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Congratulations to Mishpacha Magazine! (but no, it’s not enough)

Mishpacha Magazine should be congratulated for taking steps in the right direction, but it's still not enough
Defaced Jerusalem billboard, November 6, 2017. (Courtesy, Laura Ben-David)
Defaced Jerusalem billboard, November 6, 2017. (Courtesy, Laura Ben-David)

This Spring, Mishpacha Magazine did something simple, respectful and normal. Something that was in perfect alignment with our mesorah. And yet, because we live in a distorted frum media culture, it was also remarkable. Mishpacha Magazine, which as a policy excludes women’s photos from its print publications, included photos of appropriately dressed women on its Facebook feed.

There was Nikki Haley posing with seminary girls. There was Mishpacha Magazine’s newest columnist, Alexandra Fleksher, speaking at a school. Heather Dean. Tali Goldberg. And then, tragically, the images of the 10 young women who perished in a flood in Israel.

It was extraordinary to witness these images published in the light of day, under Mishpacha Magazine’s banner. I sincerely thank Mishpacha Magazine and its editors for making it happen.

But this is not enough.

Including women’s photos on social media is a wonderful first step, but it must not be the last step. Here are just some of the reasons why:

  • Kavod Habriyos Is Not a “Sometimes” Mitzvah. Sometimes we sit in a sukkah. Sometimes we fast. Sometimes we feast. But that’s not how Kavod Habriyos works. You have to be kind and respectful to others ALL the time, not just when it’s most convenient. Being nice to me in shul doesn’t mean you are now free to insult me in the marketplace. Including me on social media does not allow you to exclude me on paper.
  • Faces Are Not for Sale: By saying pictures of women are kosher here (because men on the internet are more modern) and treif there (because men who might see magazines are more Haredi/Yeshivish) suggests that whether or not to include women’s photos is not based on halacha, but rather, it is being determined by marketing concerns; how to best brand a product for sale to different audiences.

Indeed, the Oorah organizations stated this publicly in their letter explaining their choice to remove women’s photos from their auction catalogue:

While we may not agree with it hashkafically, we recognize from a fundraising standpoint that it [including women’s photo’s] would turn off much of our donor base,” (See the full letter here.)

Put another way: many publications and organizations are deleting women’s images not for tznius reasons…but for a price. Images of our nashim tzidkaniot should not be for sale.

  • A Woman’s Place Is in the House… and in the Senate. A tznius, dignified woman is free to visit the grocery store or the shul; the boardroom or the kitchen; the workplace or the classroom. She can appear on Facebook or on printed pages. To suggest that images of women must be relegated to the Wild West of the internet and cannot be included in a frum publication that is carefully supervised by frum rabbonim and editors is bizzare.
  • Not Everyone Is On Social Media. Why should all those people who have made the (healthy!) decision avoid Facebook be denied images of female role models for their daughters? Why should their sons not be able to see the beautiful image of  mothers, fathers brothers and sisters sitting around the Shabbos table?
  • It Makes Us Seem Very, Very Silly. When asked about this issue by The Jewish Press in February 2018, Rav Hershel Schachter answered, “I think it’s a little silly, leaving out women as if women don’t exist in this world.”

He’s right. This weird, non-halachic photo policy has unintentionally led to some really silly and strange imagery: class pictures where the Morahs are invisible; families with a Daddy and Uncle, but no Mommy; decapitated fashion mannequins of girls that appear as if they just came out of a horror movie; and of course, many a dinner invitation where Mr. and Mrs. are honored but the Mrs. is nowhere to be seen.

Making a distinction between imagery in the digital space and the printed page is just one more item to add to this long list of “silly”. It requires a heaping dose of cognitive dissonance for it to make sense in our heads. Such absurdity makes our Torah way of life look silly to both ourselves, our children, and the larger world.

I hope Mishpacha Magazines’s Facebook feed can serve as a model for both its own print publications, and for all the frum community’s publications. I hope we all choose to stop the silliness.

Let’s put the women back in ALL frum media. Visit www.frumwomenhavefaces.com to learn more about how.

About the Author
Ann D. Koffsky is an Editor and Art Director at Apples and Honey Press. She is also an author and illustrator of more than 30 of her own books, including: Judah Maccabee Goes to the Doctor.
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