Thursday, August 27, 2015

Putting Women In The Picture

Given the continuously unfolding debate about the absence of pictures of women from Orthodox publications, I would like to present some challenges to certain people on both the right and the left.

With his customary zeal for right-wing causes, Rabbi Avraham Gordimer defends this practice as follows: The religious prohibition regarding men arousing themselves by staring at women equally applies to staring at pictures of women. Hence, religious publications legitimately avoid printing pictures of women so as to avoid ensnaring men in this prohibition.

To them I ask as follows: If this argument is legitimate, then why would it not equally apply the other way too - that women should not go out of the house, so as not ensnare men in this prohibition?

At the other end of the spectrum, some are apparently claiming that there are no differences between men and women when it comes to their desires towards the opposite sex.

To them, I would like to point out the fascinating statistics revealed by the hacking of the Ashley Madison adultery website. It turns out that the active female users numbered just fifteen hundred, whereas the active male users of the website numbered over twenty million!

Judaism recognizes that the problem of wandering eyes and thoughts apply more to men than to women. On the other hand, it does not maintain that as a result, women should be banished from sight. They are to do their share by maintaining a certain degree of modesty, and the rest of the onus is upon men to suppress their thoughts, not to suppress women.

41 comments:

  1. The problem here is that the Haredi community inclined to think this way is bringing up a generation of sexually frustrated and ignorant men - unable to interact in a normal manner with the female sex. This level of dissonance cannot be good for the mental and physical health of people.

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  2. The idea that men will find any and every picture of a woman unbearably enticing is forced, to say the least. Then again, a chareidi publication that tries to implement a sliding-scale beauty policy will run into difficult judgment calls: Ruth Bader Ginsburg in, Sonia Sotomayor out? Better to airbrush all the female justices and show just an oddly depleted 6-man Supreme Court.

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    1. > a chareidi publication that tries to implement a sliding-scale beauty policy will run into difficult judgment calls

      It's much worse than that. If the criteria for publishing pictures of women is dependent on how attractive they are, then by publishing a woman's picture the editor is telling her that she's ugly. It's also dehumanizing to judge someone solely on their physical features.

      The criteria should be whether or not a person is dressed in accordance with the tznius standards of the community the publication serves.

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  3. The right would answer your second challenge -- that the logical extension of banishing women from photos would necessitate keeping them indoors -- by saying that there is no halachic or cultural precedence for the latter innovation. That same answer, though, could apply to the very issue of women's pictures! There has been no halachic or cultural mikor for such a practice, and indeed, the issue did not even arise until only a few years ago. Unfortunately, halachic authorities can rely on the very loose structural guidelines of "Daat Yehudit" when it comes to issues of tznius. By this standard, minhagim that we take on become laws set in stone, only by virtue of being in practice in a certain community, or for a certain length of time. And thus what was once chumrah becomes halacha. And so the chumra bandwagon chugs along.

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    1. The fact is that the Yated Neeman (and probably HaModia as well) have not been printing pictures of women for at least thirty years.

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    2. > The right would answer your second challenge -- that the logical extension of banishing women from photos would necessitate keeping them indoors -- by saying that there is no halachic or cultural precedence for the latter innovation.

      Sure there is. The Rambam says that a woman should only leave the house once or twice a month, and should be veiled when she does.

      It's not a matter of precedent. It's just that's not how it's done.

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  4. Your A.M. statistics are far, far more exaggerated than those I've seen stated elsewhere.

    Regardless, I don't think relative proclivity of each gender to cheat on a spouse is a basis to draw conclusions about susceptibility to arousal from visual stimuli.

    RM

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    1. In an article by R. Shmuely Boteach on JPost, he said that 95% of the users of A.M. were men, 5% women. He quipped that it was a website for men to meet other men!

      In a New York Post article [where a man gave a heart-wrenching description of how he found out that his wife (of 20 years of marriage) had two accounts on Ashley Madison], they reported the statistics as 85% men/15% women. But if women are 50% of the population, it should be closer to 50%, no?

