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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sliding into darkness, not striving for enlightenment

As I've previously noted here, Israel is as egalitarian and progressive a society as exists anywhere on earth, and the whole exclusion of women thing is a completely fabricated non-issue designed to vilify the religious community.  In any place where women are being physically excluded in Israel, it is a criminal matter and can/should be dealt with under the perfectly ample body of existing Israeli law. 

I use the modifier 'physically' above because there are others way that women can be excluded from our day to day lives.

I have recently begun to notice that the creeping (and in my opinion, insidious) trend by certain extreme segments of Orthodox Jewish society to eschew pictures of women in advertising (and even news stories) has led to the practice of cropping and photoshopping women out of photos in just about every form of media that serves those communities.

While we were getting ready to leave our synagogue on Shabbat morning, my daughter handed me one of the many flyers and parsha sheets that were scattered on the table by the entrance and asked me if I noticed anything 'different'.  It was a shabbat parsha sheet published by an organization called Machon Meir.

For those unfamiliar with it, Machon Meir is a venerable Jerusalem Torah institution that teaches Zionist 'Torat Eretz Yisrael', the importance of service in the IDF, and prides itself on being a very centrist and inclusive 'Kippah Srugah' (knitted Yarmulke) institution. 

So you can imagine my dismay when I looked at the front page of the Parsha sheet to see what was bothering my daughter and noticed the following notice of a memorial to be held for the murdered members of the Fogel family (who were slaughtered in their home by terrorists last year).

 FogelAd1

If you look at the following close up, you can see that in the notice they used a family photo of the Fogels which had appeared in many of the news stories at the time of their murder.  But I was horrified to see that whoever had prepared the notice had blurred out the face of the mother!
FogelAd2

What in the world is mainstream Orthodox Judaism coming to when the face of a woman (a murder victim, for G-d's sake!) is blurred out so as to not stir the base urges of religious men who might find her visage too erotic to withstand?! And how ironic is it that the name of the flyer is B'Ahava U'B'emunah' (In Love and in Belief), when by all indications, those who pubish it seem to lack both?!

I'm not sure who the 'Meir' is for whom 'Machon Meir' is named, but the name 'Machon Meir'  in Hebrew can also be translated to mean 'Institute of Enlightenment' (or illumination)'.

I have to say, seeing the notice this week from Machon Meir with a woman's face deliberately blurred out helps make a pretty good case for exactly the opposite: Rather than striving for enlightenment, mainstream orthodoxy seems to be starting a relentless slide into darkness and ignorance.

May we come to our collective senses before it's too late.

[Update:  While discussing this issue with my friend Jameel, he emailed me a link to a videotaped response given by Rav Shlomo Aviner to the question of whether it was correct to have blurred out Ruth Fogel's photo.   To be clear, he was asked about this specific case.

He responds in the affirmative.  Rav Aviner is supposed to be one of the guiding voices in the Religious Zionist movement.

I weep for the future if this is his response.

Posted by David Bogner on January 22, 2012 | Permalink

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Frightening and depressing.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jan 22, 2012 1:20:40 PM

Wow. It's all so disillusioning.

Posted by: Sarah Bronson | Jan 22, 2012 3:20:30 PM

Rav Aviner is supposed to be one of the guiding voices in the Religious Zionist movement.

I, for one, have never viewed him as such. R. Aviner has been an extremist for years, and a major factor in the "slide into darkness and ignorance" of which you're speaking. Cases in point:

* Aviner: Buses should be segregated, for dati leumi people too
* Aviner: It's forbidden to watch Srugim, part 1
* Aviner: It's forbidden to watch Srugim, part 2
* Aviner: It's forbidden to read a book by R. Avraham HaCohen Kook(!), because it wasn't pre-censored for things we don't want you to read

Posted by: Lurker | Jan 22, 2012 4:06:29 PM

However Yishuv Itamar did not follow this course and has the family photo intact, along with the details for attending the remembrance event. http://www.shechem.org/itamar/eindex.html

Posted by: Yosef Hartuv | Jan 22, 2012 4:48:46 PM

Unbelievable...

