) Esther Reisman in the 12/30/10 Flatbush Jewish Journal which made the point that, “it may be a wise Geder…However, it is not totally healthy for us as a community when we forget the difference between a Geder and an Issur. .. “ She mentions Artscoll biographies, the Jewish Observer, and Shuvu Dinner which included certain pictures of women. In “a Plea for Normalcy and Balance”(1/9/14) Drs. Joel Rosenshein and Yitzhok Levein similarly responded to a criticism the Flatbush Jewish Journal received for printing a picture of the late Rebbetzin Pam.

    Two ideas:

    1) All can agree that photo shopping of Angela Merkel or Hillary(especially if she becomes president !) subjects the frum world to ridicule; it’s better not to print a picture in the first place, than to crudely Photoshop.

    2) People can encourage more publications like the Jewish Press or the Jewish Action that print pictures of women, as R. Adlerstein wrote about Artscroll simply reacting to market demands, “Artscroll is not an academic institution. It is a for-profit business. It can hardly be blamed for doing what businesses do – keeping an eye on the bottom line” (“Artscroll is not to Blame, March, 2006).

  14. bracha says:

    I come from a Chassidic rebbisha family who came to America before the war. In my mother’s album of prewar Europe, which we are lucky to have, there are many pictures of her women relatives. It was the Rebbes and other male relatives who refused to be photographed and the only pictures I have of my grandfathers are the ones we took without them being aware. Obviously, something changed and men’s pictures began to appear in publication – even Rebbes’ pictures. I find the fact that women’s pictures are not being shown to be totally insulting and an invitation to be mocked by other Jews from other spectrums as well as by non – Jews.. Reading an article about a woman without her picture is extremely unsatisfying. I get e-mails about the Holocaust ( I teach this subject) and just recently was sent film clips of prewar Europe that show only men and boys. This is to me the final insult to the women and young girls – more then half of the Jewish people who were killed als Kiddush Hashem. Are they not part of our Jewish History? Do we dare delegate their lives into oblivion and non-existence because of their gender?

    Yes, the outside world has sunk to an unbelievable pit. Women dress in most provocative and decadent ways. But I still believe that our editors and journalists can be discerning and intelligent enough not to print provocative pictures of women. My solution- (I doubt the powers that be will adopt it) is to change the policy of not printing pictures of women to one where a women’s face – from her neck up- will be shown. Do you think the charedi world can handle looking at a woman’s face without going off the deep end?

  15. Rachel Wizenfeld says:

    Thank you for being an unfortunately rare rabbinic voice to notice and care about this issue. I find it extremely unhealthy and bizarre to read books and newspapers in which all the photos are of men only – it’s a skewed representation of the world and can only have unhealthy ramifications. Also, KUDOS on the updated site layout – it’s looking great!

  16. Miriam Rosenberg says:

    We are raising a generation of women who are growing up in a culture that so diminishes them, and then ties it to religion. Leaving them with a sense of “how do you argue with religion? what’s WRONG with you?” So what’s the end game, in this culture that the boys are growing up in too? Do we end up with girls who don’t understand that marriage is an equal partnership, and are unable to communicate their needs and wants to their husbands because they’ve been brought up in a society that seems to relegate them to secondary status? How can we expect more from young husbands who have been taught throughout society that women are “the other?”
    Women today are out in the world. They are working and providing for their families, and the younger women are often the sole breadwinners, providing all financial sustainability for their brood. They are smart and hard working, and need to keep their jobs. They are respected and they are appreciated and validated by co-workers, bosses and clients. And then they come back to their own communities where they are ignored. This is not a safe or healthy scenario. Women are human beings- as such most humans enjoy and even thrive on validation, appreciation, and respect. If they cannot find it in our circles, where will they go to look for it?

    Ignoring women won’t make them go away, it won’t make them more Tziniyus, it won’t make them love Torah, or bring them closer to Hashem.

    I once learned that the face need not be covered, because that is where the soul shines forth, what makes pictures different? We have a major tzniyus problem in some of our “frummest” communities. Maybe never having a picture of a modestly dressed woman, or a woman whose kedusha shines forth from her face (like Rebbetzin Kanievsky), and only the glossies that show scantily clad women are somewhat to blame.