      A related factoid that I once read was that men who are consumers of pornographic material, usually gravitate towards pictures and movies, whereas women usually "prefer" reading erotic literature, which leaves more room for the imagination.

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    2. No, the analysis came out yesterday. When I saw the numbers here I thought it was weird and checked it out. Turns out 1,500 vs. 20,000,000 is very real.

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    3. The vast majority of the women on AM were fake accounts, to the extend that one wonders if in some way it would qualify as fraud.

      I would say that this does not mean that women do not have affairs, just that when they do its not via AM. And haivng followed much of the coverage of the whole AM setup I am not shocked. Their marketing seemed to focus 100% on Men.

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    4. The sad thing about this whole affair is that the CEO--a Jew--originally set up this website so that men could find learning partners. It was called mychavrusa.net. But, sadly, an earlier group of hackers--probably antisemitic--hacked the website, and put up false advertisements to make the whole project sound like something to do with adultery! B"H now that the gender stats are out, he will be vindicated ...

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  5. I also think you need to take into account the differences in the potential consequences of arousal between men and women.


    Let me be clear: I think the business with the pictures is idiotic. But with due respect, I don't think your post advances the conversation.

    RM

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  6. There was once a Rishon which you call a "rationalist" he wrote in ishus 13 as follows:אבל גנאי הוא לאשה שתהיה יוצאה תמיד פעם בחוץ פעם ברחובות. ויש לבעל למנוע אשתו מזה ולא יניחנה לצאת אלא כמו פעם אחת בחודש או כמו פעמים בחודש לפי הצורך. שאין יופי לאשה אלא לישב בזוית ביתה שכך כתוב כל כבודה בת מלך פנימה
    I don't suggest we should go back to these days ,however the charedim are not necessarily more frum than our ancestors of the middle ages.

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  7. I know Rabbi Gordimer. I wouldn't dismiss him as a close-minded black-hatter since he is far from it. The only matter for which he has displayed his "zeal" until now is the fight against Open Orthodoxy. One needn't be a close-minded bigot to oppose such a movement.

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    1. Yes, but then he started attacking mainstream Dati Leumi rabbanim in Israel who are unhappy with the Chief Rabbinate, and then he moved on to defending blurring baby girls' faces. I used to think he was OK. Now I think he likes starting fights.

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    2. If you knew him, you would know that he is many respects soft-spoken and eidel. I think he believes that traditional Orthodoxy has been severely attacked in recent years and that few articulate people have been willing to speak up in defense of it. I think that's why he feels compelled to write as often as he does -- to "step into the breach," as it were.

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  8. I believe the halacha is that a man should not walk behind a woman on the street. But that never meant (until recently in some extremist areas) that women and men should not walk on the same side of the street.

    On the other hand, no posek I know of has approved of mixed swimming. This is different than walking on the same street as women, and seeing pictures of modestly-dressed women in magazines and websites, because they are not dressed tznius (and barely dressed at all).

    So we men are not allowed to put ourselves in places where we will be surrounding by an extreme lack of tnzius, like a swimming pool. But we are allowed to be on a street or read papers with reasonably modest pictures of women, because these are normal circumstances, under which we should have the ability to control our eyes. Perhaps this is the distinction?

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    1. The first (and to date, the only) time I ever visited New Square I walked to shul on the women's side of the street. I wasn't trying to cause trouble -- the signs were in Yiddish, not Hebrew or English. I had no idea what they was on them!

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  9. Here's a point that has not received due attention. Aren't gay men entitled to protection against improper hirhurim caused by pictures of good-looking males? I see no other safe option but to ban all images of men in chareidi publications.

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  10. Haredim not publishing pictures of women wouldn't bother me if they also didn't publish pictures of men. (I would also comment on the publication of pictures of Rabbis being avak avodah zarah but that's off topic.)

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  11. That Ashley Madison site must have had a bigger shidduch crisis than the Orthodox world or the Mormons! (I had never heard of the site until a month ago -- one of the advantages of being a bit isolationist in ones' lifestyle.)

