By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the FIVE TOWNS JEWISH TIMES
Last week, John Montone of 1010 WINS reported on the fact that the ten dollar bill is changing. The face of Alexander Hamilton will be gone, and in his stead will be the face of a woman. It seems that he reported his story on Twitter, and a number of people tweeted their views on the matter. One such person was a certain Shimmy Feldman who tweeted that Alexander Hamilton is a founding father and should remain on the ten dollar bill.
A curious observer may be wondering if that Shimmy Feldman really believed that we should not be shafting a founding father or whether he was a member of the growing number of people that feel a woman’s picture in print media is inappropriate in terms of Tz’nius. One only has to look at the “many faces” of Hillary Clinton in the Orthodox Jewish media to see that it is growing. And, one can wonder, what will the Orthodox Jewish media do in the event that Hillary Clinton wins.
Whenever an article about Hillary Clinton appears in the Orthodox media, we have seen either a picture of her husband Bill, her home in Chappaqua, a bumper sticker that says Hillary 2016, a picture of her campaign paraphernalia, and a few other choices. But soon they will run out of choices.
ARE THERE OPINIONS THAT FORBID?
But are there opinions in the vast ouevre of halachic writing that truly forbid men viewing pictures of women?
Believe it or not, there are. For those keeping up with the Daf HaYomi and are using the Mesivta Gemorah, they may have seen a fascinating write up in the Pnimim B’halacha section. The Gemorah in Nedarim (20a) explains that anyone who looks at women, in the end he will come to sin. The Ben Yehoyada asks that the looking itself is forbidden! Indeed, it is even considered Abizrahu of arayos! Why then does the Gemorah state, “in the end he will come to sin?” He further asks concerning the language of anyone who does so “excessively.” The Ben Yehoyada explains that this Gemorah is not referring to actually looking at the woman but rather it is referring to seeing her image. If he rationalizes looking at such images by saying he is not looking at her directly, he will end up actually gazing upon the woman herself.
It seems from the Ben Yehoyada that it is something that is highly discouraged, but not an out and out prohibition. Poskim in the Chassidish world are more adamant as to the prohibition involved in a man looking at a picture of a woman. Rav Yisroel Harpenes of Hisachdus HaRabbonim, in his sefer Yisroel Kedoshim (p. 125) writes that even when the woman is dressed in a completely modest fashion, the idea of a man gazing at a picture is entirely against halacha.
The Debreciner Rav (Be’er Moshe Vol. III #154 and Vol. IV 147:22) writes that when the pictures depict inappropriate images everyone agrees that it is completely forbidden. He buttresses this position from the Gemorah in Sanhedrin (36a) and the ruling of the Bach in a responsa (#17).
Notwithstanding the stringent view, the issue is subject to much halachic debate. Certainly, Jewish law, Halacha, singles out “ogling” as an out and out prohibition. Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:6 and 8) defines it as a full blown biblical prohibition. His position as explained by the Bais Shmuel (Even HoEzer 21:2) is that it violates the verse, “Do not go after your hearts and eyes.”
The Rambam also forbids it, but whether it is a biblical or Rabbinic prohibition is subject to debate. The Bais Shmuel and the Pnei Yehoshua (Even HoEzer Vol. II #44) both understand that the Rambam rules that it is forbidden only by Rabbinic decree. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe EH Vol. IV #60) rules that the Rambam’s view is that it is forbidden by Biblical decree just like the Rabbeinu Yonah position.
THE SECOND SOURCE
There is another source as well, other than the Gemorah in Nedarim. The Talmud in Avodah Zarah (20a and b) discusses the prohibition of histaklus – ogling. Since the close of the Talmud, however, halachic decisors have grappled as to the exact parameters of “Ogling.”
Once again, the exact term that the Talmud employs in its discussion is “Histaklus.” The question is do we define” histaklus” as looking, staring, or ogling? The translation is, of course, essential to understanding what would be prohibited.
The Sefer Chasidim (#99) discusses the parameters of “Histaklus” and says that Histaklus is more than just looking. It is looking intentionally for a long time and contemplating who she looks like or whom she is equal to in appearance. Rav Chaim Palagi in Re’eh Chaim (p. 13c) defines it in this manner as well. Thus the issue is a universal one – both Sefardic and Ashkenazic.
On the other hand, regarding other aspects of halacha, the SMA (Choshen Mishpat 154:14) writes that the term “Histaklus” can, in fact, mean mere looking. The Chida, and a few other Poskim a well, rule in accordance with this view that Histaklus means mere looking.
The Salmas Yoseph (Vol. I 22:6) also indicates that looking at a woman in a picture is considered as if he recognizes her. He does not forbid it, however.
Most Poskim seem to learn that it is, in fact, not halachically forbidden to look at pictures of women, but that it is strongly discouraged. It could very well be that in modern times where there are a plethora of images there really is no concern that someone will go beyond the pale of what is acceptable and start ogling. Nonetheless, since there are many opinions that understand the Talmudic text in tractate Avodah Zarah in a manner that forbids even looking, and that the Talmudic text in Nedarim is a strong recommendation, one should view them as scrupulously adhering to a valid halachic opinion.
Getting back to Alexander Hamilton, the founders of this country founded this great nation in order that people be free of religious discrimination. It is wrong for members of the media to poke fun of others because that is how they understand and translate their holy texts.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org