Disagreeing Without Going Bonkers

Last week, after posting my brief counterpoint article about frum media publishing photos of women, I received what was nothing short of a firestorm — a barrage of condescending, reprimanding and nasty e-mails, in addition to the severely strident comments posted on the site. I well understand and appreciate vociferous disagreement, and I am prepared to be pummeled for public commentary; if one isn’t, he should stay out of the game, so to say. Yet the extreme, reactionary and venomous messages, so many of which did not correspond in tone or focus to the targeted post, as much as I really don’t mind these harsh messages, struck me as really odd.

Responding to a comment on Rabbi Menken’s article about the same topic, in which the commenter alleged that Rabbi Menken’s article reflected a form of racism, commenter Tal Benschar wrote:

You remind me of an event that occured a few years ago. Some religious students (and we are not talking Charedim, either) at the Technion requested that one hour a week be set aside in the school gym for men only so they could work out without having scantily dressed women around. The reaction was the same as if they suggested that the Ayatollah Khomeini be appointed Dean.

On one site, I commented that I had done a quick search, and found at least a dozen women’s only gyms in Tel-Aviv alone. Why is that acceptable but one hour for men’s only gym is one step away from Iran? I never got an answer.

Well, it seems that another article about the issue of natural male attraction and how it should factor into Orthodox public life has likewise been subject to the commenter firing squad, with extraordinarily gruff and reactionary comments that accuse the author of harboring the most warped and intolerable of convictions.

Realizing that there are two legitimate pro and con approaches to this overall topic, and it is not an issue of sakanas nefashos (risk of life), heresy or the like — and it is purely academic, as our debate here will anyway not impact how the “Chareidi” papers and magazines run their businesses, for we are merely in the realm of the theoretical — why does one side of the discussion elicit such extreme and reactionary responses? Something to think about.

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39 Responses

  1. David Ohsie says:

    why does one side of the discussion elicit such extreme and reactionary responses?

    Leaving aside whether any given response is appropriate, I think that the answer to your question is simple:

    For thousands of years, in almost all societies, women were generally not afforded the same rights and opportunities as men. To provide a simple clear example, about 50% of medical students in the US are now women, while the percentage of female doctors historically is surely in the very low single digits. I mention this simple example to avoid falling into irrelevant discussions about whether men and women are “equal/different/whatever”.

    Any that smacks of attempting to return to or preserve the old ways is going to elicit a harsh response. You can analogize the tension created in discussions of race in the US. Hundreds of years of slavery + discrimination will do that to you. Same for thousands of years of women’s relative lack of rights and opportunities.

    PS. Are the responses reactionary or radical?

    • Robert Lebovits says:

      Essentially your explanation is that an emotionally-laden topic justifies an emotional attack when an opinion that is out of favor with the current fashion is expressed?
      We teach children to recognize that their emotions do not justify ANY response they choose to ventilate, no matter what the provocation might be. Behavior – both verbal and physical – can and should be directed by reason. When standards of conduct are voided because of a felt personal hurt, the consequences are potentially devastating. Every abuser rationalizes the abuse by pointing to a “hurt” they felt.

      • David Ohsie says:

        I didn’t justify any attack. I merely explained the obvious reasons why supporting the ban on women’s photographs is something that is going to provoke a sharp response justified or not. Rabbi Gordimer seems to imply that it results from the fact that his side is the more rational one, but that reasoning is entirely specious. (Godwin Alert:) If I calmly explain to a group of IDF solidiers that I simply organizing a conference to investigate the veracity of the holocaust, I think that the result is predictable, but gives not reason to think that the calm speaker has a rational case.

        We teach children to recognize that their emotions do not justify ANY response they choose to ventilate, no matter what the provocation might be. Behavior – both verbal and physical – can and should be directed by reason. When standards of conduct are voided because of a felt personal hurt, the consequences are potentially devastating. Every abuser rationalizes the abuse by pointing to a “hurt” they felt.