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  12. Actually, Rabbi Gordimer wrote "the professed right or requirement to post photos of women in Orthodox religious publications, when it will knowingly and naturally evoke male attraction, is something I find difficult to endorse," I think he was discussing the tendency in the secular press to publish pictures that are meant to attract. I submit that this is also a women's issue as it dehumanizes them. As for Rabbi Beckerman, his main complaint seems to be about the negative reaction to men who wanted men-only gym time because of the women's reaction.

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  13. שרידי אש חלק ב סימן יד:

    וודאי שכוונתם לטובה לשמור על הצניעות כפי שהיתה נהוגה בדורות הקודמים אבל בזמננו נשתנה המצב ונשתנו הטבעים והנשים אם תשארנה בבית ולא תבואנה לביהכ"נ תשתכח מהם תורת היהדות לגמרי ובוודאי שאסור להדיחן ולהרחיקן בגךך חומרא יתירה שאין לה יסוד מוצק בש"ס ופוסקים

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    1. Great source. But the extreme right has isolated themselves from the rest of society in a way that the Jews that Rav Weinberg was referring to were not.

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    2. Typo:

      "בגךך" should be "בגלל"

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    3. True, which would make his point stronger. Perhaps also relevant to the topic of pictures, is what he writes in siman 8:

      ועי' מה שכתב הב"ח באו"ח סי' ע"ה דהסתכלות היינו התבוננות לשם הנאה וכבר הביא ביד מלאכי כלל ה' אות קע"ז בשם הרבה ראשונים שהאיסור הוא הסתכלות בהבטה יתירה ועי"ש מה 'פירש הגמ' בע"ז דף כ' ונשמרת מכל דבר רע שלא יסתכל אדם באשה נאה ואפילו פנוי' וכו' שהכוונה להסתכלות המביאה לידי הרהור עבירה וזהו דבר המסור ללב וכל אחד מחוי' להדמר מהסתכלות מתועבת זו ולפיכך לא עשו בזה תיקון מיוחד ורק תקנו שלא יתערבו אנשים בנשים לפי שהתערבות זו מביאה ממילא לקלות ראש

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    4. A Rav of mine quipped that if Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi would publish the Mishnah today and put in the Mishnah at the end of Ta'anis describing how young ladies would sing and dance [presumably in front of young men] on Tu B'Av, the Mishnah would be banned! The women were assumedly all properly dressed, but still: What justification is there for that minhag?

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    5. I seem to have made even more typos in my second quote:

      "פירש'" should be "שפירש" and "להדמר" should be "להשמר"

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    6. True, which would make his point stronger.

      I don't think so. He says that today we can no longer keep the old practices because circumstances have changed. He refers, I believe to the emancipation of Jews in Germany and their integration into society. But the shtetl has been re-established in some of the right-wing communities, so his reasoning might not apply there.

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    7. I think I misunderstood what you meant by the extreme right has isolated themselves from the rest of society so I might agree with you. I guess it depends on whether
      "חומרא יתירה שאין לה יסוד מוצק בש"ס ופוסקים" is inherently problematic, or if it is only problematic in a situation of "נשתנה המצב ונשתנו הטבעים... [ו]תשתכח מהם תורת היהדות לגמרי"

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    8. > A Rav of mine quipped that if Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi would publish the Mishnah today and put in the Mishnah at the end of Ta'anis describing how young ladies would sing and dance [presumably in front of young men] on Tu B'Av, the Mishnah would be banned!

      As someone once said to me, if God had to pitch Tanach to a frum publishing company today, with all of its sex and violence, He could never get it published.

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  14. I would like to add to all this arrousal, why are there men then who release this arrousal upon innocent little boys (and in some cases girls)? This argument does not wash. This taiyva comes from the creation of Adam and is a healthy urge to be fulfilled with one's wife. Let the men be with their wives more often than Friday night. And let the wives enhance their appearances to the delight of their husbands. This is where it all belongs.

