Carol Green Ungar

Calm Down Shoshana, We Haven’t All Been Erased

These days there is a popular perception that Haredi Jews are one step behind the Taliban. No, we don’t wear burkhas — not last I checked but we do erase women from print media–sometimes.

Yes, it is frustrating to read about a notable woman and be unable to see her face but there is another side to this. Some men don’t look at women at all–other than their wives, daughters, and granddaughters — to protect themselves from lewd thoughts, and of course lewd behaviors. These men also deserve our support. Yes, I know that is an extreme position.

And it’s not the whole picture. On its website, the Mishpacha shows the female face and form, modesty clad of course. Other Haredi media outlets especially the online ones do as well.

Artscroll, the leading Haredi publishing company publishes biographies of leading women with their faces smiling from the dust jackets and many photos of them inside too. So does Feldheim.

My most recent book, a children’s biography of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis was published by Menucha Classroom solutions, another leading Haredi publisher. It’s full of images of the outspoken female protagonist, illustrated in this case because that’s the book’s esthetic.

Most Jews over a certain age can still remember that wintry night back in 1973 when the Rebbetzin, her sheitel on her head, covered from head to toe took the stage at Madison Square Garden to implore the Jewish people to return to G-d.

If Haredi women are supposed to be invisible then how did she get away with that?  She did what all Torah observant Jews must do before embarking on a potentially controversial endeavor–she sought rabbinical guidance.

And who did she go to? In today’s polarized climate her real-life story almost seems like a fairy tale but the Rebbetzin’s MSG speech was blessed by Rabbi JB Soloveitchik of Yeshiva University,  and three leading Haredi Rabbis–Moses Feinstein, Joseph Eliyahu Henkin, and the famously ultra-conservative anti-Zionist Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum.

They knew that she’d be speaking to a mixed audience, that she’d be interviewed and photographed in the press but they recognized that the Rebbetzin’s motives were purely for the sake of Heaven and unsullied by ego.

It’s unlikely that the Taliban would have allowed a Rebbetzin Jungreis to come forward from their ilk, but that’s the beauty of halacha. It is a living and breathing system with laws applied to facts on the ground.

As we can see from the Rebbetzin Jungreis story, when an orthodox woman needs to be in the headlines she can be.

Just a few months back dozens of orthodox women responded to the hashtag #Myorthodoxlife by posting images of themselves doing all wild, wacky, and halachically acceptable things, countering Julia Haart’s Netflix series “My Unorthodox Life.”

They wanted to show the world that the Orthodox lifestyle isn’t a jail. It was a spontaneous protest to defend the dignity of all orthodox women and it was a success.

Now there’s a new initiative afoot, a photo bank of orthodox women. This was allegedly done to combat erasure and allow orthodox women and girls to feel good about themselves but is this really true?  Who is this photo bank for? Who will be the clientele? The Haredi “erasers” are unlikely to show any interest and the more liberal media have no trouble accessing photos of orthodox females. So why do this?

If the project is for the sake of Heaven then may it be blessed. And if it’s not?

A group that calls itself Hochmat Nashim should be smart enough to know what to do.

About the Author
Carol Ungar is a prize-winning author who writes from the Judean Hills.
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