Guest post by Hadassah Levy
Hadassah Levy is a website manager and marketer for Jewish Ideas Daily.
A recent ad in a local Rehovot haredi newspaper blurred the picture of Sivan Rahav-Meir. Ironically, the ad was for an event at which Rahav-Meir will be speaking. The event is run by the Religious-National Forum and the ad was submitted to the newspaper without the blurring. (The ad, as it appeared, can be viewed here.)
This news item is being reported shortly after the outrage over the blurring out of Ruti Fogel’s picture from a parsha sheet. The memorial picture included the whole family, with only her photo blurred. Machon Meir, which published the parsha sheet, has a policy against publishing women’s pictures in the bulletin, since it is meant for distribution in shul. The institute apologized both publicly and privately to the family for the gaffe.
In the American sphere, we had the infamous photoshopping out of Hillary Clinton a few months ago. This event prompted the website Vos Iz Neias to publish a halachic article on the question of whether it is permissible to publish women’s pictures. The article assumes that there is little difference between looking at actual women and looking at their photographs. According to the author, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, there is a disagreement as to whether the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 20a and b) prohibited all looking (histaklut) at women, or only ogling. The Shulchan Aruch (EH 21:1) seems to follow the more lenient opinion, forbidding looking at women only in situations where they might not be properly dressed (such as while laundering clothes).
In the haredi world, where looking at women on buses, in lectures or at the supermarket is considered problematic, it is entirely logical to refrain from publishing pictures of them in newspapers, magazines and books. In the Modern Orthodox/dati leumi world, where women are much more present in the public sphere, leaving them out of pictures makes no sense. Women and men interact socially and professionally, and women often speak publicly to mixed crowds. Since it is fairly common for men to look at women in person, there is no reason to object to modest pictures.
When the Hillary Clinton story was hot news, there was much discussion of the chillul hashem which resulted from the removal of her picture from the newspaper. Currently, in Israel, the merest suggestion that religious people discriminate against women can be turned into a major news story and added to the long list of “proofs” that women have no place in the religious public sphere. Preventing this chillul hashem may be more important than a halachic opinion inappropriate for the Modern Orthodox community.