Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nudity in Art – is it Tznius?

It is truly amazing how far we have fallen in our day. Especially when it comes to matter of Tznius. I am not speaking of how un-tznius some people might be in their manner of dress. While that is true in some cases the reverse is even more than true in right wing circles. I need not go again into detail about the obsession with separate seating at weddings or other gatherings that exists today. I’ve written about that so many times - my fingers are sore.

I am talking about the trend to eliminate pictures of women in right wing publications. It was not that long ago that pictures of women did not even rate a second thought. They were simply matter of fact additions to stories and news reports about various people.

But what has happened in our day in the world of the right - is that images of the most Tznius of women are now taboo for publication. Even if they are wearing a Burka! Even a picture of a female hand is off limits! If there is a story about a woman in the news it will probably contain a picture of her husband instead of her.

In my view - this is yet another illustration of the influence of Chasidim in our world today. The right wing Yeshiva world has quickly followed suit in fear of being out Frummed by the Chasidim. Women are no longer seen in any Charedi publication – Chasidish or not. Nor can they be seated on a Dais at a Charedi banquet. If an award is given to a couple – the husband accepts it on behalf of both of them. The wife will typically receive a bouquet of flowers behind a Mechitza completely out of the view of the men. And in all Charedi circles - women are never allowed to publicly address men – anywhere! Not even Divrei Torah.

I’m sorry. This is Tznius gone berserk! It is one thing to dress modestly in public. Halacha demands that. But the extremes that we now go to are beyond ridiculous and end up making a mockery of normalcy. Women need not disappear off the face of the earth just to maintain Chasidic standards of modesty. Women can – and even should - be seen and heard when their words or presence is appropriate – just like men.

A woman’s form was not always considered taboo. In fact even semi naked images of women were not always considered taboo as was recently illustrated quite clearly on the Seforim blog. There you will find a scan of the well known ‘coat of arms’ of the priestly Rappaport family -although it is not the one usually seen.

You will note that the images on both sides of that shield are of women that are naked from the waist up. We are not talking about some sort of pornographic parody of that coat of arms. We are talking about an actual coat of arms image - circa 1594.

As we move forward in time that reproduced image has been morphed into various different incarnations to ‘cover-up’ the female nudity. But isn’t it interesting that when it came to art even great historical figures who were certainly religious thought nothing of putting such artwork even on familial symbols?

Compare that to today’s obsession with putting even the most Tznius photo of a woman in a Charedi publication.

The move to the right began centuries ago it seems. And the historical revisionism of an ArtScroll took place then too. The thinking was very ArtScroll like: We can't go around besmirching the Rappaport family with images like this despite their truth. So the cover-up began both literally and figuratively.

I guess what goes around comes around. In moving to the right - we are merely repeating history - in part by deleting it.