        Yes, and of course I would apply that doubly to provocative behavior that starts the cycle. Hopefully we teach our children not to disrespect others and their rightful accomplishments by saying that “we know” based on “our new approach” to the Torah that the Torah disapproves of their life.

      • Robert Lebovits says:

        If the veracity of the Holocaust has been repeatedly and thoroughly proven, than questioning it’s existence is not borne of reason and is simply an attempt to be provocative. Even so, an emotional attack in response is still improper. The matter under discussion is hardly proven one way or another. People who disagree with R. Gordimer can intently argue against his position from reason without resorting to incivility.
        The idea that “provocative behavior…starts the cycle” is precisely the justification of every abuser as I mentioned before. Taking a position that challenges someone’s life choices is hardly disrespectful of the person; it only points out where an error is being made. If that is too offensive for some people to bear, it is not our obligation to censor what we believe to be correct.

      • David Ohsie says:

        David Ohsie I do not follow your argument…. you would have us believe that if someone disagrees with you on some issue then he/she “smacks of attempting to return to or preserve the old ways” and thus they don’t get to hear you explain why you are right and they are wrong??

        I explained why such discussions will provoke emotional reactions. I didn’t take up the argument.

        I contend that what is actually going on is the following: you have adopted the views that are current in 2015 (which differ from the more tolerant views towards “alternative lifestyles” that prevailed in the late 80s – but I digress).

        I contend that what is actually going on is the following: you have adopted the views that are current in 2015

        OK, I’ll take that one on. As I mentioned, in 2015, we know that women are intellectually capable of becoming physicians. I think that is adequately proven by current facts. Please explain how this deviates from Jewish tradition, and why women should not be allowed to become physicians.

        You have not really considered specifically how these views differ from Jewish tradition, and what should be done about those differences. Instead you adopt the tactics prevalent among liberals in 2015 ie. disrespecting people who disagree with you and claiming they are on the wrong side of history.

        I think that Rabbi Gordimer would not say, not does he believe, that Orthodox Jewish women who work outside the home on any capacity (including as physicians) are doing anything wrong. And that probably believes that to the degree that they interact with the public and provide a public service that they involved in Kiddush Hashem. If you feel I’m wrong, please let me know.

        You also seem to be doing what Rabbi Gordimer decried. I made a simple argument which did not involve attacking anyone, but you now claim that I am disrespecting others. I don’t take it personally, but there is an element of irony.

    • YbhM says:

      To provide a simple clear example, about 50% of medical students in the US are now women, while the percentage of female doctors historically is surely in the very low single digits. I mention this simple example to avoid falling into irrelevant discussions about whether men and women are “equal/different/whatever”.

      Any that smacks of attempting to return to or preserve the old ways is going to elicit a harsh response.

      David Ohsie I do not follow your argument…. you would have us believe that if someone disagrees with you on some issue then he/she “smacks of attempting to return to or preserve the old ways” and thus they don’t get to hear you explain why you are right and they are wrong??

      I contend that what is actually going on is the following: you have adopted the views that are current in 2015 (which differ from the more tolerant views towards “alternative lifestyles” that prevailed in the late 80s – but I digress). You have not really considered specifically how these views differ from Jewish tradition, and what should be done about those differences. Instead you adopt the tactics prevalent among liberals in 2015 ie. disrespecting people who disagree with you and claiming they are on the wrong side of history.

  2. Cvmay says:

    Very good question….. What has happened to the idea of explaining & stating different opinions & points of view respectfully??

    Years ago, in high school there was an academic activity called DEBATING. Two groups were given a topic, usually controversial to debate. There were rules & regulations given on how to debate. We listened to our opponents points & attempted to answer with more convincing facts. There was a skill to be learned.
    Over the years, the listening & respectable tones have been cast aside & replaced by anger, hostility & harsh rhetoric. “Either MY WAY or the highway” attitude.

    SORROWFULLY situation!!!

  3. SJ says:

    Do you not find it bizarre that the same people who claim that men are too weak to see a normal woman’s image on paper and not sin are the same that claim men can watch a woman dunk in the mikva in front of them and it’s completely fine?