    I think we need to trust our Torah more.Seeing a picture of frum women will not send otherwise good and learned men and boys off the deep end of perversion.There is another people that covers up and hides its women and the Torah teaches us that they are the most promiscuous and amoral of all. Is that what we have become? Does every mention and thought of a woman need to be as an object? Can women really not be ANYWHERE for fear of what may happen to a male if she is? The people doing the censoring are obsessed with this. It really isn’t normal. A few years ago my girls’ high school play had a picture of the Statue of Liberty. One of the Monsey shopper magazines BLURRED IT OUT!!!!

    A society that both diminishes women and then expects the world of them at the same time (finish a Master’s degree by age 22, full breadwinner, mother, running a household) makes no sense. What does make sense is that God is true and just, those who have co opted his “P.R.,” so to speak, are the problem.

  17. B. Feldman says:

    I find it somewhat surprising that this conversation has seemingly begun in the middle. It takes for granted that a certain practice is inappropriate and then looks for ways to get others to stop it. I would think that as people who claim to surrender to Torah, the beginning of this conversation should be an analysis of relevant classical texts and values, actually trying to ascertain what the pros and cons of the practice are as per Torah values, and weighing those pros and cons, together with practical considerations, against each other. (Please see R. Gil Student’s recent discussion of the differences between a study and a polemic.)

    Please note that I am not advocating for the practice of shunning images of women in Orthodox publications!

    However, I believe that this is a thorny issue that really does have two sides, and the appropriate solution may be more nuanced than advocates of either side would like to admit.

    [YA – I don’t understand the surprise. Reb Gil can engage in study rather than polemic because Torah Musings aims at the Modern Orthodox community. We don’t do study in the conventional haredi world, with perhaps the exception of Klal Perspectives (Intentional plug.) Many of us would welcome it, but go fight City Beis Medrash. If we accept the need (and I do!) to often first state our categorical objection to some types of behavior or innovation, why should we shy away from categorical upholding of previous standards in large parts (i.e. non-chassidish) of our community, at least in the States? We can academically dialogue about the counter-arguments later, but the first thing we need to assert is that this is not for us, bad for our kids, and worse yet for those who think that the primary tafkid of our generation is kiddush Hashem.]

  18. Y. Ben-David says:

    I am afraid I don’t understand those who oppose the trends towards erasing women from public life in the Haredi world. The “hasid from Ramat Beit Shemesh” wants halachic clarification if it is permissible to see women’ pictures or not. One can go further and ask if it is halachically permissible to walk around without a black coat and hat and whether it is halachically permissible to wear a knitted kippa and whether it is halachically permissible to eat non-Mehadrin food. The point is the real question is “where do you draw the line”? I am sure that Hassid would never be seen without his kapota and he would never wear a knitted kippa nor would he allow children from a family that does not conform with this dress standards that go beyond the question of “halachic permissibility” into his children’s schools.
    I have been reading Prof Marc Shapiro’s biography of Rav Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg and his book about Orthodox Jews rewritting history What I have learned from this is that the most extreme elements set the tone and eventually even the moderates end up capitulating to them on every issue. I presume if they were asked why they go along with more and more extreme standards of conformism they will say “We have no choice because this is where the Torah is”.
    Therefore I do not understand what Adina Bar-Shalom is unhappy about. She supports the SHAS movement and its leaders, of which she is not one, wants here mother’s and grandmother’s faces blanked out. If she doesn’t like it, she should leave the SHAS movement. If she sincerely believes that “SHAS is where the Torah is” then she has no choice but to accept the situation.

  19. Bob Miller says:

    Believe it or not, families across the whole spectrum of Orthodox Jewish practice contain both sexes. The idea that women need to be not only appropriately modest but also invisible is laughable. You can read a frum biography of a woman and have no idea what she looked like, although clearly her whole family and community knew what she looked like and suffered no trauma from that. Are we so much more pious than our bubbies and zaidies? Or are we just too fixated on new gimmicks in place of spiritual depth?

  20. Leslie Ginsparg Klein says:

    Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt wrote an excellent article examining the motivations of frum publications in not publishing pictures of women. (http://www.haaretz.com/beta/.premium-1.669916) What she found is that these publications admitted that their policies to not print women’s pictures were not motivated by halacha, but rather in fear of economic and social pressure. Meaning, the publications fear that those who object to women’s pictures will boycott the publications and protest. They don’t want to “antagonize our readership.”

