Monday, December 6, 2021

Frum Women are now fighting against Frum Magazines that "Erase women"

Miriam Marizan

 When Miriam Marizan spent four hours on a recent chilly morning being photographed smiling and laughing at flowers, she was sending a message: Orthodox Jewish women belong in the picture.

Yet, as important as participating in the photoshoot was to her, she felt it was even more important for her two young daughters.

“I don’t want them to grow up in a world where they have to disappear,” Marizan said. “I want them to be able to see photographs of Orthodox women and not wonder why [there are no girls and women] older than six or seven in photographs.”

The Baltimore resident is one of hundreds of Orthodox women taking part in the compilation of the Jewish Life Photo Bank. The brainchild of Chochmat Nashim, an organization advocating for Orthodox women’s rights, the project aims to build a vast digital library of stock photos depicting Orthodox women doing everyday things. Beyond the practical nature of the project, it speaks to something larger — ending the erasure of women from much of ultra-Orthodox public life.

While some streams of Orthodoxy in and out of Israel welcome photos of women dressed in culturally appropriate attire, much of the ultra-Orthodox world eschews all portrayals of women in news media, advertising and art. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel and onetime US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton haven’t been immune to the ultra-Orthodox censorship and have been infamously airbrushed out of media coverage.

“This extremist practice of erasing women has become normalized and it has real consequences,” Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, co-founder of Chochmat Nashim, said in a telephone interview from Israel. “Health clinics won’t show women’s photos. Banks and ads for laundry detergents don’t show women. Some Shabbos cookbooks won’t even show mothers and daughters. So we are starting to put women back in the picture.”

The project, to which The Times of Israel was an early subscriber, went live several weeks ago. So far it has over 600 photographs in more than 30 categories including working, gardening, Torah learning, changing tires, reading with family, birthdays and weddings.

The idea for the photo bank grew from a 2019 post in a Facebook group, where women professionals in marketing and communications were discussing the dearth of stock images of Modern Orthodox women with their hair covered and engaged in normal, daily activities. Searches for such images tended to result in photos of Hasidic men, Muslim women, wig-wearing cancer patients, or nuns. While Modern Orthodoxy does not prohibit publishing photos of women, it seemed that few had taken the initiative to actually photograph them until now.

“I realized to keep asking for help from Jewish leadership to change policies is a waste of time. It was time to do what needed to be done,” Keats Jaskoll said. “I’m not asking anymore. I’m doing.”

Keats Jaskol

The slide toward this extreme view of modesty, or shmirat einayim — “guarding one’s eyes” from seeing people or things that might tempt one, particularly men, to sin — started in more extreme religious circles, Keats Jaskoll said. Over time, it became normalized to the point that businesses and Orthodox publications started refusing to show women’s pictures.

“It goes beyond Orthodox publications. If you Google ‘Orthodox Jew’ you get pictures of Hasidic men with payot [sidelocks]. Almost every single photo is of a man; you have to scroll pretty far to find a picture of a woman,” said Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, an educator from Baltimore who has studied the issue. “And so you have the internet as a whole erasing Orthodox women.”

Klein said she recently received a fundraising circular for childhood cancer that only showed pictures of boys. Religious institutions asked women to keep their cameras off during Zoom calls, brochures replaced photos of female speakers with pictures of plants, and in Keats Jaskoll’s neighborhood in Israel flyers with women’s faces were defaced.

Yona Openden, a photoshoot coordinator for the Jewish Life Photo Bank, said opposition to photographs of women and young girls comes from a false understanding of the laws of tzniut, or modesty.

“We always say a picture speaks a thousand words. I wonder how many thousands of words disappear when women are left out,” Openden said. “I understand a personal decision not to be photographed, but that decision should not and cannot come from a false understanding of tzniut. Our faces and images are not inherently not tzniut.”

While the women posing for the Jewish Life Photo Bank are indeed Orthodox, it appears that they aren’t coming from the ultra-Orthodox communities who need the photos most — at least, not yet.

Based in Baltimore, Openden has so far coordinated two photoshoots. There have also been photoshoots in Long Island and Riverdale, New York. In Israel, more than 200 women gathered for two events that took place in Jerusalem, one in Talpiot and the other just outside the Old City.

Women pretended to read to their children, work at computers and exercise. Some wore bridal gowns and formal wear. Some used power tools and others, like Chana Bernstein Arnold, cooked.

“There aren’t many photos that show men and women cooking together. It’s usually the woman cooking and the man is out and about. So I thought let art imitate life and bring my husband along,” Bernstein Arnold said.

The couple, who enjoy making curry in real life, spent the morning pretending to cook.

Bernstein Arnold said she did it because girls and boys, women and men, need to see Orthodox women in a variety of roles.

“What are we teaching our daughters if they don’t see women? If we don’t show photos of girls and women, then we are showing there is no space for women. And that has unhealthy consequences for the way little boys perceive women as well,” Bernstein Arnold said.

That’s partly what led Yitzi Diskind to be photographed with his wife and two daughters in a Riverdale, Bronx, playground and synagogue.

“We both agree women shouldn’t be erased from Orthodox life. And if you are trying to find stock photo options, you will see a lot of stereotypes. The more representation the better,” he said.

New photographs are uploaded daily and visitors to the website can submit requests for pictures they want to see featured. Photographers and individuals can also contribute high resolution images. Images can be downloaded from the photo bank for $5 each and a full-site, one year access pass is available for a limited time for $125.

“We need a healthy representation of Orthodox family life and communal life. If we have no pictures of Orthodox women then we have no role models — and you can’t be what you can’t see,” Klein said.


Anonymous said...

Which Daas Torah was consulted

Anonymous said...

Every Frum Jewish Family has pictures of their Mothers and sisters to see what Jewish woman and role Models look like
The question is do men from other families need to see pictures of these women


Dusiznies said...

What is "Daas Torah?"

You are an idiot .

Anonymous said...

What is "Daas Torah?"

Just because they are crazy kanoyim does not mean you have to dismiss daas Torah when it does apply in real, non-contrived scenarios.

Olderjew said...

Not everything is daas Torah. Let us give some credit that on many things we can make our own decisions and not have to consult with someone else.

Unknown said...

That's not an answer. Try replying with logic

Anonymous said...

I only see MO women. this sounds like preaching to the converted. they need to have frum yeshivish heimish women to make a point.

Sabra65 said...

"Daas Torah" is meaningless. What defines it. Who defines it.
Who falls into that category? We all (most of us) follow a rav
who helps us and many of them have differences of opinion.
Just because one rav has a longer beard or funky payos that double
as ear muffs doesnt make him smarter. I choose NOT to follow those
that choose every chumra.

Anonymous said...

How do you decide what requires Daas Torah and what doesn't

Voice of reason said...

Guess these chashuva ladies don't understand Hebrew, as it should be called Tzuras noshim, no
chochma there

Meir said...

Artscroll biographies show photos of women - usually Rebbitzens and daughters. So the practice is allowed amongst the very Orthdox