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August 26, 2016 / 22 Av, 5776
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The ‘Tznius Chase’: Is This Photo Immodest?

This is the 'tznius chase,' a subset of the 'Frumkeit race,' also known as the move to the right.
The 'controversial' photo published in local Haredi newspaper in Beitar Illit.

The 'controversial' photo published in local Haredi newspaper in Beitar Illit.
Photo Credit: Eli Segal

The extremes of tznius among Haredim was illustrated last week by the picture accompanying this post.

One may ask, what could possibly be wrong with a picture of a group of Haredim bundled up for winter surrounding a snowman. Well this is not just any picture. It is a picture of Beitar’s mayor, Meir Rubenstein and his family. For those who don’t know, Beitar is a very Haredi city. This picture should indicate just how Haredi it is. The mayor and his family look pretty Haredi.

The publisher of this picture was summed to a religious court for publishing this picture in his weekly ad-paper.

What in heaven’s name – one might ask – is wrong with this picture? Obviously those of you who cannot figure it out – are not sensitive enough to know just how sexually arousing it is. (Interesting that the term used in the Behadrey Haredim caption is ‘aroused’.)

Look carefully. There is a picture of a woman’s face in the background. All you see is a face of a woman whose hair is completely covered and whose fully clothed body is blocked by the people standing next to her.

This would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Even though Beitar is Haredi – I do not believe it is comprised of extremists. And yet this picture was considered so provocative that that its publisher was summoned to a Beis Din. I’m not sure the publisher even realized there was a woman in the picture. That’s how obscure her image is.

The incident is really emblematic of a much larger issue. What this says is just how ridiculous issues of tznius have become in the world of right wing Haredism and how far the ‘tznius race’ is taking us.

Ordinarily it wouldn’t bother me that much that the most right wing segment of Judaism wants to reduce tznius to such ridiculous extremes. Live and let live I always say. But Haredim do not live in a vacuum. Beitar is a municipality. People visit it and know about. Their citizens interact with the rest of society in their jobs and in every day life. Beitar citizens are not isolated. People know about Beitar. They are not Neturei Karta or even Eida HaCharedis people necessarily. They are more or less mainstream – albeit on the extreme right of it.

In matters of tznius these days, there is a competition among groups of Haredim. So that even moderate Haredim might latch on to something like this. And once moderate Haredim accept such strictures, it becomes the standard for everyone except the extreme left of Modern Orthodoxy. While Centrist Orthodoxy and most moderate Haredim are not there yet. It may only be a matter of time before the tznius chase catches up with them.

If you think there is no race like that going on, you would be wrong. There is. No where is this more evident these days than at Orthodox weddings. Or even banquets. Seating at weddings and banquets are increasingly sex segregated. Single or married men and women are seated at different tables at opposite ends of a banquet hall – separated by a Mechitza. A Mechitza for weddings might be understandable – even if the seating is mixed. Watching women dance may be problematic in some cases. But banquets do not have any women dancing at all. And yet Mechitzos are increasingly becoming the standard.
The reason for this in my view is the tznius chase. Which is a subset of the Frumkeit race- also known as the move to the right. When one segment sees another segment move to the right they will tend to follow suit so as not to be outdone by those who claim to be more religious.

What happened with seating arrangements is now happening with pictures. Haredi publications are increasingly not carrying any pictures of women. Witness Hamodia, The Yated, Mishpacha, and Ami. ArtScroll still does. But I wonder how long it will take before they too join the tznius chase.

The phenomenon of moving to the right seems to be more about image these days than it is about substance.

Black hats is another example that illustrates this point. When I was in Telshe back in the sixties, the only time high school students wore black fedoras was on Shabbos. No one wore one during the week. Not even for Tefillah B’Tzibur.

Yes, we had to wear caps for that. But it could be any kind of cap, including baseball caps. Which most of us wore in those days. Try that today in a right wing Haredi Yeshiva. Or even in a moderate Haredi Yeshiva.

They will call ‘wearing black hats’ growing in Yiddsihkeit. “We have grown spiritually” – they will say – “since the ‘dark days’ of the sixties.” Spiritually? Really? Black hats? It reminds me of what a recent guest poster said about this issue. When he asked a Rebbe in his Yeshiva why black hats were so important, he was told that we do what the Chafetz Chaim did. He wore a black hat and so must we. We are supposed to emulate the behavior of our Gedolim.

Of course pictures of the Chafetz Chaim even in his old age show nothing of the sort. He wore a cap.

I call it growing in “Frumkiet” not gowing in Yiddishkeit. Frumkiet emphasizes the hitzonius (exterior facade) much more than the penimius (individual character). Frumkeit is not Judaism.

This appears to be the case in Beitar. That they called the publisher of that picture on the carpet because of the “tznius” violation in that picture says it all.

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Harry Maryles

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.