    Accordingly, it seems that those who oppose the trend of “effacing women” need to demonstrate that they are “antagonized” by publications refusing to print pictures of women–and apply the social and economic pressure these publications fear. That can mean writing letters to the editor, calling the publications, and boycotting (while making it clear the reason you are boycotting). Similarly, one could refuse to support an organization or event that honors couples but only prints the pictures of men or blurs out pictures of women (again while making it clear to the leaders of the organizations why you are withdrawing support).

  21. dave says:

    It always brings a chuckle on my infrequent perusals of ten pounds of newsprint a.k.a. the Yased Neeman, that photos from chasunas involving this Rosh Yeshiva or that wealthy “askan” only show men. What kind of wedding involves no women anyway? Sparta?

  22. Betzalel says:

    See this great kiruv video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KHXZ2FH_SU

    Two and a half hours of beautiful pictures of everywhere in the world, fancy food and wine, fancy cars, fancy houses, but no women. If women were included, it would make the secular world look more exciting than the frum world. But without women, in the video the frum world looks much more exciting.

  23. Davidf says:

    I recently took a look at some old issues of the Jewish Observer and discovered that none of them contained photos of women. The JO was a publication of Agudas Israel; primarily a mainstream Litvish/Charedi organization and this was during the days of R’ Moshe, R’ Yaakov Zt”l and other gedolim who apparently supported this view.

    I also vividly recall visiting the Yated Ne’eman offices in Bnai Brak sometime during the early 90’s and hearing from the director how much effort went into deciding which pictures to print and which to omit. I don’t recall him mentioning the issue of female pictures, but I clearly recall him saying that all decisions were based on guidelines given to them by R’ Shach zt”l.

    I am aware that some folks feel quite strongly about this issue and I’m not commenting on their sentiments, but at a minimum one should also consider that these decisions are not a sign of some very recent trends toward Charedization of the masses. Moreover, there were some very big people who clearly felt otherwise. Minimally, one should take note of these facts before dismissing any arguments in favor of omitting female photos on a wholesale basis.

    [YA – Please remember why the organization is called “Agudah.” It is a coalition of different groups. Such coalitions are often held together only be catering to the sensitivities of all the subgroups. In this case, it is some chassidishe groups, which have fine backing and mesoros for their positions. But so do the rest of us. Need we become defensive about having men and women in a family sit around a Shabbos table together, or perhaps drop the practice in deference to Gerrer chassidus? Besides, did JO ever excise the names of women, and even the very word “woman?” Cannot you not see a trend and have the confidence in saying that כבודם במקומם מונח, it is our job to firmly resist what thousands of us recognize as an aberration?]

    • Davidf says:

      Rabbi Adlerstein,

      There is a vast difference between not having women at the Shabbos table and not publishing pictures of women. The two are simply incomparable.
      It is also not too hard to imagine why one could very well believe that women have a very important place in Jewish place, yet still be unwilling to publish pictures of women – a practice that can lead to many thorny situations. How does one distinguish between pictures that are problem-free and those that pose real tzniyus issues? Young and old? There may be some very clear guidelines that are simple to follow, but this is certainly an area of concern. Your arguments against the practice would resonate far more if these difficulties were acknowledged.
      I have no problem with people who disagree with the practice of omitting pictures, but there’s no reason to assume that this is because of a rank devaluation of women in the Charedi world – a charge that you know full well is inaccurate.

    • mk says:

      It is simply not true that the Jewish Observer, as a matter of policy, did not print pictures of women.
      It was not a magazine, it was a scholarly journal and it was not often natural to have a picture of a woman.
      I personally saw an issue of J.O with a feature article about Rebbetzin Kaplan (I believe on her first yartzeit)
      and it had pictures of her playing with her grandchildren. To demonstrate a policy you need to show something
      like pictures of a group of speakers , with the faces of the female presenters missing. That never existed in the Jewish Observer.
      Regarding Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov ZTL, both of their Art Scroll biographies have pictures of women, indicating that their respective families knew that they would not object.
      The Art Scroll biography of Rav Gifter ZTL is filled with pictures of women, even when it doesn’t seem “necessary”. It includes pictures of the Hanhala of Telshe in Lita, with their wives!
      Anyone who was privileged to know Gedolei Yisroel like these three, knows that had they seen a picture of a couple being honored at a dinner it would have not, in any way, struck them as inappropriate, but had they seen the ads in Mishpacha guaranteeing “yeshuous”, they would have hit the roof!

