Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For The Sake of Our Children...

An Israeli Ikea bruchure features no pictures of women. (Sputnik)
I have a lot of respect for Shoshanna Keats-Jaskoll. She is a real Mentch! When I suddenly lost my brother a couple of years ago while visiting my children in Ramat Bet Shemesh, she came to be Menachem Avel me – paying me a condolence call during my Shiva period. Even though she barely knew me.

Shoshanna is an individual that cares about her family, her country and her fellow man… and fellow woman.

She is in fact a 21st century feminist. Which is where I often part company with her - even though I too consider myself a feminist albeit in its original incarnation. Which for me meant treating both men and women with the same level of dignity and respect due to all human beings - having been created in the image of God.  And to promote equal opportunities (and equal pay for equal work) for both men and women in all areas except in our roles as Jews based on the Torah (as interpreted  by our sages and rabbinic leaders throughout every generation).

That difference has gotten me into trouble with Shoshana in the past.  Which actually made me feel terrible. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect someone of the courage to stand up for what she believes – even at those times when I disagree with her. I tried to apologize to her but mostly stood my ground since I believed in the essence of what I said. Not sure she accepted it.

Our differences are certainly sharp on certain issues. But there are a lot of areas where we actually agree. One of those is in the area of the decreasing instances of women’s pictures being published.

As I have always said, the narrow slices of Orthodox Jewry on the extreme right have the right to lead their lives according to their own values. If they as a community feel that publishing any picture of a woman violates their particular standards of modesty, they certainly should have that unfettered right among themselves.

But most of even the Charedi world does not have this standard. I keep using this example – but it is a good one. The Agudah website published pictures of women giving lectures at their recent convention in New York. Their Rabbinic board (Moetzes) consists of many of whose rabbis are considered by Charedim to be  Gedolei HaDor – the rabbinic giants of our generation.

But as is increasingly becoming the case that practice has taken hold in a variety of other venues that heretofore never had such restrictions. 

On an Israeli program called Orly and Guy, (video below with English subtitles) Shoshanna does a masterful job explaining why the phenomenon of erasing women from the public square is so detrimental to the fabric of our lives as Jews. On that same program Rabbi Dov Halbertal defended the practice – saying that it is done to avoid men becoming sexually aroused. Extending this idea to pictures of modestly dressed women is absurd in the extreme.

We are not talking about Playboy centerfolds. We are talking about women dressed according to the strict letter of the law. And we certainly are not talking about a Holocaust era picture. Rabbi Halbertal's attitude was that it doesn’t make any difference.  A picture of a woman in any circumstance can sexually arouse a man. I have to wonder how anyone can take that claim seriously. Besides, isn’t such an attitude the very definition of objectifying women – thinking of them only in terms of being a sex object used to satisfy prurient interests?

Mishpacha said that their rabbis came out with an edict 70 years ago forbidding it for reasons of modesty.That was made clear by them in response to the massive criticism they received for publishing a pixilated face of a woman in a Holocaust era picture. They apologized for that particular instance -but stood by the edict they received 70 years ago.  (Which contradicts Rabbi Halbertal’s assertion that context doesn’t matter.)

(Incidentally, in her inaugural Mishpacha article Alexa Fleksher,  did not have her picture published either. All the male columnists did. I found that both odd and a glaring omission. Perhaps – in fairness they should not publish the pictures of their male columnists either – just to keep things uniform and fair. But I digress.)

Mishpacha and similar publications are not the only people erasing women from their pages. As noted by Shoshana during an appearance on an Israeli news program. Even secular establishments feature ads that do not have any women in them.  Several examples of that were shown on that program.

To depict a world without women is an outrage that has negative ramifications for all Orthodoxy. The real world cannot exist without women. To depict it that way is to perpetuate a lie. That they say it doesn’t but instead honors women by recognizing the high level of modesty - might work as an explanation for them. But it is clearly an insult to many others. Including me.  What do young girls learn about their self image when they are treated like sex objects no matter how modestly they are dressed.

The same question can be asked about young boys! The idea that women are sex objects is reinforced and this is what they grow up thinking. Which is a very unhealthy way of looking at a woman. Not to mention the fact that in my view it fuels incidences of sexual misconduct. If you see someone as an object rather than seeing them as a fellow human being, It should not be so surprising that they are used that way.

I therefore agree with Shoshanna completely here. And support her crusade to end this distortion of what the Torah considers immodest.

Obviously a picture of an immodestly dressed woman does appear to men as a sex object. Playboy exploits women that way. But a eliminating, distorting, or pixilating the picture of a modestly dressed woman with the excuse that any picture does that teaches young people to look at women as sex objects all the time. And that is just wrong!