Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Sexualization of Women in The Charedi World

What an insult! ...this image  is to Judaism (TOI)
I know I’ve discussed this issue to death.  I was in fact reluctant to bring it up again this time. But I can’t help it.   A Timesof Israel article on the subject just stirred up my anger all over again:

The Bnei Brak branch of a major pharmacy chain has been concealing the faces of women on the store’s products to comply with extreme ultra-Orthodox modesty customs widely decried as discriminatory, marking the latest instance of women being erased from Haredi public life…

(They attempted to) cater to the demands of Israel’s large and growing ultra-Orthodox population, where public displays deemed immodest or outside rabbinical approval are shunned and can lead to vandalism or organized boycotts. Photos of women, including young girls and even babies, are generally kept out of newspapers or magazines, advertisements, product branding, or any other printed material aimed at the ultra-Orthodox community.

This has generated a counter protest calling for a boycott of this pharmacy chain’s products.

I am sickened by this new ‘morality’. The idea of covering up the face of a woman as a moral constraint does not exist in Halacha. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Gemara or the Shulchan Aruch. Which means that a woman’s face is not considered a source of erotic thought (better known as ‘Hirhurim’ in Halachic literature) .

Halacha does require men to refrain from looking at erotica (pornography) because it can lead to sinful behavior. But the face of a woman is never mentioned as a pornographic image. The wives of some of the most respected Charedi Gedolim of this and the last century never covered there faces. Nor did they or their husbands object to photographs of their wives being published.

A recent example of this is ArtScroll who famously published a biography with pictures of Rebbetzin Bat Sheva Kanievsky, the daughter of R’ Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and wife of R’ Chaim Kanievsky (both of whom were considered among the greatest Rabbis of their time!) ArtScroll’s publishers made sure that R’ Chaim would have no objection to publishing his late wife’s picture before they went ahead with her bio. Clearly, R’ Chaim would never have permitted that if he thought there was the remotest chance that pictures of his late wife being might be considered pornographic to anyone!

Unfortunately normal attitudes about what is considered pornographic these days has ‘left the building’. Extremism has taken its place and is catching on big time in places like Bnei Brak.

I have to blame the the extremist segments of Chasidic world for this. Their sense of what is pornographic is reflected in Charedi publications that refuse to publish any pictures of women. 

I’m sure they know the Halachic approach as reflected by R’ Kanievsky’s abovementioned permit to ArtScroll. But their ‘Poskim’ forbid it as a matter of Halacha. I have to assume that their Poskim are Chasidic. Or that they want to increase their circulation numbers by catering to Chasidic readers who they believe would mostly boycott any publications that included pictures of women.

I have no clue why Chasidim believe that a woman’s face will result in erotic thoughts.  Don’t know where they got that from. Perhaps they feel that it is part of the mission of a Chasid – described in the Gemara as someone whose piety was well beyond the typical observant Jew. They see that piety expressed in matters of sexual morality.  

Or perhaps they looked to our Arab cousins – most of whom are devout Muslims and decided that the Jewish people will not be outdone by Islam  Islam apparently does consider a woman’s face to be a source of erotic thought. Which is why the more devout Muslim women will not go out in public without fully covering their face..

Or perhaps it is the most extreme interpretation of a Gemara in Brachos (24a) which says that anyone who looks at a woman’s little finger is considered as if he looked at her genitalia!

Obviously this comment cannot be taken literally. The Gemara is referring to when it is purposely looked at  with erotic thoughts. The point of the Gemara is to avoid doing anything with erotic thoughts as a motive. Not that a woman’s baby finger is in an of itself erotic anymore than her face is. 

And yet that is apparently exactly what the extremists of the Chasidic world are saying. They are in essence sexualizing anything remotely to do with a woman. Even her name as indicated by blacking out woman’s names on billboards and posters in Bnei Brak a while back! Bnei Brak has a huge Chasidic population. Some of which have been known to take these matters into their own hands.  

That is sick! 

Extending what is considered a pornograhy to the point of absurdity is now the order of the day. And no Charedi rabbinic leader seems to have the courage to challenge that. They are at best looking the other way. Or worse jumping on board lest they be accused supporting immorality.  

What they do not seem to understand is that going too far in that direction may actually be the cause of more immorality. Not less. The sex drive is very powerful. The more things are banned, the more the  these sex starved men find other ways to satisfy it. Real pornographic material is as easy to access these days as an ice cream cone. Thus undermining the very intent of those bans. 

I don’t know why Charedi Rabbinic leaders don’t recognize this. Why can’t they look to the Gedolim of the recent past as their role models? That they do not will surely lead us down the rabbit hole of  depravity. Where women will be imprisoned in their own homes for fear of being looked at even if they are wearing burkas. Is this how we are supposed to live?!