  4. Dr. E says:

    Rabbi Gordimer:
    You are correct that nasty comments and attacks have no place within intellectually honest discourse. I think that CC does a good job in filtering out ad hominem attacks. (But, as we know there are other less moderated and direct channels through which such comments can also be expressed.) Plus, such attacks diminish the credibility of any contrarian opinions.

    Given that you threw in a somewhat tangential point, I feel a need to address it. Most of those in the CC commenter community would be makpid on separate gyms, swimming, and beaches–whether they are living in Brooklyn, Teaneck, or Lakewood. I presume that most would never tamper with the concept of or the height of the Mechitza in their shuls. Those boundaries have always been in place within the universe of normative Halachic practice. Where we part company is the sudden expansion of a restriction on the grounds of tzniyus. The objection is based on two grounds. The first is the scapegoating of two-dimensional pictures as a premise for any morality or faithfulness problems which we might observe in the frum community. The innocuous pictures we are referring to are by no means a “gateway drug” or slippery slope. Never have been and never will. There is far more problematic content out there to which the same readership of these publications have access to. And they don’t have to wait for it to arrive in the Eruv Shabbos mail! Survey any Psychologist or intellectually honest Rabbi. I venture to say that not one of them will claim this “avla” as contributing to the rising divorce and infidelity rates in the community. The second is the overly pessimistic (and frankly insulting) view of male self-control. Of course, we believe that “ein apotropos l’arayos” is axiomatic and an ontological reality. But, let’s not create problems where they don’t exist with things like headshots of women next to their husbands in ads for the next Yeshiva dinner or legacy photos of Rebbitzens who are no longer living. Why not go back to the basics. Let’s call for greater strictures in the practice of Hilchos Yichud. Unfortunately, we have recently read that when some individuals play fast-and-loose with those guidelines, this has been the cause of moral failure within inter- (and intra-) gender scenarios.

    At the Shabbos table yesterday, my better half had a (perhaps naïve) suggestion, which I will tone down here and remove most of the exclamation points. It goes something like: “The Rabbeim and Roshei Yeshiva should be given shmuesin to bochurim along the following lines. Women are here to stay and aren’t going away anytime soon. You will see them in the supermarkets and in the accounting firms. They are the ticket to your years in Kollel. So, instead of erasing them from photos, live with it and just learn to control yourselves!”

    I spent the next 20 minutes explaining to her how the Yeshiva world works and why her recommendation is indeed naïve.

  5. Steve Brizel says:

    The comments that R Gordimer is writing about illustrate why Kedoshim Tihiyu remains a Mitzvah that needs far more chizuk and awareness on both sides of the mechitza, as opposed to railing about magazine pictures that tends IMO to mask a POV that Tznius is a sexist POV imposed on women.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    One wonders whether those who are so upset about the absence of women in charedi magazines are equallly upset about the well documented phenomenon of MO youth discarding any semblance of observance after a year or two in Israel when they encounter the radically different social and academic atmosphere of a secular American college campus

    • Dr. E says:

      Steve: Although I’m not sure of the “tsu-shtell” to the topic at hand, please indeed count me in among those for whom the tragic MO drop-out rate is also very disturbng.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        DR E_many who decry the lack of pictures of women never seem to view Kedoshim Tihiyu as a Mitzvah worth working on.

    • Bob Miller says:

      Most people looking at the overall scene are upset about various things, not one thing exclusively. Also notice that MO youth are not the topic of this piece.

  7. elana says:

    This article is so funny. Like, there is no venom coming in the other direction? If this is the first time you’ve experienced this, you should consider yourself lucky. And perhaps take a look some time at the kinds of attacks women writers get, especially ones espousing respect and inclusion for women. I guess it only hurts you when you are the one under attack.

    Something to think about…..

