Whenever an article about Hillary Clinton appears in some of the Orthodox media, we have seen either a picture of her husband Bill, her home in Chappaqua, a bumper sticker that says Hillary 2016, or a picture of her campaign paraphernalia. We have not, however, seen Hillary Clinton.
That is, until, this week.
For the first time, Mishpacha Magazine printed a picture of Hillary Clinton facing off with Donald Trump. True, it was a reverse image, slightly reminiscent of old photo negatives (aleihem haShalom), but nonetheless, it did depict Hillary Clinton. They even colored her hair blond.
This propensity to completely eliminate photographs of women, of course, is not normative halacha. The biography of the Chazon Ish, sanctioned by his own family, includes pictures of women, as do hundreds of other biographies. It is a stringency, of sorts, that can have serious repercussions.
DOES NOT GO UNNOTICED
A WikiLeaks leak of a few months back revealed how angry the presidential candidate was when she was airbrushed out of key photographs. Imagine for a moment, if a respectable Christian publication refused to print any picture of a Jew. Would we not be irate? This is what she is feeling. Also, let’s not be naïve – the non-Jewish and secular Jewish media are going to constantly attack the religious Jewish media and label us misogynistic.
If Hillary Clinton wins and the Orthodox Jewish media ignores such a national story, by not putting an image of her, there is no doubt that she will be upset. There is also no doubt that the media will notice.
Look what has happened in the past. Headlines read, “Do orthodox-Jews hate women?” “… this is as wrong as it is unethical. I don’t care what religion is involved,” declared a Washington D.C. based political analyst on a blog about the doctored photo in the warroom when Osama Bin Ladin was killed.
“Is there any difference between Hasidic Jews and the Taliban regarding women?” asked a commentator on a news site reporting the Di Tzeitung’s altered photo.
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. There is a fascinating write up on the issue in the Pnimim B’halacha section of the Mesivta. The Gemorah in Nedarim (20a) explains that anyone who looks at women, in the end will come to sin.
THE BEN YEHOYADA’S VIEW
The Ben Yehoyada asks why the wording of “in the end will come to sin” is used. It should state that he looking itself is forbidden! Indeed, he writes, it is even considered Abizrahu of arayos – a drop of illicit relations!
The Ben Yehoyada 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 a person 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.
SOME CHASSIDISH POSKIM
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 Debriciner 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.”
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 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.
THE VIEW OF MOST POSKIM
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 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 adhering to a valid halachic opinion.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
Certainly all of the religious publications should avoid photoshopping her out of pictures. This is a form of halachic theft as well, since no one obtained a license to actually manipulate the photograph. When a picture of Hillary Clinton appears where she is dressed appropriately and her image is smaller with someone else in the photo as well – it would seem that there should not be a significant concern. Also, let us keep in mind that we have in the past changed our minhagim in Hilchos Aveilus on account of concern about the reaction in gentile circles. This stringency is of far less consequence. This is a general suggestion based upon the ruling of two Gedolei HaPoskim. Of course each publication should consult their own Posaik.
All this, of course, is only if Hillary Clinton wins. There is still a chance that Trump will get his 270 electoral votes. We will know in a few days.
The author can be reached at [email protected]