Posted by: SaraK | Jan 22, 2012 5:38:37 PM

i find this really disturbing especially in light of the horrific way ruth fogel was brutally murdered. why include a photo at all ? just include words that say in memory of the fogel family.

Posted by: frum single female | Jan 22, 2012 6:25:55 PM

This is not the Judaism that I chose to practice more than twenty years ago. Nor is it the Judaism that my older friends, who were born into observant families, practiced as they were growing up, or practice now.

I still remember the booklet that I saw at the Maccabi HMO back in 2003 or 2004 that had thumbnail photos next to the names of the male physicians, and flower icons next to the names of the women physicians.

It is terribly scary, yes -- but I think it is also a good thing that the issue is finally being discussed in the open.

Posted by: Rahel | Jan 22, 2012 6:40:12 PM

From Jameel/The Muqata
Update 4:45 PM: Machon Meir has issued an apology on their website:

מכון מאיר מביע בזאת את התנצלותו הכנה על פרסום בלתי ראוי של תמונתה של רותי פוגל הי"ד.

המכון מתנצל בפני משפחות בן ישי , פוגל ובפני הקוראים שנפגעו מן הפרסום.

הרב דב ביגון - ראש המכון
צבי ארזי - מנכ"ל
מערכת עלון "באהבה ובאמונה"

Machon Meir hereby apologies for the improper publication of a photo of Ruthy Fogel, HY'D.
The Machon has apologized to the Ben-Yishai and Fogel families, and the readers who were hurt by the publication.

Rav Dov Begun - Head of the Machon
Tzvi Arazi -- General Manager of "BAhava uvEmuna"

Posted by: Yosef Hartuv | Jan 22, 2012 7:37:26 PM

Yosef Hartuv... If you look at their site, they are apologizing for the fact that people were offended. They stand by their action, though.

Posted by: Treppenwitz | Jan 22, 2012 8:37:54 PM

This feels all the more obscene as it further erases a life already cut tragically short.

I really don't understand how anyone in their right mind could interpret this as being respectful to the memory of Ruth Fogel (z"l). No, I did not have the privilege of knowing her. But in non-blurred copies of the photo, it is clear that she was dressed modestly -- ostensibly, she left her home dressed similarly. If showing a woman in a photographic image dressed as she would leave her home and enter the public domain runs the risk of "objectifying" her, we are all in deep, deep, doo-doo.....

Posted by: zahava | Jan 22, 2012 9:02:03 PM

There used to be a talk radio guy named Bob Grant in NYC who used to say, "it's sick out there and getting sicker".

Like you, I weep for the future of mainstream, modern orthodoxy. People will become more extreme (and I see that all the time amongst my peers taking more and more stringencies upon themselves, for what motives, I'm not sure), or they'll get disgusted and go the other way.

Either way, it's just no damn good.

Posted by: Baila | Jan 22, 2012 9:57:03 PM

Thank you abba

Posted by: Ari | Jan 22, 2012 10:12:43 PM

Treppenwitz: Yosef Hartuv... If you look at their site, they are apologizing for the fact that people were offended. They stand by their action, though.

Not so. The statement released describes the publication of the blurred photo as "בלתי ראוי" -- improper. This means that the very act of publishing it was wrong.

They apologized for publishing something improper (i.e., the photo with Ruthie Fogel's face blurred), not simply for the fact that people were offended. And nowhere in the statement, or in R. Begun's spoken remarks, do I see any suggestion that "they stand by their action".

