Shidduch Pictures and Halacha

21

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shid[By Rabbi Yair Hoffman]

“I hope you don’t mind, but the boy’s mother would like to see a picture of your daughter.”

“Look, kn’ayin horah, my son is a big masmid and he values his time. I know what he is looking for and I need to see a picture. Of course my husband and son will not look at the picture – it is just for me.”

“Sorry, no matter how pretty you say the girl is, I need to see a picture before my son dates her. Period.”

Of late, the statements appearing above have been more and more common in the complex world of shidduchim. Mothers have taken on a more pro-active role, not only in approving of the girl that her son will be dating, but in actually pre-approving the potential daughter-in-law’s physical appearance.

The question is what is the Torah perspective on this new trend?

THE CHEBINER RAV’S VIEW

Rav Avrohom Meisels in his “Der Oitzer fun Nissuin” cites a fascinating precedent regarding the Chebiner Rav, Rav Dov Berish Veidenfeld zt”l. A shadchan approached him with a shidduch for his daughter with a young man from a distant town, but mentioned that the other side wanted a picture of the Chebiner Rav’s daughter. The Chebiner Rav responded in writing to the shadchan with a message to the other side, “Lo y’aseh kain bimkomeinu, lasais haTzurah lifnei haBechira.. – This shall not be done in our place, to give the Tzurah [the appearance of the girl – i.e. a photograph = pronounced BTW in the Chasidish havarah as Tzirah] before the Bechira – (Chassidish pronounciation for Bachura) the young lady.” The Chebiner devised a clever play on words using Tzurah – photograph, instead of Tze’irah – younger one referencing Lavan’s response to Yaakov Avinu in Bereishis 29:26, however, he did respond with a very clear message: This is clearly not something that Jewish people should be doing and is very far from the Torah way of life.

THE PELEH YOETZ

Shlomo HaMelech tells us in Mishlei (31:30), “sheker hachein v’hevel hayofi – Charm is a lie and beauty is vain, rather the G-d-fearing woman is to be praised..” The Peleh Yoetz explains that Shlomo HaMelech is not saying that we should ignore all beauty – rather that the main criterion for marriage should be whether the woman has fear of Heaven. It is clear that a categorical demand to see a picture – perforce reveals that the person’s inner yardstick emphasizes shallow appearances over all else. The attractiveness of the young lady can be ascertained by asking around rather than by demanding to see a picture.

TU B’AV

Rav Yaakov Galinsky zt”l once asked a question regarding Tu b’Av. Tu B’Av is when the daughters of Yerushalayim all gathered in borrowed white clothing to find shidduchim and recited the pasuk of “sheker haChein” to the gathering men. Rav Galinsky zatzal asked, “How was it that this event was so successful in finding shidduchim for so many people? Shidduchim, in general, takes such a long time!”

Rav Galinsky answered that the purpose of each girl wearing borrowed white clothing was to demonstrate that beauty in charm is all vanity and deceit and unimportant – rather, the true essence of happiness in marriage is fear of Heaven. That is why they refused to adorn themselves in fancy clothing and attire. When people are self-absorbed in themselves, as in the overemphasis on looks and appearances, then shidduchim are slower and more difficult. However, explained Rav Galisnky zt”l, when people do have the proper values and emphasis, shidduchim happen almost instantaneously, like in the Tu B’Av of old.

Rav Galinsky’s point can possibly be seen in a growing counter-trend. More and more people are saying, “No” to a young man whose mother is so insistent on a picture. “It’s not that I minded sending a picture,” remarked one father of a Five Towns area girl, “but why should my daughter be subjected to such a shallow or over-bearing mother-in-law?”

POSKIM WHO FORBID GAZING

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. While there is no prohibition in only a woman looking at such a picture, we would be deceiving ourselves if we did not agree that it is likely that the picture would get into the hands of the young man.

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.”