  24. Dr. E says:

    When reading this post, one might be naively hopeful that it might facilitate a counter-swing back to normalcy, normative Halacha, and what has been in place for many years. Unfortunately, the inertia is too great going in the Rightward direction. Any movement in the opposite direction will be marginalized with rhetoric and attacks of a “Feminist conspiracy” and “assault on Tzniyus”. And who can argue on such eloquent and astute Kol Korehs?

    Is this a trend? Well, I would say that this is akin to someone turning off the lights in the stadium and when they come back on, the goal posts have been placed on a cart and have been moved, ready to be inched along even farther. Everyone is asking what happened (so quickly)? One can wonder when exactly did this all happen and what was the root cause? But, I would call it a sea change which is about 5 years in the making. It’s gotten to the point where a book publisher, magazine/weekly, or local institution is “rated” on how frum they are by whether they “allow” females to be in pictures or not.

    The picture question is merely a microcosm or increased gender separation and mixed messages. It has very much to do with the insecurity of the Litvish world and trying to keep up with the Chassidim. Popular publications in the Yeshiva world both in print and online try to appeal to both the Chassidish and Litvish communities. Certainly a business decision. While some will see this as a little more modesty is “not such a bad thing” (especially in the battle against Feminism, Modern Orthodoxy, etc. take your pick) many of those who know the already ripple effects of this specific symptom or broader phenomenon are well aware that this is not simply a harmless “kleinikeit”. In various ways this has been a net loss for our community.

    Taking their cues from the Litvish Chariedi and Chassidish world, the Bais Yaakov system reinforces this phenomenon. They have the captive audience and the self-anointed mandate. The dissonance from the mixed messages (i.e., high academic achievement trajectory within a context of increasing tzniyus and gender separation) is obvious to many. But no one seems to care. Each school tries to out-tzniyus the other. A well known published book has become the new handbook, somehow replacing standards which were never really broken. Every year, new school rules and policies are made. Most of these are purely reactionary and hardly strategic or well thought out. I my daughter’s “liberal” BY, pictures of girls my daughter’s yearbook had to be cropped because their hair fell onto their shoulders and was deemed to too long. The Principal responded that this was some behind-the-scenes decision, which of course must remain unchallenged.

    I find it interesting that the girls are groomed to go to seminary, get a(n online) degree, date and get married–so that they can make money to support their husbands in learning. In most cases, they cannot afford to just teach in the Preschool and have to make a lot of money to do this. Yet, besides the paycheck (or family money), they must remain anonymous and out of the spotlight. The message being sent is “you are good for your money and tasty cholent, but little else”.

    The way I see it, there is a continuum of: conformity; style or “shtick”; chumra;, Halacha; and the red lines of bare minimum. But when these 5 constructs have been confounded together and pushed upon the young women (and men) of our community as all-or-nothing, this has been a recipe for disaster. Kids are savvy and ultimately figure out what they have been sold whether it’s the inconsistency or the competing messages. And unfortunately once they realize these matters have not been presented in a framework of intellectual honesty, many throw out the baby with the bathwater. They do this by acting out, crossing the bare minimum lines of Halacha, or living double lives within an image of outward observance. I would estimate that within the chinuch endeavor for young women, there has been about 80% successful in their conformity goals. But, that number is shrinking. And at least for now, for the other 20%, the results have sometimes been sad. And out of the 80% “successes”, many have sacrificed their individuality, and as such cannot get dates (especially since the Yeshivas only succeed in the conformity goal about 20% of the time).