Posted by: Lurker | Jan 23, 2012 12:54:51 AM

Not being familiar with the Talmud, I read what I felt was a well thought-out and argued NY Times op-ed piece the other day (1/19/12) from Rabbi Dov Linzer, the dean of Riverdale NY's Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Hope this link works: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/20/opinion/ultra-orthodox-jews-and-the-modesty-fight.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

Posted by: Mike Spengler | Jan 23, 2012 2:39:45 AM

One assumes that this is heavily based on the Gemara in which it is taught that, because of modesty, a woman is not forced to testify in a capital trial. Chardal is nothing more than a knitted wrapper on the chareidi world. The mizrachi dati infrastructure has abandoned the derech of Rav Kook in terms of halachic courage and vision.


Posted by: David Brusowankin | Jan 23, 2012 5:52:58 AM

I don't even know what to say... It is terrible that this is happening in Israel...I wonder if this trend is likely to spread in the U.S. as well...

Posted by: Irina | Jan 23, 2012 6:28:03 AM

I don't understand the outrage. No woman was actually discriminated against, spat on, forced to sit in the back of a bus, assaulted, etc. (Thank G-d)

What we have here is a private organization deciding not to offend some chareidim in shuls where they distribute their weekly sheet. YOU may not be offended by seeing women in shul, and that is your right. But doesn't Machon Meir equally have the right to doctor the pictures they print so as not to cause offence? And if you find said doctoring itself offensive, do you now have the right to force them to print the photo as-is? If so, is the reverse also true? Do the chareidim who are offended by pictures of women also have the right to force their ideas on everyone else?

Posted by: Chareidi Chutznik | Jan 23, 2012 7:32:17 AM

Charedi Chutznik: First, they don't distribute it in Charedi shuls. They probably wouldn't allow it in. And in any event, yes, if the price is something as disgusting as this, they should either not distribute it or force them to take it.

But count your blessings, people: Charedim would (and do!) blot out the baby's face as well.

Posted by: Nachum | Jan 23, 2012 11:22:56 AM

Mike Spengler... Dov Linzer and I went to University together (he was a couple of years behind me. His big brother wa sni my class). He has a good head on his shoulders and comes from the exact demographic that Machon Meir prports to serve.

Chareidi Chutznik... As Nachum pointed out, you won't find this publication in any Hareidi shuls. It is for the Bnei Akiva, kippah srugga crowd. Like any institute, Machon Meir serves a particlar population with it sclasses and other services. My outrage comes from the fact that they seem to have embraced a practice that is at odds with what is the norm in their target audience, and (IMHO) is disrespectful to not only the woman whose picture is blurred, but to all women.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jan 23, 2012 12:22:27 PM

Surely you realize that their intention was not to insult women. If anything the insult is to men, since it's presupposes hirhur on their part. How are you so sure that there are no chareidi readers of their publication? I myself read one when recently in EY. I happened to be davenng in a "mixed" minyan.

BTW, not showing pictures of women in publications is nothing new. Even moderate chareidim in EY have been doing this for more than 30 years. I just don't see what all the fuss and indignation is about.

Posted by: Chareidi Chutznik | Jan 23, 2012 12:42:13 PM

OY. I'm certainly not going to contribute anything new here, but I will say OY. Very difficult. I guess my question is where IS the government in all of this?

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Jan 23, 2012 3:17:01 PM

Leah Weiss Caruso: I guess my question is where IS the government in all of this?

A private organization (Machon Meir) did something admittedly offensive. The government should be NOWHERE in this. What are you suggesting, that the government should pass and enforce a law making it a punishable crime to print a picture of a blurred-out face?

The belief that the solution to all problems lies in government intervention is the root of totalitarianism.

Posted by: Lurker | Jan 23, 2012 3:44:35 PM

Chareidi Chutznik: From my perspective, the fuss and indignation is about the marginalization of women. And before you protest, hear me out....

Tell me something, 30 years ago did "even moderate chareidim in EY" have separate seating on buses? Were there enforced separate lines in stores? Were little 8-year old girls in bordering communities spat upon and called prostitutes?

If a 2-dimensional facsimile of a woman's image is deemed too sexual in nature to be appropriate for men to encounter where does that leave the actual live woman?