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  15. As was pointed out in a comment to the Ashley Madison analysis, it's more than you say: Males- all males of all species of animals- spread themselves around. Females can't really do that in the same way, and the consequences are greater for them. So whether or not they're interested in cheating doesn't exactly testify to what they're attracted on. You can look at other indicators- how best-selling romance novels are, for example, and what their covers look like.

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  16. friendly spellcheckerAugust 28, 2015 at 5:44 PM

    "Judaism recognizes that the problem of wandering eyes and thoughts apply more to men than to women."
    That should say "applies."
    Great post!

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  17. In January 2012, Debra Nussbaum Cohen wrote in The Forward (I know, gevalt!!):

    "(...)

    But there is another point missing from all of the discussion of the new vigilance on modesty and the backlash against it. The extreme focus on distancing from women turns them into sexual objects. There is something perverse about the obsession with female dress of these 'guardians of modesty,' and I don’t mean perverse just in the sociological sense. These men are so focused on sublimating their own sexual impulses that they see women only as sexual objects, whose images and very personhood must be contained to the point of invisibility.

    And it is internalized all too quickly by too many religious women.

    (...).

    There are Haredi [ultra-orthodox] writers who have pointed to the sexualization of women in the general culture, visible in advertisements and commercials featuring scantily clad women, and I couldn’t agree more with that assessment. But there is a flipside to focusing on modesty to the point of seeing women almost only as sexual objects. It is a paradoxical sexualization amid all this repression of perceived sexual danger..."

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Cohen. The excessive, and to my mind obsessive, over-insistence on modesty in dress in women, I think, posits that any contact or interaction between men and women is necessarily, and can only be, sexual and that women must, therefore, cover themselves, or be covered (in the media), regardless of their age or apparel. I think this is rubbish. Refusing to print photos of baby girls is repulsive.

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  18. "If this argument is legitimate, then why would it not equally apply the other way too - that women should not go out of the house, so as not ensnare men in this prohibition?"
    Really? You don't see any difference between private and public? By the same argument, what's wrong with unfiltered internet - you can see the same things if you go into a newsstand and look through some magazines?
    Most people are too embarrassed to stare at people in public, but a picture in the privacy of your home is different..

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    1. I once saw a Hasidic teenage boy standing in Steimatzky's book store, right out in the open, browsing through the pornography magazines. He wasn't embarrassed. I did not feel he was a hypocrite, I felt sorry for him because his growing up in a very strict environment brought him to do this.
      . How is looking at a head shot of, say, an elderly women going to cause someone to stare?
      I am sorry, there is no logic in these rules and they are causing much damage to those who advocate them. This is the problem when you go far beyond the halacha itself.

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    2. What's considered repression? If you feel that that's the commandment of the Torah what can you do? I for one can think of many people that would claim that expecting demanding shmirat einayim/Brit/negiah is very restrictive or potentially unhealthy. I, personally believe that all this talk about pornography/shmirat habrit creates more paranioa and guilt than it does actually stop people. I say this as someone who does not struggle at all with pornography.
      As far as negiah I can't argue in good faith that it's bad. From my experience it doesn't create the same level of anxiety in kids. I say this as someone that was shomer for most of his life (even past my religious life). I happen to think that most of the pro-shomer arguments are intellectually dishonest (focusing on how it will make ur marriage better etc. when that isn't the reason for the issur/backed up by any research). But I digres.
      Avraham is lauded for being willing to kill yitchak, I don't know about you but that couldn't have bee mentally healthy for Avraham to do (not to mention physically for Yitchak!)! Yet, he is a hero. Is the same not true here? If its assur for men to do then it's assur.

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  19. Since when does taam hamitzva not applying allow for an abolishment of the Mitzva? If they believe it is assur than how could you abolish it? Most men do not get turned on by most songs that are sang by women, still lol isha. Isn't it therefore hypocritical to question that ?

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  20. If this argument is legitimate, then why would it not equally apply the other way too - that women should not go out of the house, so as not ensnare men in this prohibition?

    Don't give them ideas. They already say women shouldn't drive. They're already far down the road to Saudi-style mistreatment of women. With a little nudge they will head into Taliban country.

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