The Jewish Observer – Ahead of Its Time

I recently reread a 2015 Haaretz article by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt entitled, Inside the World of ultra-Orthodox Media: Haredi Journalists Tell It Like It Is that had an interesting interview with Mishpacha magazine’s news editor Binyamin Rose. In the article, Rose justified the exclusion of women’s images in his magazine by saying – 

“This is how we avoid the objectification of women,” Rose answers to me in an earlier meeting. “Our policy is that we do not alter pictures as they are. If there is a woman in a photograph, we’ll simply use another picture.”

“I can only put it like this,” he says. “Based on community standards, there are constraints for our work.”

“Mishpacha isn’t going to be the first to introduce women into the magazine. If the standards were to change, it’s a subject that can be reconsidered. But I don’t like to make predictions. Today, a significant readership would object to images of women – we won’t break ranks with them.”

The good news is that Mishpacha doesn’t have to be the first to introduce women into Orthodox magazines – there has already been a trailblazer in this arena – The Jewish Observer, an Orthodox magazine published by Agudath Israel of America from 1963-2009. Since The Jewish Observer already set this precedent, maybe it will be easier for magazines such as Mishpacha to reverse their policy about including women’s photos in their publications.  

Below are examples of photos from The Jewish Observer (keep in mind that the early years of the magazine had mostly text content and very few images in general, and due to the photo quality you have to squint to see some images).  

I love seeing these photos; even the advertisement drawings.  They bring to life what women and girls of these previous generations were like and what sorts of things they did, what they thought, what they bought, and what styles they wore. I only wish there were more images to look through. 

Just think of the vital history that’s already been lost and that continues to be lost every day since ultra Orthodox media has eliminated female images! It’s not only the images, but once you cut out the image, the magazines tend to cut out the women themselves.  

For example, in 1985 The Jewish Observer did a cover story on Selma Mayer, known as Schwester Selma.  She was the head nurse at the original Shaare Zedek Hospital on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem for nearly 50 years. For many years she was the right-hand assistant of the hospital’s founding director, Dr. Moshe Wallach. It’s hard to imagine how an ultra Orthodox paper would profile such a woman today, without using any photos.  Most current magazines probably wouldn’t run large stories on modern day heroines – precisely because of the picture problem. Hence, women are being left out of Jewish history in a major way.

Along those same lines, based on The Jewish Observer’s trend in photos, because women are left out of the general narrative, these female-free publications morph into “men’s magazines,” written from a man’s lens, even though they are marketed as family publications.  This means that women aren’t portrayed as autonomous individuals, but solely as daughters, brides, wives, and mothers.  The lack of complete coverage paints a false picture that the only roles for females in Orthodox society are as children or as whatever relationship they are to a boy/man – because women are only discussed and visually represented (in drawings or blurred photos) in these capacities. 

The evolution of these photos from 1964-2009 is quite remarkable.  The heyday decades for women’s photos seem to be from the mid 70s to the mid 90s.  The turn of the century marked the gradual erasure of women from The Jewish Observer.  If anyone knows of a major public prohibition against women’s photos from a prominent rabbi or organization from the turn of the century, please enlighten me.  Perhaps competing publications started that banned female images and The Jewish Observer felt they had to follow suit or lose revenue?  I hope you find these images as interesting as I did.

Edited to add – here is an anonymous letter to the editor from 1992 criticizing The Jewish Observer for publishing photos of females in its pages.  The anonymity speaks volumes, as this female-free policy seems to have no direct attribution to any Torah authority (if there is a direct attribution to be made, he/they don’t make it easy to find their names or quotes).


-letter hat tip Fred MacDowell on Facebook

Photo Essay of Female Images Published in The Jewish Observer 1964-2009

-compiled by Sharon Shapiro, 2017






















Advertisements

Is modesty intended for G-d Almighty or the Almighty Dollar?


