Thursday, January 26, 2012


Last year immediately after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, a photo was published of the President and other government officials including 2 women - one of whom was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - watching that event unfold on a closed circuit TV. One Charedi publication thought that picture was important enough to show their readership. The problem was that they did not publish pictures of women. So they photo-shopped the two women out of the picture.

For that they were strongly criticized. I was among those critics. The gist of my problem was that it was an insult to the Secretary of State. There was absolutely no need to photo-shop a modestly dressed woman out of a picture like that. If they don’t publish pictures of women, that picture should not have been published at all.

But I also criticized the very idea of not publishing pictures of women. It is an unnecessary Chumra that had no Halachic basis and no historic precedent outside of Chasidic circles. ArtScroll publications publishes pictures of women. They have the approbation of many of the members of the Agudah Moetzes. Clearly there is no Halachic prohibition of it.

And yet the practice of photo-shopping women ‘out of the picture’ is increasing in prominence. Not only in non Chasidic Charedi publications such as the Mishpacha and Ami but lately even in religious Zionist publications – with the blessing of one of the foremost leaders of Religious Zionism, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner.

This came to light recently when a publication by a religious Zionist organization – the Meir Institute - blurred the image of Mrs. Ruti Fogel. It was in a family photo taken prior to the family’s massacre by young Palestinian terrorists. Meir Institute head Rabbi Dov Bigon has since apologized and blamed it on human error. But that does not explain why Rav Aviner thought it was indeed a good idea to blur her face out of the picture. He called it a matter of respect.

Why is it more respectful to blur a woman out of the picture than a man? Dare I say that its because they are increasingly being seen as sex objects and therefore require respectfully eliminating them from public view?

But this should not really surprise anyone. Many Religious Zionist leaders have a condition I would call ‘Charedi Envy’. They have therefore taken upon themselves many of the trappings of the Charedi world. It is not uncommon to find Religious Zionists with long beards and long Peyos. Nor is it uncommon to find them wearing their Tzitzis out and sporting giant Kipot Seruga (crocheted Yarmulkes). Some may be surprised to learn that many of these religious Zionist youth use the same exemption that Charedim use to stay out of the army as full time Yeshiva students.

Walk into Merkaz Harav - the flagship Yeshiva of Religious Zionism and you will see a mirror image of Mir. The only difference being that instead of a big black velvet Kipa, you will see a big Kipa Seruga. There students there learn with the same fervor that do the students at Mir or Brisk. The intensity of learning, the level of commitment to Torah and Mitzvos is the same as any Charedi Yeshiva. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these customs. Certainly I have no objection to intense Torah study. It’s just that it seems like a copycat syndrome to follow in exactly the same foosteps as their Charedi counterparts.

There is a name for this type of Religious Zionist. They are called Chardalim. A sort of combination of the word Charedi and Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist). I would say that these people have more in common with Charedim than they do with the rest of Religious Zionists. Ironically the two worlds never interact. And as I understand it, the typical Charedi yeshiva student has absolutely no use for the typical Chardal student doing virtually the same thing. They practically don’t even acknowledge their existence. That’s politics at its worst. But I digress.

The point is that the move to the right affects every segment of religious Jewry. And I protest it. There is no reason to go off the deep end and incorporate every Chumra possible into your life just so you can say ‘So am I’ to those on your right. It doesn’t matter if it is the non Chasidic Yeshiva adopting Chasidic customs or religious Zionists adopting Charedi ones. If all of observant Jewry were to go down this path we would end up like the Jews of Meah Shearim. Those of us who would refuse to go along would be seen as Shkotzim who cling to a past that was far too involved with the Tumas HaOlam instead of the brave new world of living our lives Al Taharas HaKodesh.

Fortunately that is not the case. At least not in America. As I say the world of sociological Centrism is on the rise. But that is not for lack of the forces right pushing very hard. I object to those forces and refuse to become a part of the world of Chumros that serve to further isolate the Jewish people from the real world.

This was not the way of our fathers. Nor our grandfathers. They lived in the real world. They had productive lives and raised generations of religious Jews. They read secular newspapers. They valued secular studies. They participated in the general culture. They worked for a living. And they took pictures of women too.

I have a picture of my very Frum aunt sitting next to her Chasidic husband at a table with other men and women. The picture was taken in the thirties. Hanging on my den wall is a picture of my great uncle, a man with a long white beard with direct Yichus (ben Achar ben) to one of the great Chasidic masters, R’Shimon M’Yaroslav - standing next to him – arm in arm is his wife!

We can all be Ehrliche Jews without chasing down every single Chumra to the right of us. When are we going to have a religious leader who instead of justifying every Chumra - will finally stand up and say, ‘Enough grease already!’