Maimonides 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 SOURCE

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 20a and b) is one of the primary sources that discusses the prohibition. Since the close of the Talmud, halachic decisors have grappled as to the exact parameters of “Ogling.”

The exact term that the Talmud employs in its discussion is “Histaklus.” The question is do we define” histaklus” as a] looking, b] staring, or c] ogling? Also, is there a debate about the term in the actual halachic sources?

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 is equal to in appearance. Rav Chaim Palagi in Re’eh Chaim (p. 13c) defines it in this manner as well.

On the other hand, regarding other issues, 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.

THE PASSAGE IN THE TALMUD

The aforementioned passage in the Talmud states that it is forbidden to “stare” at an attractive woman, even if she is single. If she is a married woman, it is forbidden to stare at her even if she is ugly. The Talmud then asks how it could be that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel, while once entering the Temple mount, recited a verse in Tehillim when he saw an attractive woman. The Talmud answers that it must have been that he ran into her while turning a corner and thus did not notice that he was about to meet up with her.

It is noted that the Talmud’s response is that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel met her after turning a corner. The Talmud did not answer that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel merely did not have intent to derive pleasure from seeing her, or that he was just “looking” but not “staring.” The implication is that there may indeed exist some sort of prohibition of “looking” even if one is not deriving pleasure.

One may also ask if the same prohibition would apply in a photograph as in live. The Poskim do deal with viewing it through a mirror or other medium. Rav Palaji (in Responsa Shma Avrohom #46 cited by Rav Ovadiah Yoseph in Yechave Daas 4:7) rules that it does. Rav Yoseph Chaim Zonnenfeld is cited as someone who is more lenient and differentiates between a picture and a live person if there is no chance that it could bring one to improper thoughts.

THE MORE LENIENT VIEW

The Shulchan Aruch (EH 65:1) however, writes that it is forbidden to look at women who are laundering. This prohibition is found in tractate Bava Basra 57b. The reason is that while they are laundering, parts of the body that are normally covered are sometimes exposed. The Shulchan Aruch does not, herein, state a categorical prohibition against looking at women.

This would seem to contradict the simple implication of the paragraph in Avodah Zarah 20b. It seems from this passage in Shulchan Aruch that there is no issue of looking at women – as long as they are not in a state of compromised dress.

How then would Rabbi Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, explain our Gemorah? It must be that the Talmud felt that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel’s recitation of the verse in Tehillim implied that it was a “deeper looking” than mere regular looking. The Gemorah could not answer that he was not benefitting from seeing her, because he saw fit to recite the laudatory verse from Tehillim, “Mah Rabu Maasecha,Hashem – How wondrous are your works.” [See Igros Moshe OC I #40].

THE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION

There seem to be two reasons cited as to why the prohibition of Histaklus exists. One is that it may lead to illicit and improper thoughts. This reason is actually stated in the Mishna Torah of Maimonides. Another reason found in the Poskim is that the mere deriving of pleasure in viewing someone who is not one’s wife is wrong.

Many of the Chassidisha Poskim rule that when young men look at a picture to see whether the young lady is attractive, it is more likely that the look will be deeper than the regular looking that would occur during a live date.

TZELEM ELOKIM

Another rationale as to why the asking to see a picture should be stopped is that it demeans and cheapens the young lady under discussion. Each human being was created in the Divine Image, and to debase a Bas Yisroel in such a fashion runs counter to many fundamental yesodos in Yiddishkeit.

CONTEMPORARY POSKIM

What do contemporary Poskim say about this practice of asking for pictures?

Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita, was not happy when he heard of this growing practice and responded, “Why are we making things more difficult? There is a certain chein that young ladies have that often does not come across in a photograph, and can only be seen in person. We are making the shidduch crisis worse with these new requirements.” He did not forbid it from a halachic perspective, but he was clearly very much against it.