  8. dr. bill says:

    The fact that even normally rational individuals/institutions adopt foolish positions is sadly indisputable. Defense for foolish positions are often yet more irrational. Rebbitzen Pam ztl’s face being blurred (while her abilities are praised) is a good example. Not ordaining women because a woman talking, even in a religious forum, can lead men to a lascivious thought is another. You don’t dignify the above by intelligent debate; debate ought to be reserved to rational alternatives.

    • Bob Miller says:

      All the same, Dr. Bill, women should not be ordained. Are you suggesting there is no valid basis for ordaining only men?

      • dr. bill says:

        No! I am just suggesting the reason raised is not worthy of comment. I am not opposed to ordaining women, though it may be premature; I recognize this point as debatable. My view is that this is less of issue than it is made out to be; I believe the average Ph.D. in talmud gives a more cogent/interesting shiur than the average musmach. Religious women may be more likely to opt for a Ph.D in some relevant discipline. FWIW, I believe a religious woman recently became a full professor at Oxford in Bible.

      • Steve Brizel says:

        I would respectfully disagree-There is a huge difference between Talmud Torah Lishmah in any yeshiva and academic study of Talmud which proceeds from a far different set of intellectual and religious premises. I would maintain based on the views of RaN in Nedarim 81 and the views of Bach and Beis HaLevi that Academic Talmud study cannot be considered a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah

  9. Doron Beckerman says:

    With all the ridicule being thrown around, can someone offer a cogent distinction between gazing at a female acquaintance’s Shabbos clothes (forbidden in Shulchan Aruch EH 21:1) and gazing at a photograph of a woman? R’ Nissim Karelitz Shlit”a sees no difference (he actually considers the latter worse):


    I would also take note of footnote 35 here:


    And his general definitions of where histaklus crosses the line in those same pages:

    • Moshe Dick says:

      Rabbi Beckerman:
      Since when is R”Nissim Karelitz the ultimate possek for the klal? I read the two passages you alluded to and for R”Nissim Karelitz it may be the ultimate of immorality to see a photo of a woman. Sadly, I do not find myself in the same class and I would say that the vast majority of people are not on that “madreiga” either. To force people into such chumros only leaves people shaking their heads and dismissing it out of hand.

      • Eli Blum says:

        If you read the Rashi that Rabbi Karelitz quotes on Rav Chisdah (AZ 20), he explicitly states that “Bigdei Tzevonim” are only clothing that is unusual for the woman to wear, and therefore she looks exceptionally beautiful when wearing the clothing. Rashi continues that normal clothing of a woman does not create Hirhur!

        Extrapolating from that Rashi, it would seem that clothing that a woman normally wears is not an issue, unless you are in a society that objectifies women and therefore any woman’s clothing, even if not “Bigdei Tzevonim”, would cause concern.
        Certainly a positive for the Burka Ladies.

        His Kal V’chomer is also easily “Upshlugged”, by the idea that a three dimensional object that is directly related to the person themselves and worn on their skin, and is personal, is much more of a problem than an impersonal two dimensional paper picture. Is Rabbi Karelitz considered to be a heavyweight in the Charaidi world? Is he the same person who was brought out by the “internet asifah”?

    • Natan Slifkin says:

      Rabbi Beckerman, can you offer a cogent distinction between saying that one shouldn’t print pictures of women so as to avoid the risk of causing men to transgress the issur that you mention, and saying that women shouldn’t leave the house so as to avoid the risk of causing men to transgress the issur that you mention?

  10. Shades of Gray says:

    I don’t have the source, but I believe R. Hershel Shachter called not printing female pictures “a bit much”(at one of the OU “Ask the Rabbi” sessions). He’s also said some stringent things in this regard IIRC, such as separate seating buses and separate voting in Israel being good in theory…

    If it would only be an issue of women’s pictures– that would be one thing. R. Adlerstein, I think, is objecting to a trend. I would add, even if one agrees with the trend to be machmir, Chasidishe communities, like modern ones, need to be sure, in an overall way, to raise balanced and healthy children.

