Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Faces of women in public and Jewish law

What is the halachic (Jewish Law’s) basis for a ban on pictures of women’s heads in some ultra-Orthodox minds? This must be the result of extreme piety that Haredi Jews must aim for. But is it?

Jewish women should, Jewish law dictates, not dance or sing in public. Except in front of women-only audiences or her own close family members (husband when they are not separated for the month and she didn’t return to the ritual bath yet, father, sons) and not show too much flesh or coiffure — if they’re married. But even the most pious of them don’t walk around veils — except as a bride (free crying, some privacy) and the “Taliban Mother” and other Haredi burka sect members, which is not the Haredi norm. But why not? If going the extra mile is pious, why not have very dedicated women cover their faces?

I learned why from my teacher Rabbi Zeev Leff, chief rabbi of Matisyahu.

Why do we insist on women covering enough leg and arm (and married ones enough head hair) but don’t expect them to go veiled? And why don’t we put pets in clothes if showing the body would be filthy nudity, unwanted provocation? (Except in places where animals wear clothing — there the people go around naked — he quipped. He first worked in Miami.)

First of all, know that Judaism doesn’t see sex as coarse. Sexuality is a beautiful thing. It’s even a holy encounter. The inner walls of the Holy of Holiest had pictures of unclothed couples “in intimate embrace” symbolizing the deep connection between the Jewish people and G^d.

So, sex should be reserved for special circumstances not because it’s dirty but because it’s holy. Don’t squander it. And to show that we’re not animals run by instincts but rather creatures who can say “no” or “later.”

Back to why Judaism teaches that women should cover up but not veil themselves. Many men cannot see the soul, personality in a woman when she’s showing off too much body. And like you don’t scream in front of a very sensitive person, it’s not bad for women to take others into account and have a modest way to dress. It builds good character.

Self-respecting women like to be recognized, love to be seen for who they are, not for their body parts. (Don’t blame women who succumbed to sexism and now think that their bodies are their best merchandise. We should not blame the victim.) To dress up so that men less can dress them down with their eyes and may see the person(ality) instead. Animals don’t need to be covered up. Their nudity doesn’t eclipse their soul.

Good for Muslims to abandon alcohol and good for Haredi Jews for banning pornographic body parts from ads. But here we’re not talking about body parts. We’re talking faces. If you’d want to ban women’s faces it seems that you want to see women only for their bodies.

Then there are Jews who think that all women should rule their homes but have no power in public because that would be unbecoming for the female soul. Guess what, Western society has moved on and this vision has been defeated forever. What these proponents could do is point out that total equality between the sexes is untrue and mere pretense and that we should honor the differences — but not by suppressing women.

They should learn the wisdom behind their daily blessing that G^d didn’t make us women; it’s to help us not be consumed by jealousy. Because when men face reality, how could we not be deeply jealous of them?

There are two more reasons why some people would avoid portraits.

Some people hang their house full of headshots of one or many rabbis because children behave when strangers are around. Their piousness might also inspire the onlooker. But some very pious Jews believe just the opposite, that it’s immodest to look at saints’ faces. When they paint biblical stories, you won’t see the facial details. They would not claim to be able to portray such holiness. Like in Islam — but don’t tell them.

Or maybe, anything female reminds some men of sex and they try to cover up an immodest oversexed brain by taking away women from the public sphere. They need medical attention but they won’t go. (Many aren’t oversexed but peer pressure makes them support this.) Anything female is sex is dirty. Like classical Christianity. But don’t tell them.

Israel needs a tongue-in-cheek civil law that allows men to ban women from the public eye only to Muslim and Christian men. That may teach self-styled pious Jews what they look like when they want that too.

About the Author
The author is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (DES - Diethylstilbestrol), born in 1953 to two Dutch Holocaust survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a vegan for 8 years now. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo and Rav Zev Leff. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science, Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Many people can't understand or like him because he has such a wide vision that he never fits any specialist's box. But that exactly what others love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. * He likes doing age-appropriate and age-inappropriate things and looks forward to getting to know his timeless mature out-of-the-box soul mate. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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