It occurred to me, as I read about the “tznius wars” between various frum magazine publishers – each trying to equal, as well as one up each other in frumkeit, lest they lose valuable advertising and sponsorship dollars – that women are paying through the nose just to be erased. Not just in expensive frum magazine subscriptions (seriously, have you seen a yearly subscription fee to these magazines?), but I get pop up ads on Facebook every day advertising for specialty modesty clothing, all usually quite a bit more expensive than items found in general department stores.

While it’s true that Amazon and internet-only shops without brick and mortar overhead costs have brought the cost of tznius clothing down a bit, the evolution of new chumros guarantee the continuation of women needing to purchase specialty clothing or be required to bring off the rack department store clothing for expensive tailoring to meet these standards.

The other day, yet another Facebook ad for a $100 tznius bathing suit sale popped up in my feed, and I can’t help but wonder what our mothers and grandmothers did without bathing burkas? I know that going swimming isn’t a new invention. What did they do without the plethora of basement businesses importing the latest expensive tznius fashions from the basement businesses of New York?

For sure, there are women making money off of the 21st century stringencies – whether clothing, wigs, or publishing magazines for women, without women shown in them. It isn’t only men who have a stake in oversexualizing women to the point where even our names can’t be mentioned. Until we express our displeasure in a way that targets the benefactors of the hyper tznius system where it hurts – their wallets – women will continue to be erased. Until publications lose advertisers and subscriptions, and until women stop running to buy items that adhere to the latest modesty chumra of the day, women will continue to be erased and covered into oblivion.

A Facebook group devoted to putting women’s images back into frum publications challenged members to write about why they won’t subscribe to magazines, like Mishpacha, with such policies.

I wrote that Mishpacha makes its money off of a female audience that it sees fit to continually diminish and disrespect by not including their images in its pages.

Magazines like Mishpacha with “no women’s images” policies are complicit in the growing erasure of women from frum public society – and in their case it’s purely for financial gain – their “religious” objections are a perversion of Halacha.

Just as I would never financially support the pornography industry that sexually objectifies women in order to make a buck by exposing their naked bodies, nor will I support any religious media that likewise objectifies women by over sexualizing them to the point that even their faces and modestly clothed bodies are forbidden to look upon.

At their core, both pornographers and the ultra orthodox press are the same – making money by promoting an agenda of exploitation and objectification of women.

There was another challenge in the same Facebook group that asked people to make memes about the exclusion of women and girls in orthodox media – which is why I made the meme accompanying this post.

I don’t know if “Mishpacha Masks” has any affiliation with Mishpacha magazine, or if this was just a single flyer for an independent store, but that isn’t the crux of the issue – the issue is that this erasure is happening and companies are selling products because people are beginning to approve of businesses that are too frum to show the faces of little girls – it makes them feel uber pious to patronize a store like that.

Erasing girls and women is like a hechsher that all the costumes in that shop will of course be “kosher.” People like to be seen as adhering to the strictest of standards, and if a business, organization, or magazine doesn’t show women, that’s a sign of its yichus.

Business-wise, it’s common sense that until people start boycotting female-free publications and competitors show up who do feature women, things won’t change.  As things stand, women business owners are at a clear disadvantage when men can show their faces and they can’t. Like it or not, people want to see who they will be working with – a male realtor with a photo will probably get more calls than a female realtor represented by a house logo. Also, if names are ambiguous it might not even be clear that a female business owner is even female without a photo (which could make a difference if a woman is searching for a female doctor, therapist, etc.).

I experienced a similar disorientation yesterday reading a recent Mishpacha article that had a man’s photo near the byline, and because I skipped over the author’s name assuming the man in the photo was the author – I missed the fact that the author was actually a woman (they have since changed the photo, but here is the image link in its original form)

This speaks to a larger issue of women not getting the credit they deserve – of men being the face of humanity and taking ownership of the works and talents contributed by women – as husband’s faces are shown to represent wives who have won awards, and little boys are shown celebrating holidays with no girls to be found, and grooms are engaged to nameless women in marriage announcements.

Photos are just the initial representation of women losing their personhood altogether, only existing as the invisible support network – ghost writers if you will – of a male dominated society that plagiarizes their contributions and charges them for a copy to boot.