Rav Moshe Heinemann, Shlita of Baltimore, when consulted by this author on the question, responded, “I do not think that it is within the framework of tznius for a girl to give a picture out where others can possibly see it. This is not with the ruach of Torah.” Rav Shmuel Fuerst, a Dayan in Chicago stated, “This wasn’t the mehalech for doros, and I think it is lacking in tznius. I don’t think it is a proper hanhagah and, besides, a picture can be very deceiving.”

The author can be reached at [email protected]

ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY 5TJT




21 COMMENTS

  1. Not endorsing the practice but as part of the halachic discussion one must include that looking at her to make sure he likes her looks is a part of the dating process (as the Gemara Kiddushin 41a says: Assur to marry her until he sees her, as he should be attracted to her).
    To lomdusize it (as heard from a Rosh Yeshiva)
    Looks are not a part of what you look for, but it is a meakev)

  2. This is one of the articles that I fully agree with Rabbi Hoffman.

    It should be further note that it is even far worse, for many of the same reasons outlined above, to print women’s pictures in our newspapers and magazines. B”H the true frum publications do not allow it’s publication.

    Now let’s rid ourselves of this virus called shidduch pictures.

  3. @ujm
    What do you mean one of the articles you agree with??
    Its fully quoted from poskim of previous and of our days. How can you possibly argue??

  4. I find asking for pictures to be shallow and distasteful. How foolish for a mother to pass on a possible perfect mate for her son because at first glance it wasn’t his (or her) “look”. However, if this is now a trend, Shadchanim need to also back up mothers of girls -like myself- who ask for a picture of the boy. I see no reason why only the boy can choose based on a picture.

  5. With no disrespect to Rabbi Hoffman, I do not understand the whole shakla v’tarya.

    What Rabbi Hoffman says was the Chebiner Rov’s “clear message” wasn’t one at all. That is merely his own opinion being pushed into a ma’aseh of which we know few details other than a witty line. The Chebiner Rov opined about his particular instance and didn’t pasken for Klal Yisroel or say it is “very far from the Torah way of life.” How did that become a “clear message”?

    The Peleh Yoetz didn’t do more than translate a possuk we all understood on our own, and again Rabbi Hoffman’s “clear” message is not at all related to what the Peleh Yoetz said. In fact his closing line in that paragraph suggesting that asking around is a better practice than looking at a picture clearly contradicts his interpretation of what the Peleh Yoetz (never) said.

    As for the Mishna and Gemara in Ta’anis, the Gemara also says the pretty girls would say “T’nu eineichem l’yofi, sh’ein ha’isha ela l’yofi” No one in the gemara argues with that.

    As far as all the other potential issurim, it’s pretty clear that Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Moshe Heinemann – leading poskim of our generation – cared only about the implications this “minhag” might have on shiduchim and the lack of tznius it represents. If neither they nor Rav Shmuel Feurst were concerned with “Tzelem Elokim” or “Issur Histaklus” I can’t inmagine why we’d be looking to introduce new issurim just for giggles.

    I, personally, think it’s not a nice or fair practice but it’s certainly not a shtickel torah. It’s just part of the ongoing and growing Bein Adam L’Chaveiro problem.

  6. I have never asked for a picture for my sons nor given my daughters’ picture.Some shiduhim were lost because of this. No loss. Clearly not my kind of people.

  7. “Now let’s rid ourselves of this virus called shidduch pictures.”

    True. And let us also rid ourselves of all phony shidduch resources which have nothing to do with obtaining the right mate, such as, resumes and insincere shadchanim.

    There does not seem to be a real shidduch crises with girls who belong to well-connected families; with yichus and or money. So let the rabbonim even out the playing field and encourage young people to meet in other settings, the way it used to be.

  8. “The attractiveness of the young lady can be ascertained by asking around rather than by demanding to see a picture.”

    No it can’t. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The attractiveness of the young lady CAN be ascertained by going out with her though.

  9. The article as a whole is moot ,because at most they all addressed whether the BOY should get a picture ,

    while the original question was about MOTHERS,something which most poskim have are and have always been in favor of.