    • Doron Beckerman says:

      I’m not taking a position on the issue of printing women’s pictures. I’m taking issue with the notion that following SA EH 21 is for perverts. Perhaps there is some desensitization due to the milieu.

  11. dr. bill says:

    There may not be a cogent distinction. Therefore: 1) Observation by an individual of either is forbidden if it generates lascivious thoughts. 2) Neither beautiful shabbos clothing nor pictures are forbidden, because such perverts exist.

    Rabbi Karelitz’s identification of recognition of (yakiru) with thinking about (hisboninu) is certainly debatable; recognition can be the result of repeated (casual) observation. ( I recognize some UPS delivery men.)

    In any case, the psak of the Levush wrt mixed sitting (and its obvious implications for such issues) is normative in my community. whether pictures of women occur in yated, etc. concerns me not; when Torah Vodaath blurs Rebbitzen Pam’s face, that is a different matter.

  12. Sarah says:

    You ask why one side of this discussion elicits such extreme responses. Have you considered that perhaps it may be because your position is just plain wrong? I recognize that it may be hard to accept, but perhaps this would account for the vociferous disagreement you invited. And while presenting a flawed and erroneous position in a purely academic debate – as you consider your cross-currents piece – should result in calm and balanced responses, you fail to realize that the presentation of your opinion in such a forum serves to further harm the underlying structure of our fragile communities and thus the piece you presented is not purely academic in nature. The emotions and reactionary responses you received are then appropriate responses from those of us who fear where your conclusions will likely lead us.
    In your original piece you note that it is normal and instinctive for a male to react to even a hint of the female form, and that this then justifies the erasure of women from our society. Were this argument to extend to all aspects of our religion and society, then, while disagreeing with the premise, I might be able to respect your opinion. However, there appears to be a pattern of self-serving double standards, wherein women are treated one way, except in specific situations that benefit the men in which case the exact opposite treatment and opinion is espoused. By way of example…
    Any frum married woman knows that it is fully accepted and encouraged for her to send her underwear to a male to be inspected. Furthermore, some of us have taken the time to listen to niddah shiurim (the ones meant for men of course) and have squirmed with discomfort at the very anatomically explicit discussions that take place. Yet when we express displeasure or discomfort with such discussions and practices we are inevitably told that there is no issue, since men are able to deal with it on a purely “clinical” level, that they are easily able to “turn off” any sexual connotations inherent in womens underwear and view it in a purely abstract and impersonal manner. Remarkable, is it not? When it comes to matters that may possibly validate or empower women even the slightest, then suddenly men are weak, quivering beings unable to resist the slightest urge and they are also sex-driven creatures, liable to read sexual innuendos into even the most benign situations. And yet when it comes to matters where discussing or viewing women will have the opposite effect, suddenly frum men are able to be impersonal, impervious clinicians with no sexual thoughts even when dealing with matters of explicit sexual nature such as watching women immerse in a mikvah during geirus or handling their underwear. You can’t have both. If you can’t have a picture of a woman in a newspaper, then isn’t this the strongest argument for yoatzot and maybe even maharats? And if you conclude that men are able to clinically deal with very intimate female issues, then there is no reason to be worried that a picture of a deceased Rebbitzen will incite in him forbidden feelings.
    In a similar vein, women are constantly exhorted that “kol kevuda bas melech pnima”; to avoid public recognition and view, to reject kavod and avoid attention. We are to stay at home because that is where we belong. Except, of course, when it comes to allowing men to live easier lives, to avoid having to work and fulfill the curse of Adam. If, by sending women out into the workforce the men can bask in the enjoyment of learning Torah all day long with no worries, well then… send the girls out! No more is it important for women to remain in the home. Suddenly, the girl with the better paying, more prominent job is the better shidduch prospect. And yet, even when frum girls are encouraged to work outside the home so as to make life easier for the men, they are still denied the right to enjoy the fruits of their efforts and the satisfaction of intellectual stimulation, being constantly reminded that they should have only “a job, not a career”. Apparently, it is alright for a woman to work in the public sphere to make money, but not to be recognized for any contributions she makes to her community or the world at large.
    This, Rabbi Gordimer, may also be “something to think about”. Why the double standards?

