To The Daughter of the King,
In your last letter, you asked me a very important question: “Why does it bother you so much that women’s pictures do not appear in the FJJ? Why do you care?”
I can ask you the same question: Why do you care enough to write back to me?
And we can ask the same question of the many, many other letter writers who have been dialoging on this issue as well. Why do we all care? If it’s just a simple photo choice—isn’t that trivial? Why should we all be spending any time at all on this nahrishkeit?
I think we ALL care: me, the daughter of the king, and others, because we know that in fact it is NOT just a simple photo choice. It matters. What we choose to show or not show, include or not include, says something about our values and the culture of our community. It send messages to our children about those values, too.
Creating a new policy that women are not to be included visually in printed materials, no matter if they are dressed in a tznius fashion, is a critical and new decision that has long reaching ramifications. I have the impression that all the pros and cons of that decision have not been explored or thought about deeply enough in our community. And since it has so many far reaching consequences, many of which I have outlined in my previous letters…YES, I most certainly care.
But, I also think that I’ve fully expressed my thinking on the matter, and it’s time for me to sign off. I don’t want to overstay my welcome on these pages! Many thanks to the editorial board of the FJJ for allowing others to read my words. I hope this dialogue has raised awareness, prompted discussion, and has made us all “care” a little more about our culture and the choices we are all making for it.
Wishing all the readers of the FJJ a meaningful three weeks,
Ann D. Koffsky
PS The Daughter of the King mentioned that she found it compelling that the Jewish Observer had included photos of women. If anyone is interested in seeing this, I have begun A Photo Essay of Jewish Women. Simply search for my boards on Pinterest, and you can see it, and many other compelling images, there.
My intended response:
To the Daughter of the King,
Thank you for dialoging with me on this issue!
If you will indulge me, I’d like to respond your arguments from both your letters:
You suggest that by pointing to old Jewish artwork I am being disingenuous, since that was artwork, and we are discussing photos. You are correct; the Sarajevo artists who illuminated the famous 12th century Haggadah, for example, did not have photographs, so they used artwork. However, I have also mentioned that frum Jewish media has also always included photographs of women, including the Jewish Observer, the publication of the Agudah. Not showing images of women is a new idea, that began in the 1990s. (I believe that the first publication to do so in the US was the Yated.)
You quote Ruth Lichtenstein, saying there is a 1000s of year old tradition for this.
Yes, there is 1000s year old tradition for us to be modest. However, not including women is NOT part of our tradition; it is a brand -spanking new policy.
You point out that men have the obligation of shmiras anayim.
Yep.The Gemara even says that men may not gaze upon even a small finger of a woman. Yet, there is no halacha that women wear gloves; we show our provocative fingers out in public all the time! Perhaps that is because men have a responsibility; Women do NOT have to wear gloves, but men still have to not gaze at their fingers.
Honestly? I really think that most of our men are strong enough to handle the challenge of seeing a modestly dressed woman at the grocery store, and a modestly dressed woman in the newspaper. Don’t you? (If not, we gotta all get us some burqas…)
You suggested that showing our outstanding women like Sara Shenirer would be OK as inspiration, but does not apply to women today, since no one today is as impressive.
Here I must disagree with you most strenuously! Do you really think there are no amazing women out there today? Really? You must meet some more Jewish women; we have a wealth of riches! Are any of them as amazing as Sara Shenirer? Probably not, that’s a high bar. But why should we deny our kids today’s great role models?
You quoted the classic saying, that “The dignity of the daughter is to remain concealed in her palace”, not ogled by all and sundry. You also cited Sara as a role model, for choosing to be in the tent.
I simply do not think that in our society, a woman must stay home all the time. It is tznius, and entirely OK for women to enter the public sphere if their dress is appropriate. They can be tznius, AND walk outside, enter the workforce, drive carpool, go to school, deliver food to the hungry, teach in our schools, run a gemach…and appear on the pages of the FJJ.
Yes, Sara was in the tent, and she is an amazing example. But, Devorah was under the palm tree, serving as judge. She is an exceptional example, too. Our Torah has given us an amazingly diverse group of women in roles, both public and private, as models. How wonderful that we have so many choices of how to serve Hashem!
Thank you again for taking the time to dialogue with me,
Daughter of a Rabbi and Rebbetzin