Thursday, August 20, 2015

Business Decisions that Negatively Impact the Public

The latest erasure of a woman from the public eye
Follow the money. It always seems to be about the money, not the propriety of the task. I mention this in light of Rabbi Yaakov Menken’s post on Cross-Currents, justifying  the phenomenon of Charedi magazines not publishing pictures of women. He interviewed an editor of one of those Charedi journals who explained to him his reason for this: 
He told me that if he chose to print pictures of women, he might as well shut down now rather than waiting for bankruptcy. No one is threatening him. He isn’t concerned that people will storm his office or put up posters. They will simply stop buying. 
This honesty is a refreshing change from what is normally bandied about as the reason for not publishing pictures of women. I recall one editor/publisher of one mainstream Charedi publication telling me that his reason was based on modesty.  Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer made the following observation in a previous Cross-Currents post that seems to underscore this reason: 
Whether or not we like to admit it, every “normal” male is going to view the image of a woman, if she is attractive, as an attraction. That is how Hashem wired the male gender. Male attraction to an attractive female image is part of nature, and is a normal biological reaction, endowed by our Creator for the purpose of perpetuating life. 
That editor then asserted that in theory he could publish pictures of unattractive women. But that would be an insulting to those women - in essence telling them they are ugly. He therefore just decided on a blanket ban on all pictures of women. Problem solved. When I suggested that it was about increasing his circulation numbers, he took it as an insult. I’m glad to see some honesty from this editor. It is clearly about the money. No that there is anything wrong with business decisions that are made on the basis of profit. I just wish they would be honest about it. Like the editor Rabbi Menken interviewed.

Far be it for me to tell any publication how to run their business. That was never an issue for me. For me the issue is - and always has been - about how this will affect Klal Yisroel.  Which brings up the following statement in that same post from Rabbi Gordimer: 
This being the case, I fail to fully understand the often vociferous clamor insisting that photos of women be featured in Orthodox religious publications – knowing that men will naturally, intended or not, view some of these photos with attraction and will as a result likely violate the halachic prohibition thereof.  
Even though Rabbi Gordimer and I agree on many things, here we disagree. It is true that there are pictures that will conjure up erotic thoughts in most men. A Playboy centerfold is clearly in that category. It is easy to see that a picture like that  ‘will as a result likely violate the Halachic prohibition’.  But it is equally true that a picture of Mother Terresa will not elicit any such violation in normal people. And what about everything in-between those two extremes? 

That’s where societal norms come into play. For purposes of this post I define this term as pictures of women that are dressed modestly enough not to generally elicit erotic thoughts. This might include some pictures that are not Halachicly modest. Like a picture of a woman in short sleeves or wearing pants. This is true even if the woman in question is beautiful.

I realize that there are exceptions. Some men may be turned on by a picture of a beautiful woman no matter how modest is her dress. But Judaism generally does not require legislating prohibitions if only a small minority for people are affected by it. The Gemarah terms that ‘Ein Chosheshin L’Miyut’. I could even understand if they chose to publish only pictures of women that are dressed modestly by the strictest Halachic standards. But to never publish any pictures of women creates a societal problem. One that was well articulated by Shoshana Keats-Jaskoll in her latest Jerusalem Post article.

That their purpose is not to erase women from the public eye is besides the point. That is the ultimate result.

What about communities that are so isolated from the outside world that any picture of a woman turns them on? In my view it is unfair to cater to the lowest common denominator when there are negative consequences to the larger public. What about the financial consideration? Does a publication have the right to make financially based business decisions that will ultimately hurt the public? For me the answer is clearly no. Financial considerations should never override the public welfare. If a publication caters only to a constituency that demands this, that’s one thing. But if they want to cater to the broader public, they need to consider how their decisions impact it.

Rabbi Menken says he doesn’t see a trend. I believe he is mistaken. Just about every mainstream Charedi publication does not publish pictures of women. And it doesn’t stop with pictures as Mrs. Keats-Jaskoll so eloquently pointed out in her latest Jerusalem post article. It is a trend. I was recently sent a picture of boxes of cereal (Cocoa Pebbles) lined up on the shelf of a supermarket called Evergreen in Monsey, It had a picture of a very modestly dressed woman with a piece of paper covering her face on every box! Not a trend? Really?

That’s what all the uproar is about.

One more thing about Rabbi Menken’s post (unrelated to this issue) that requires comment. He refers to the Jewish Press as ‘closest thing to a frum English-language weekly’.

Closest thing?! That is an insult to a publication that has served – and continues to serve - the entire Orthodox community – and beyond. They feature articles and columns by people from the widest variety of Hashkafos. They treat them all the same. And they regularly publish pictures of women that are dressed in modest attire.  It was founded by an Orthodox Rabbi, Shalom Klass. It is as an Orthodox publication. To hurl an undue insult at one of the oldest  Orthodox publications – one that caters to everyone in Orthodoxy - is the height of Chutzpah and they deserve an apology.