by R. Gil Student
The recent trend in some Orthodox media to refrain from publishing pictures of women, or even to digitally remove women from pictures, raises questions from many perspectives. Is it dishonest to offer only a partial portrayal of the community? Is it disrespectful of women to omit their images? Does this send a confusing message to our children about proper appearance when even a picture of a modestly dressed girl won’t be published?
There is another layer of questions I wish to explore.
From the perspective of halacha, Jewish law, the issue is somewhat ambiguous. After Rebbetzin Kanievsky passed away, I asked Rav Hershel Schachter whether a newspaper may publish modest pictures of women. He said if the woman is dressed modestly, there is no need to worry that a reader might be led to improper thoughts. I did not ask him for his reasoning and the following argument is mine, not his. Three prohibitions come into consideration when discussing the publication of pictures of men and women.
I. Three Rules
The Torah commands that Hashem should not see in our communities any “naked thing” (Devarim 23:15). The Gemara (Berachos 25b) explains that nakedness is forbidden if it can be seen, even if the viewers only see it through a window or through their eyeglasses. One could claim a picture or video of a person is not really nakedness – it is just ink or pixels. However, that would lead to the absurd conclusion that pornography does not constitute nakedness. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yabia Omer vol. 1 OC:7; vol. 6 OC:12) argues at length against this notion. Rather, we are forbidden to look at or publish a picture of any man or woman in a state of undress. But how do we define undressed? Additionally, men are forbidden to stare at a woman even if she is dressed properly.
Continued in The Jewish Press: link