Just because this stringency gained acceptance within this community does not make the practice healthy or appropriate. In fact, what we can see -- 30 years later/now -- is that the removal of women from publications within the Chareidi community encouraged the development of additional stringencies in other areas of life: separate halves of a bus; separate entrances to buildings; inability to have basic interactions with members of the opposite gender – even under the most innocuous of settings, such as watching a child enter a school building.

No one is forcing men to gaze upon anything which they wish to avoid. But we can now clearly see that the systematic pictorial exclusion of half the population has dangerously undermined the ability of a vociferous and volatile segment of the male Chareidi population to afford even children under the age of Mitzvot even basic human dignity.

THAT is what the fuss and indignation is about.

Posted by: zahava | Jan 23, 2012 3:49:05 PM

Sorry, no no I did not mean in this situation. I meant in the larger situations where women and children are being physically threatened and harmed. For example, the buses in particular are something I am not quite clear on - public buses in my understanding cannot be segregated, so the situations where people are getting on those buses and insisting on segregation are what I mean.

Posted by: Leah Weiss Caruso | Jan 23, 2012 3:50:35 PM

<<< BTW, not showing pictures of women in publications is nothing new. Even moderate chareidim in EY have been doing this for more than 30 years. I just don't see what all the fuss and indignation is about. >>>

Simply refraining from publishing photos of women is _one_ thing (albeit a stupid, backward thing]----but blurring the face on a person in a photo is quite another: One need not be a psychology major, or driven by a sociopolitical agenda---to recognize that there’s a disturbingly aggressive undertone in digitally erasing or mutilating the face on a mere photo... of a modestly dressed woman.

Simply saying "But it offends ME to see it” or “Well, these are MY religious principles” is not justification for every wrongheaded belief: The same individuals who feel driven to such juvenile extremes in their mindless pursuit of some self-proclaimed standard of modesty would very likely also feel it’s an act of kiddush Hashem to take physical measures if/when their all-important, invented virtue of New Tzniut is "threatened”. In other words, they’re not far removed from spitting, shoving and cursing. Just add the right circumstances & the shouting mob.

Posted by: jrs | Jan 23, 2012 4:15:45 PM

I have been following these incidents of blurring/Photoshopping women's and girls' faces, and I agree with most of the commenters: It is an outrage.

To sum up my opinion: If YOU want to observe a chumra (stricture), that is your business. But don't force your chumra on ME. And if there was even a chance that this chumra was to be exposed to a community that would not share the chumra, the organization that did this is responsible.

I really don't understand why some people are going to extremes like this. I think this certainly would not be representative of "Modern Orthodoxy," and I don't think that it will ever get to that point. However, any such trend should be disturbing to ALL Orthodox. (Apparently it seems to prove Herman Wouk's point, "No matter how religious one is, one will be on the trefe (wrong, in this context) side of someone else."

Frankly, this kind of imposition needs to be declared beyond the pale right now. It has the danger of creating the impression that Orthodoxy is monolithic, and of course different groups have their different observances. The organizations should be more careful in the future to avoid this kind of controversy when their publications go out to many different communities, and individually we should have the courage to stand up to the bullies in our midst and say that we are not going to tolerate every chumra if it is going to violate harmony between fellow Jews; sadly, I feel that some people have not given enough thought to what is just as important as the letter of the law.

Posted by: sheldan | Jan 23, 2012 5:52:36 PM

"Machon Meir hereby apologies for the improper publication of a photo of Ruthy Fogel, HY'D."

That doesn't sound to me like an apology for blurring out Ruth Fogel's face. It sounds to me like an apology for having published her photo at all.

To my mind, refusing to publish a murdered woman's photo is akin to killing her twice. :(

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Jan 23, 2012 8:58:21 PM

Shira Salamone: That doesn't sound to me like an apology for blurring out Ruth Fogel's face. It sounds to me like an apology for having published her photo at all.

Sorry, but that is completely twisting the meaning of their words. They were very clearly apologizing for the blurring, and this is obvious beyond doubt from the public spoken comments on this by R. Begun.

