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).
Photo Essay of Female Images Published in The Jewish Observer 1964-2009
-compiled by Sharon Shapiro, 2017