    The end result has been some absurd scenarios. “Mr. & Mrs. Yankel” Goldberg are honored as Parents of the Year by the local mossad, perhaps even a girls’ school. Miriam Goldberg has neither her face in the picture in the ad nor seat next to her fellow honoree at the Dinner. If she is lucky, the Executive Director will present her with flowers and have a potato kugel sent over for Shabbos on behalf of the school. And when Miriam makes the Bar Mitzvah for her son two weeks later, she finds an interesting scenario. Of course, she is just a “re’iaso” on the invitation. But, as it turns out, Miriam not only has a first name, but also a decent job as an Accountant to supplement the family income. At 1:30 PM on Friday, she has to make a presentation of a report to a co-ed group of colleagues and clients. But, at 8:30 PM, she has to smile at her table next to her female relatives, unable to address her son at the Bar Mitzvah dinner. Pas-nisht. Even more absurd is the Halachic Yoga that some use to actually explain all of this inconsistency. Unfortunately, Yankel and Miriam have an 11th Grade daughter Leah. Leah sees how hard her mother works as a professional, yet must remain faceless. And, unbeknownst to most, Miriam has not sipped the Kool Aid. All she wants to do is escape from the speech-overkilled Bar Mitzvah so that she can go home and text one or two of her friends ranting about her day (when the teacher made a comment about her unsecured “Tzniyus button” for the umpteenth time) and boring night.

    Now, that’s not such a pretty picture, is it?

  25. Y. Ben-David says:

    Another point regarding the “Hasid from Ramat Beit Shemesh who insists on anonymity”…..the fact that he (and other liberal Haredim we encounter) insist on not being identified PROVES that they are fighting a losing battle because the fact that they refuse to stand up for their beliefs shows that they don’t want to be blackballed by the extremists and they don’t want their children expelled from the schools controlled by the extremists and they don’t want their children banned from potential shidduchim with the extremists. In other words, they themselves believe, deep down, that the extremists are right and that “the Torah is really found among them”. That is why I don’t believe that there is any future for a liberal Haredi movement, as I indicated in my previous post. Even if they maintain a “liberal” outlook at home, their children will be sent to schools with at least of the educators propagating the more extreme line and then the children are confronted with a dilemma of whom to listen to and many of the next generation will again be swept up into the more extreme camp.

  26. aharon says:

    I’M not Litvish and it bothers me that the comments on CC and various other print publications take for granted that the hardcore yeshivish crowd is the normative chareidi society. I believe that often it is deliberate in order to push that society’s agenda or conversely because their distorted lifestyle is easier for others to criticize.
    Eg the problems that result from women supporting their husbands long term are addressed here as if it affects the majority of chareidi households which is simply not the case.
    With regards to the topic at hand, if it is prohibited for a man to gaze at a picture of a woman why would anyone advocate printing such pictures that serve as a michshol. Would you support printing business adds that are ossur to read on Shabbos in a publication intended to be read on Shabbos? I don’t see it as a problem for woman’s magazines such as Bina, on the other hand I was brought up to value any effort towards more kedusha and identify with the will of woman in high profile positions to retain their main task as an akeres habayis by minimizing their public posture. Just as feminism derides woman by saying a woman is only worthy if she takes on a male role, not appreciating the aspect of privacy and low profile is a result of not valuing woman’s contribution as the akeres habayis that probably stems from secular influences.

  27. Shades of Gray says:

    As a point of fact, I believe the JO did print pictures of women in biographies, just as Artscroll. It’s possible towards the end they stopped.

    If I my memory is correct, there was even once letter by a mechanech complaining that the magazine included certain pictures as part of an article, and he said if it continues, he will not let his teenage talmidim read the magazine! The editor apologized, and said that the particular pictures of women he was referring to were inadvertently included. (FWIW, I heard of a family on my block who cancelled their JO subscription because of R. Avi Shafran’s Mendelsohn article).

    From the letter I quoted before(I am curious if it’s author is a well-know Flatbush rebbetzin):

    “The Jewish Observer, a respected Torah journal, has always included tasteful and modest pictures of women, when appropriate, without trampling on tznius or incurring the wrath of the Chareidi community. Artscroll biographies have always included select photographs as well. At a recent Shuvu dinner, the video presentation included moving accounts by Baalos Teshuva. There were many Gedolei Yisroel present…”

  28. Shades of Gray says:

    R. Aharon Hirsch Fried writes even from a Chasidic perspective(“Are Our Children Too Worldly?):

    Then there are those things that you cannot fence out. There is a cute little story I heard in the chassidishe shtiebel in which I grew up. It’s a simple story but it carries much truth.