    • Avraham says:

      Masterfully said.

    • Abba Brodt says:

      Kol hakavod, well done!

    • Eli Blum says:

      To be fair, the originators of the “no picture” shittah (the Chassidim) really do hold of Kol Kevudah and send the men out to work, and do not stay in Kollel. It is only the “Charaidi”, who are “Posach al shtei seifim”, for whom your rant is a very valid point.

      Also, at least where I live, the Rabbi doing the inspecting has no idea who the woman is, as the hand off is “double blind”, and the inspection is done with students, in public. That certainly diminishes the concern that one might have similar to a male OBGYN.

  13. Robert Lebovits says:

    Whether or not R. Gordimer’s position is “just plain wrong” and/or “flawed and erroneous”, airing opinions that are out of favor with the fashion of the day do not “harm” our community. If they are indefensible, let their errors be exposed with reason, not stifled by emotional reactions. Those are not appropriate reactions to ideas deemed offensive. Ironic that in this forum the more progressive voices argue for censorship.
    You express some scorn over the seeming contradiction between male rabbonim examining women’s underwear for the purpose of determining niddah status and men listening to explicit descriptions of female sexual/anatomical functioning – again for halachic understanding – and the observations that men are highly susceptible to sexual arousal from all sorts of material. Is that really so difficult to reconcile? Male gynecologists examine women intimately as a matter of course yet we recognize that nothing sexual occurs in the process. Nevertheless those same men viewing a woman in a provocative context would most certainly experience sexual excitement.
    You raise a very important question as to the propriety of women in the workforce for the sake of their husband’s learning when it ostensibly conflicts with the expressed belief that the highest calling for a Jewish woman is to be in the home as a wife and mother. I don’t think it is quite the “either/or” situation you pose. I believe it is more a question of attitude than one of action, like many other aspects of Yiddishkeit where the meaning of a behavior defines its character. In any case, the notion that women ought not derive personal/intellectual/emotional satisfaction from their activities outside the home nor should they be recognized for their accomplishments is a caricature. No different than any man, a woman should take pride in all her accomplishments. The real question – for both women and men – is which ones are most highly regarded and which are secondary.

    • Moshe Dick says:

      Mr. Lebovitz: In light of the many sexual scandals in recent years that involve very prominent Rabbinical leaders, it is very debatable whether these so-called holy people are so impervious to outside influences. Ultimately, it is up to the individual person. To most people, a photo of an elderly woman in a newspaper elicits no reaction at all. Maybe to some very holy people ,it is but you cannot base halocho on the very few.

    • mb says:

      Robert Lebovits,
      Comparing occasional underwear examination to a full-time OG/GYN physician is a non sequitur and misleading.Underwear fetishism is not rare at all.

      • Robert Lebovits says:

        I don’t understand your point. Are you saying in fact there is something sexual going on when a rav examines underwear for niddah status but not for a gynecologist because he examines many women? I’m missing your logic. Both of them have extensive training where they are presented with many “cases” to study before they are prepared to practice. Sexualizing what they do is certainly possible, but we make no such assumption with either.

      • mb says:

        Robert L,
        I was protesting your dismissal of Sarah’s points by using irrelevant comparisons.

    • Sarah says:

      Dr. Lebovits –
      I’m not sure where you read the call for censorship into my, or any of the other, posts strongly disagreeing with Rabbi Gordimer’s assumptions. No one says he should not have written what he did; on the contrary, it is so important to know what he – and others in influential positions in our communities – thinks, so as to adequately protect ourselves from the logical outcomes of the opinions espoused and so that we can publicly provide an alternate voice. You note that if opinions are indefensible then the facts and reason will ultimately betray the errors therein; were it only so in our community! I pray for that day.
      You equate Rabbonim addressing very intimate female needs with gynecologists; interestingly, in the United States, while there are no official guidelines to the practice, most physicians – specifically the male physicians – are required to bring a chaperone into the exam room. This practice did not arise as a whim, but rather because there is valid concern regarding the propriety and potential implications of such situations. Also, does the name Dr. Nikita Levy ring a bell? Furthermore, you note that the same gynecologists that are able to be clinical in exam settings can be easily aroused in provocative settings. True that. But the argument at hand is not dealing with provocative settings, which would, of course, be assur. The point of contention here is that we are discussing fully benign, prosaic situations and environments where there is absolutely no sexual provocation at all. A picture of a deceased tzadekes in a newpaper, the face of an 8 year old girl among her various family members in a bar mitzvah photo, the word “women” in the title Women’s Clinic, the chaste walk of bais Yaakov girls on their way to school, the advertising of skirts for sale…. Need I list more examples? No one argues that situations of sexual nature are assur, and for this we have the mitzvos of tnius and shmiras einayim where BOTH SIDES need to take responsibility to prevent such a situation. The protestations in this case are against the erasure of women from everyday life. Rabbi Gordimer asserts that men are so weak and susceptible that even the mere hint of a woman in benign situations can arouse a male. I brought the examples of kesem shailahs and of mikvah in the geirus process to prove that, according to our mesorah, it should be possible for men to become “clinical” even in situations that might lend themselves naturally to improper thoughts, and therefore kal vachomer men would have the ability to keep themselves in check in much more benign situations. Thus, Rabbi Gordimer’s claim that erasing women from our society is justified to protect the men has no basis.
      With regard to the propriety of sending women out into the public sphere, I very much agree with you that it is more of a matter of attitude than action. But instead of only questioning the woman’s attitude or action, I believe it is equally a matter of the man’s attitude. If a man truly believes, in harmony with his wife’s feelings, that the best place for his wife is at home, then he will make all efforts to provide a parnassa when necessary so as to live by that belief. But all too often we see in our communities men who wax poetic about the place and tznius of a women, until placed against the wall of having to go out to work themselves, then suddenly their oft repeated platitudes are tossed aside and rendered meaningless. Again, the point of this example is to undermine Rabbi Gordimer’s claim that women should be kept out of the public sphere to protect men from their uncontrollable natures, by the very (unfortunate) system so lauded in our communities today. If we accept that women have a place in the public sphere (even if it is for self-serving purposes), then you need to accept that you will see and deal with women in the public sphere.
      The point of my post was not to debate the propriety of men involved with women’s issues or the value in women working outside the home. What both these examples serve to demonstrate is the double standard with regard to what frum men claim about themselves. Either they are weak-spirited, libidinous creatures who need to be protected from themselves in all situations, or they are intellectual beings, able to monitor their minds under most normal circumstances. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
      I did not intend for this to turn into a debate, and bow out at this point. I hope and pray, as you propose, that reason will prevail.

      • Robert Lebovits says:

        Sarah –
        Just to bring the conversation full circle to the original thread, we are in agreement that different points of view should not be stifled by personal vilification or attacks.
        I appreciate your thoughtfulness and serious concern about how women are presented in the public arena. I am curious regarding your comment “…so as to adequately protect ourselves from the logical outcomes of the opinions espoused”. What is it you anticipate coming from these opinions? Do you perceive R. Gordimer and others sharing his perspective engaged in some sort of effort to impose a one-size-fits-all role for observant women from every sector of yiddishkeit? Do you think your prerogatives will be diminished in some way? What threat do you envision?
        My point in comparing the actions of rabbonim engaged in niddah issues with gynecologists was simply to highlight the well-established principle that professionals engaged in work activities that might otherwise be considered sexually stimulating are not suspected of being tempted to resort to improprieties unlike lay people in similar circumstances. Many halachos of yichud are also predicated on this principle. As an aside, by no means do all male physicians of every specialty examine female patients with a nurse present, nor do female physicians always have someone else in the room when examining male patients. There are cases of improper conduct but those less-than-5% exceptions do not void the rule.
        My use of the term “more provocative contexts” wasn’t to imply that it takes some high level of exposure to arouse a male’s sexual desire. In fact, it requires very little. (A young female client once asked me if all men only think about sex. Since I live in Pittsburgh I told her no, 10% of the time they think about football.) Where is the line between innocuous and enticing material? Your examples surely sound innocent to me. But my sensibilities – and those of the overwhelming majority of men in this culture – are so coarsened by the constant bombardment of sexual stimuli all around us that I may not even be aware of the degree to which I am effected in covert ways. Consequently drawing that line is not a simple matter. The kal vechomer you suggest really doesn’t hold precisely because the “clinical” scenario is a special case that can’t be generalized to normative experience.
        Of course none of this supports “erasing” women from the public eye. Then again, is that a genuine phenomenon and how much have things changed? For decades segments of the yeshiva world have kept women out of the limelight. Almost 20 years ago when my wife and I were honored by my sons’ yeshiva the journal had no pictures of her, only of me. If chareidi publications are more censoring nowadays then they were years ago what percentage of the observant community do they represent and what impact does it have in the real world?
        I share your distress over the mixed signals regarding the behavior of both women and men to be true to their responsibilities and values. I don’t see women being demonized as temptations to weak-kneed men and therefore shooed out of the public workplace, except when men need them there. I believe the development described by R. Adlerstein is rooted in different motivations and processes. I also live “out-of-town” which is another world entirely.

  14. Shades of Gray says:

    Regarding Torah learning of sexual matters, the Netziv writes משום שבאמת בלמוד התורה אין יוצא רע והיא אילת אהבים ויעלת חן (Ha’amek Davar, Metzora 15:2).

    Dr. Moshe Halevi Spero observes from a psychological perspective that yeshiva students can discuss with apparent ease intricacies of halacha dealing with sexual matters because “the libidinal charge latent in such material is absorbed or neutralized through sublimation and intellectualization”(Handbook of Psychotherapy and Jewish Ethics, p. 229).

  15. Y. Ben-David says:

    Rav Gordimer-
    I think you have failed to understand that the strong feelings this seemingly minor issue has stirred is reflective of the consequences of the increasingly widening chasm between the Haredi and non-Haredi Orthodox.
    First of all, Haredi publications certainly have the right to publish or not publish pictures of women or to blank-out their faces. However, do not expect to have the non-Haredi Orthodox understanding the reasoning behind it. When they ask questions like “why does the increasing ‘pritzut’ of the outside world demand that we go far beyond the halachic rules of dress for women in the other direction” we are told only that this is the decision of the Haredi leadership. When we ask why, if looking at photo of a women will cause a man to lose control of himself, then why don’t we draw the logical conclusion that men should NEVER be in actual physical proximity to a woman but, since we do not go that far we are told this inconsistency is the decision of the leadership. If we ask that if photos of women should be banned then isn’t it logical that all women should be, Saudi-style, locked away in the house and if, on rare occasions, they need to leave the house, they should always be accompanied by a close male relative and be covered from head to toe with only a slit for their eyes to look out, again we are told that this the leadership has decided that we don’t have to go this far. When we ask if the Torah says “kvod bat melech peniman” and then, on the other hand, Haredi women are ENCOURAGED to go out and work in the outside world in physical proximity to men and even non-Jews, again we are told this is the decision of the leadership and so there is nothing to talk about. Again, we are asking “why is the halacha not enough to deal with these challenges and why do we have to go far beyond it in ways that seem to defy logic”?

    All of this has lead to a breakdown in communication and frustration on the part of the non-Haredi Orthodox who have their questions and concerns simply pushed aside, and now you are seeing the blowback from this.
    Add to this the public furore over the inflamed Haredi reaction to those non-Haredi Orthodox who don’t agree with them to the IDF-conscription debate a couple of years ago and the current dispute over the independent non-Haredi Beit Din for conversions and so a lot of non-Haredi Orthodox frustration is bubbling up to the surface.

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