Posted by: Lurker | Jan 24, 2012 12:19:25 AM

"Israel is as egalitarian and progressive a society as exists anywhere on earth, and the whole exclusion of women thing is a completely fabricated non-issue designed to vilify the religious community."

As this incident shows, it is not fabricated and not a non-issue. This stuff deserves villification. Get out of your denial!

Posted by: Charlie Hall | Jan 24, 2012 1:15:39 AM

i dont see why this is an issue for rabbis, or for western freedoms.
this should be a private, personal, family issue. how do they feel about it?

Posted by: fred | Jan 24, 2012 3:02:33 AM

>the systematic pictorial exclusion of half the population has dangerously undermined the ability of a vociferous and volatile segment of the male Chareidi population to afford even children under the age of Mitzvot even basic human dignity.

How large is that segment? I would say not more than a few thousand people world wide, maybe even less. Look, I'm chareidi, and most of my friends are chareidi, from Satmar to Chabad to Litvish. I personally don't know even one person that does not afford "even children under the age of Mitzvot even basic human dignity"

I find your outrage to be EXACTLY as unacceptable and closed-minded as that "vociferous and volatile segment" that you condemn! When I am davening in shul,I don;t want to see pictures of woman on the table. That is my right. It is also the right of MM to be sensitive to my feelings.

Posted by: Chareidi Chutznik | Jan 24, 2012 6:07:47 AM

CC: Does it matter how large the segment is if they are not prevented from terrorizing those who don't share their choices?!

I am not condemning the entire Chareidi population. I am, however, saying that the current problems stem from SOMEWHERE. No one is forcing ANYONE to look at something which offends them. Turn the page, throw out the publication! In public, if someone's dress is offensive, eyes can be averted!

Nor is anyone suggesting that Chareidi men accept values toward women from outside the Chareidi community. What is being suggested is that rather than trying to control the non-Chareidi world, that as you instill your values in your children, you also teach them that they can disagree respectfully with the world around them. Teach them to understand that while your community has chosen to take on certain stringencies, that others have not. Make sure they know the difference between the letter of the law and an added stringency. Teach them that he who offers respect often earns respect.

And by the way, girls and women read those parsha sheets too. Having strong role models is an important way of reaching young women and including them in the community. Remembering a woman whose life was devoted the kind of values we are trying to instill in our daughters is important. Seeing her face, seeing her presence -- it makes her more real, more relatable, not merely some intangible idea....

Posted by: zahava | Jan 24, 2012 9:49:58 AM

I agree with what you wrote but I cannot see how it's relevant to this case. No chareidi forced MM to do what they did. It was a goodwill gesture on their part. They tried Motti offend chareidim. A d it's this gesture that YOU are attacking! Surely your own chinuch advise to me (which I agree with!) applies to the modern orthodox too? Surely you too can tolerate our values even when they clash with yours?

I do not expect MO organizations to be overly sensitive to chareidi chumros. But here we have a cases where they were and you are attacking g them!!

Posted by: Chareidi Chutznik | Jan 24, 2012 11:46:40 AM

"When I am davening in shul,I don;t want to see pictures of woman on the table."

So don't have them there. No one's forcing you.

In any event, do you want to ban every image of a woman in the world? Lordy, someone may put a copy of the Mona Lisa in front of you while you daven! Maybe ban women altogether!

Posted by: Nachum | Jan 24, 2012 3:40:17 PM

No Nachum. As I have tried unsuccessfully to explain, the people trying to BAN and engage in coercion here are the - normally mild mannered - modern orthodox. It is you (plural) trying to infringe on MM's rights and sensibilities. Exactly the same as the lunatic fringe of the chareidim, but in the opposite direction.

Posted by: Chareidi Chutznik | Jan 25, 2012 5:03:44 AM

"Exactly the same." Sure. Get back to me when I start spitting, throwing rocks, and passing legislation.

Posted by: Nachum | Jan 25, 2012 12:08:12 PM

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