    It seems there was this parush (ascetic) who decided that he would bring his newborn son up to be a perfect tzaddik. Thus, immediately after the child’s bris, he isolated him in a room and allowed only his mother to care for him. No other females were to come close to him. When the child turned three and had his first haircut, new rules were made. Henceforth no female, including his mother, would be allowed to enter the child’s room. Only his father and a rebbe would enter so as to teach him Torah. This regimen of pure Torah learning was carried on for 15 years. Even for his bar mitzvah, only a select group of ten men were allowed in to see him, to hear his drashah and to wish him mazal tov.

    When our young man turned 18, it became necessary to look for a shidduch. But before this could be done, he would go visit the rav of the town to obtain semichah, rabbinical ordination. There was really no choice. He had to leave his protected premises and go see the rav. So, the father accompanied his son to the rav’s house. As hashgachah would have it, on the way, they passed a group of young ladies. “Tatte, father, what are those?” the young man asked. “Katchkes [geese],” his father replied, and they continued on their way. A few minutes later, the young man spoke up again, “Tatte?” he asked. “Yes?” replied his father. “Buy me a katchke,” said the son.

    We need to recognize that some things simply cannot be fenced out. Some things are inherently us. To do so, we would have to fence ourselves out of where we are—a logical impossibility. Yet some attempt this.

  29. tzippi says:

    OK, so what will we do about here in our communities?
    Stop writing for publications that have this policy?
    Cancel our subscriptions?
    See what can be done within our communities and their publications?
    BTW, congrats on the new format. It is user-friendly, even for us Luddites, but I have mixed feelings about the thumbs up and down. I have an easier time liking a post, even if I don’t agree with every word, than disliking, even if I do disagree with every word. I guess I’ll enter the 21st century sometime in my remaining 70ish years, G-d willing…

  30. B. Feldman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein: You mention the need for “categorical upholding of previous standards in large parts (i.e. non-chassidish) of our community, at least in the States.” May I assume, then, that your objection is only to non-Chassidic publications in the States, but you are all right with a) Chassidic publications anywhere, or b) even non-Chassidic publications in other places, such as Israel? If so, than you are on a different page than the writer or the article you cited, as well as most of the commenters who seem to be offended by the existence of the phenomenon anywhere.

    The issue of Kiddush Hashem is, of course, a seminal one in this discussion, and I fully agree that extremism in this area has caused severe Chilul Hashem. However, this consideration is more relevant with regard to certain instances and publications than others.

    You write that “we don’t do study in the conventional haredi world.” I don’t understand this. Do Chareidi people not debate issues? Is there not multiplicity of opinions on important issues? Are you saying that there is no value in actually thinking about, discussing, debating the issue, differentiating between various scenarios? Are you saying that you actually refuse to engage in such a dialogue?

    One final note: It seems to me that every single commenter here has assumed that the impetus behind restricting photos of women has to do with fear of deleterious effect on males. Is it not possible that the phenomenon has some merit on completely different grounds, those grounds that led our ancestor Sarah to remain “in the tent” and the Torah to make sure we know about it? The principle of “kol kevudah etc.” is a real one that sometimes carries even halachic weight. I realize that I am making myself irrelevant by referencing Sarah Imeinu, and we might legitimately disagree with these publications about the application of the value, but let us at least appreciate where it is coming from.OFL2y

  31. L. Oberstein says:

    This issue has disturbed me for a long time but even though most learned rabbis I spoke to agreed that this was taking things too far and not at all our tradition, they were afraid to make waves.Rabbis that made caustic remarks about not publishing women’s pictures still would not raise the topic in a public forum. If i were only hamodia and Yated and Mishpacha,then I would say taht they are private enterprises and that it is in their financial interest to appeal to the Chassidic community.After all, weigh Hamodia vs.New York Jewish Week to see who has more adds and subscribers. But, this has become the style in publications of Jewish organizations,even relatively moderate ones.Again, it is because of market pressure. They don’t want to be considered outside the camp of the faithful.None of these “market considerations” take into consideration how women feel. If anything, many of our female population is being conditioned to accept it as modesty and normative.The goalposts have been moved. So, thank you for raising the issue and I hope it has some traction and leads to a willingness of moderate,normal frum Jews to have self respect and stand up for their beliefs.

  1. August 19, 2015

    […] though, as troubled as Rabbi Gordimer by this discussion of, and condemnation of, a “trend” to “deny the existence” of women. No one, on any side of this issue, is pretending that women do not exist, or intending to shove […]

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