    #12

    well said

  10. “while the original question was about MOTHERS,something which most poskim have are and have always been in favor of.”

    Can you name a single posek in favor of the boys mother asking for a picture of the girl as a cpndition of agreeing to a shidduch? I am not asking you who said it is assur, I am asking you who says it is a good idea. Just because it is permissible, doesnt mean it is a good idea.

  11. Chochom-ibber #5: I’m not arguing. I said I completely agree with the author here even though I usually disagree with his other articles (which he often gives his own opinion on.)

    About Time #14: The author makes clear that even if it is officially only for the mother to view the photograph, inevitably in most cases the bochor and/or other male family members will end up seeing it.

  12. With all due respect to the chasuhuva authors, and gedolim, and poskim cited in the article, I have several concerns, some of which I don’t feel has been addressed by any of the comments:

    1) The issue of tznius is a difficult and confusing one. Oftentimes, the issue is discussed in a way which blends halacha and hashkafah together, making one chulent out of the two, which does a big dishonor to the Torah, and can be very misleading. (Without mentioning any names, unfortunately, there are seforim in the stores which do just that.) For example, see comment #9 above (by Bal YeMatzeh), paragraph 2. In other words, what the Chebiner Rov said in a witty remark doesn’t become halacha. We can’t mix and blend halacha and hashkafa. (Please don’t say there’s no difference…)

    2) There’s lechatchila and bedi’eved. It would be prefered if someone would not get sick on Shabbos and have to be taken to a hosiptal, thereby violating Shabbos. But if someone does become sick, it is a situation of bedi’eved, so to speak, and not only is it OK to do the bedi’eved, but it becomes lechatchila to do the bedi’eved.

    What all the aforementioned gedolim are referring to, is what the proper and lechatchila attitude is, which we Jews should have towards marriage, namely, sheker hachein vi’hevel hayofi. Truthfully, this is not merely the proper attitude for marriage, but for life as a Yid, in general. They are saying that it’s improper to WANT to have a such a pretty wife. It’s improper that that should be such an important focus.

    Unfortunately however, it is an important focus to many of us. We are on a low madreiga, we are in golus, say it how you want, but that’s the reality. No one would say that we should unrealistically demand of ourselves to live with a style as though we’d be on a much higher madreiga than we are.

    For example: Suppose it would be axiomatic to say that a bachur should learn for 20 hours a day, but the truth is that most bachurim don’t learn nearly that much.

    When it comes time for shidduchim, it would be inappropriate to tell bachurim to insist on only marrying girls who want a buy who learns 20 hours a day, because most bachurim don’t learn that amount. That would be very foolhardy.

    Another example: Suppose a boy (or girl) becomes more modern and, among other things, buys a TV. Then, he enters the shidduch market and tells people that he needs a girl who also wants a TV.

    It would be ridiculous to tell him that he should seek a true Bas Torah who doesn’t want a TV, since that’s not where he’s holding. If you want to give him a shmooz about getting rid of the TV, you can, but not about shidduchim. Shidduchim is not about aspiring to unrealistic expectations, even if they’re lofty, and even if they’re absolutely required al pi halacha!, but about taking a boy ba’asher hu shum, and finding him a girl ba’asher hi shum who’d be a match for them in their current state.

    Therefore, to say that it’s improper to have such a focus on the external (which may be right in theory) and that therefore you shouldn’t ask for a picture even though you do have such a focus, in my humble opinion, doesn’t make sense.

    It should be noted that Rav Bick, zatazal said that boys should go out on 10 dates before marriage. When confronted by others who disagreed, claiming that it’s not tzniusdig, he responded, “You’re mesader kidusshin; I’m mesader gitten.”

