Calling Out Absurd Notions of Frumkeit

Chava, Sarah, Rivkah, Leah, Rachel, Tamar, Yocheved, Miriam, Devorah, Ruth, Naomi, Batsheva, all have something in common. They are all heroines of either the Torah, Nevi’im or Kesuvim (Tanach). I mention all these names in the hope that a bolt of lightning doesn’t come down from heaven and strike me down.

‘What’s that,’ you ask? Why in Heaven’s name would I think mentioning these names from Tanach would cause God to be angry at me? Well, by mentioning the first names of women, I might come to improper sexual thoughts.

Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Not so fast. It isn’t ridiculous if you are the publisher of the Israeli Hamodia. They seem to feel that mentioning any woman’s first name will cause men to sin. So they simply don’t do it. From JTA:

HaModia’s list of the new government’s ministers omitted the women ministers’ first names. So while it listed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, for example, it noted only Justice Minister Ms. Shaked.

Whew! Saved by a clever editor at Hamodia.

The sad thing is that this isn’t just some idiotic editor of a newspaper being ridiculous on his own. This seems to be the mindset of an entire community of religious Jews. Their rabbinic leaders have apparently determined  that seeing a female name in print can potentially cause a man to sin.

Once you plant that thought into the minds of people who are concerned about modesty, they may actually see these names as erotic. It has apparently been imprinted on their brains from earliest childhood to associate female names with erotic thoughts. So that when they see such a name they might easily have one.

Eroticism has some near universal applications. There are images and words (erotic literature) that are erotic to virtually any civilized society no matter how permissive or strict. But there are words and images that are erotic only to those that have been indoctrinated to see them that way. People will have an erotic response to things they see based on the culture in which they live. My guess is for example that in Muslim countries where woman wear burkas that covers even their faces, the exposure of a face may generate erotic thoughts in men.

In their own way this is apparently the case with the people Hamodia serves. They are sensitive to things that the Torah itself is not sensitive to. Like publishing the names of women. Their approach to reading these names is an extreme reaction to matters of Tznius that goes well beyond even Chumra. A reaction that is constantly being reinforced throughout their lives. They might even wonder why the rest of Orthodox Jewry doesn’t see that. Or believe that when we do see it, that we are in denial about what are innermost thoughts really are.

One might say that Hamodia and like minded publications have the right to whatever standard they feel is appropriate. And the right to treat their publications that way. I wholeheartedly agree. But I have a right to ridicule it – if I see it as harmful to the fabric of our people.

Why ridicule and not simply protest? Because that is a normal reaction by normal people. A reaction the vast majority of the civilized world would have to considering female first names too erotic to publish. That is so abnormal – that it makes Judaism an object of ridicule. Unless those of us in Orthodoxy with any degree of sanity ridicule it right along with them. It is no Mitzvah to go to extremes so beyond the pale that the word Chumra doesn’t even apply. So extreme that it makes us look foolish.

Sure, we are obligated to follow Halacha even if it makes us look ridiculous in the eyes of the world. But if we start making things up that look ridiculous in the eyes of the world –  things which make people laugh at Judaism, then in my view they are not serving God. They are serving the notion that their views are holier than anyone else’s – even within Orthodoxy.

I have no issue with how much Frumkeit they want to embrace. They can be as ‘Frum’ as they want internally. I could not care less. But when a (non)Chumra like this one hits the media, and makes us look ridiculous, they have crossed a line from Frum to foolish. They gain nothing spiritual at all (except perhaps in their own minds), for if that were a value at any level, the Torah would not have ever mentioned any female names.

And all of this doesn’t even touch the foolishness of blurring out the faces of women in a group photograph of the Israeli  Prime Minster and his new cabinet ministers seen on the Charedi website B’Chadrei Charedim (…now there’s an oxymoron -‘Charedi website’) while allowing the rest of their bodies to be shown. (See above)

So even while they have a right to be as foolish as they want in private, when they do it in the public square, I have the right – and maybe even an obligation – to point out how foolish they are in public too.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.