    Also, admittedly, a witty comment, but the point is that we have no idea as to how many things we have in our society which contribute to the shalom bayis problems, the breakdown of a marriagess, and at times, divorce. The reality is, that many, I might even say most, boys want an attractive and pretty girl. Even ehrliche, frum, learning boys. Even non-learning boys (however you want to look at it.) We focus so much in our society on how we need to mitigate exposure and promote more and more tznius, but doing this the wrong way can really backfire. Speak to anyone who REALLY deals with Shalom Bayis, such as Hatzadik Rav Yerushem Pitter, shlit”a…

    (An incident occurred regarding a bachur who was dating a girl several times. He really liked her personality, but really disliked her appearance. He gave the names to a mekubal, who replied, telling him the 2 neshamos (his and hers) “shtim”. He then went to a chashuva Rosh Yeshiva, who replied, saying, that the neshamos may shtim, however, the Guffos (bodies) don’t and since you would also be marrying her guf, not just her nesahama, you can’t marry her.)

    Asking for a picture is a solution to a problem. Instead of putting it down, let’s understand what the underlying issue is which causes people to ask for it. Let’s deal with that.

    What’s the issue? The issue is that it can become uncomfortable to go out with a girl and have a great date, and then say no, which, even if not spoken, can implicitly indicate that it’s because she’s not pretty. Do you know how hurtful that can be? It can also be very sticky for him. It can also save a lot of time, trouble, and emotion, by weeding out someone he’d anyway say no to. Asking for a picture solves that problem very nicely. And, when turning down a shidduch after having received a picture, the other side may have no idea why the boy said no, making it that much more sensitive.

    If you feel that it can be hurtful to ask the other side for a picture, the best thing would be to have the shadchan ask for it, not indicating that the request came from the boy’s side. Shadchannim should have a policy of asking for it precisely to prevent it from becoming sticky.

    As far as asking the boy for a picture, go for it. Why not? I’m all for equality. Buy hey, who are you fooling? Your daughter doesn’t really care what his picture looks like (baring something crazy). You’re just doing it to make yourself feel that your daughter is equal to the other mother’s son.

    3) I don’t understand what the relevance is of the whole discussion about histaklus, nor the relevance to the chssidisha poskim. Litfishe Jews go out on dates. This is based on the Gemarah, (quoted above) which says that a person cannot marry a woman until he sees her. How the Chassidim deal with this issue may be an interesting discussion, but irrelevant. Granted that litfishe poskim advocate going out on dates, and yes, looking at her, and deciding if he likes her appearance, etc., why is this any “worse”? If anything, it’s better, because he’ll look at her much less if he decides he doesn’t want to go out with her, rather than shmoozing with her face to face for 3 hours, when he’s not going to marry her anyway. The promise of the proverbial mother, saying “It’s only for me, not my son”, requires understanding. On the contrary, she SHOULD give it to her son. Is he such a tzadik?

    4) If, however, as the story was relayed, it’s truly about the mother, and that’s why she wants a picture, then yes, I’d stay away from such a mother-in-law with a ten-foot pole. Too controlling.

  13. “Your daughter doesn’t really care what his picture looks like- you’re just doing it to make yourself feel equal.”
    As a girl in shidduchim myself, I take major offense to that! So it’s okay according to you for the boy to want a “pretty, attractive girl,” which “most boys” do, but girls aren’t allowed to care? The girl will marry anyone, “barring something crazy”? That’s the only situation in which a girl can turn down a guy based on looks? In your estimation, a boy who is UGLY can hold out for a pretty girl, but a pretty, decent, or even mediocre girl can’t hold out for a handsome boy. I’m just pointing out the double standard here. And just so you know, it’s completely mutar for a girl to look at a picture of a boy, no questions whatsoever. The question is why the picture of the girl is sent almost automatically with her resume, but asking for a picture of the boy is just not done, when in fact, if judged by halachic permissibility, it should be the other way around.

  14. Yes it’s very important for us girls to give our picture of our self to our potential husband we all kno we need to be very attractive to him at all times
    I strongly feel that we should be careful to send full image of our self not just the face