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15 Responses to “The ‘Tznius Chase’: Is This Photo Immodest?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    If you are "sexually aroused" by this photograph then you are most likely a homosexual or a pedophile (not unfamiliar problems in the Haredi community). All I see is men, children… and a snowman. The Haredi let secular/religious Zionist women go into combat on their behalf (calling them harlots) while they sit and read Torah. Cowards. They get their yeshiva stipends and they make their women get real jobs to support their families; Haredi women have a lower unemployment rate than men! As a thank you, women are not even allowed to be represented in photography. Haredi men should be kissing the feet of Haredi women for keeping them fed and the IDF women for keeping them safe. If Israel falls, it will not be because of a foreign army or an Arab demographic time bomb. It will be because an exponentially growing population continued to suck the state dry of its tax dollars while contributing nothing in return; they are growing much faster than the Arabs. Tax revenue comes from somewhere and since the Haredi (and the Arabs) don't pay income taxes or start businesses, it means that the state has to continue to squeeze the Seculars and religious Zionists for the privilege of being spat upon in the street! Here's hoping the new government jams the proper medicine down this community's collective throat: national service THEN work. End of of story. You could balance Israel's budget without raising taxes by just cutting government yeshiva funding… let them privately fund them like in New York. If God really is on their side then it shouldn't be an issue.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You mention a race to copy others so they become more tzinuit concerned just for show. How about the opposite- possibly writers for a Modern orthodox forum going the other way to the left with the justification that the right is too extreme. If that right did not exist the less frum would not shift to the left in their frumkeit level. So you see, there are reactions to both sides. In addition I notice alot of very anti hareidi attitudes and diatribes against hareidim that one would expect to see more in non jewish or reform forum. Why all the anger and hate? It seems very closed minded- simiilar to the accusations agaist the hareidim. They are not perfect but they are following the path of the mitzvoth the best of all people. We should admire them, not insult them. Lets face it – they are the future. Research shows Modern orthodoxy can't fight and survive in this new era of corruption and immorality. Seems we need to be extreme just to survive. Just look at the facts on the ground- the haredim are surviving while less frum are being corrupted in Universities and from exposure to trash in their I pods, internet, etc.

  3. Rafi Hecht says:

    LOL I didn't think it was an issue until someone made it one! You need to look at least 10 seconds to spot the woman who is very modestly dressed.

    Speaking about the Chofetz Chaim, there's a classic photo of him sitting with his son in front of his house, amid a ton of people passing through. Who's standing beside him by the doorpost? A woman, possibly his wife!

    And yes, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, which was named after Reb Yisroel, photoshopped that woman out of the photo once when distributing it as part of a promotional pamphlet!

  4. Nehemia Stern says:

    The Hareidi version of Maxim magazine

  5. Ja'el Batyah Hatch says:

    there was a picture in a lag b omer edition of men putting up a mechitza at meron in the background there was an old lady with her skirt hiked up past her knees not blurred out *gasp* 🙂

  6. Mildred Bilt says:

    Great analysis. The next step should be for all the non-hareidi to be run out of Israel and Israel should be a total enclave of the most religious orthodox. The IDF, the IAF-everyone out! Hashem will take care of these G-dly people and provide for them. They have nothing to fear from anyone.

  7. David Shalome says:

    This is not the point at all, the magazine that published this picture is an internal magazine for Beitar, in Beitar there are rules and regulations and the rules for magazines are well known by all, this magazine broke the rules plain and simple, it is not a subject for discussion by those living outside of Beitar, if you can not live with the rules of the majority of Beitar and it's rabbanim, you have no business living here. The mayor did not give his approval to publish his wife's picture, plain and simple. It was an invasion of their privacy!

  8. Chaiya Eitan says:

    God help us if they are the future! They do not represent true Judaism! They're 'surviving?' Do you even know the numbers of young people who actually run away from this repressive way of life? They are hanging out on the streets of Jerusalem, getting stoned and drunk. Mitzvot you say??? Decided by who??? Not by God! But by close-minded men who want to keep control over women. We're Jews….not Muslims! Wonder what these men would have said to D'vorah.

  9. Chaiya Eitan says:

    They're sick…. This is not Judaism.

  10. Chaiya Eitan says:

    And by doing so, they are turning people off to Judaism. More and more of their young people are leaving this way of life and hanging out in the streets of Jerusalem. They live one way at home; but when they leave, the kippa comes off and they do what they want to do. There is going to be a culture war here very soon and we have to make sure that these people don't win it.

  11. David Shalome says:

    this is not our business Chaiya, we do not live there, this is a story that should not have been reported to the public it is an internal matter for the residents of Beitar, the end of the story is that the magazine apologized to the mayor and his wife, and the residents of Beitar and they promised that they would be more careful in the future. Apology was accepted and life goes on! No one got hurt, no law suits or Din Torah etc. so who cares how they want to live? They are not forcing this on outsiders

  12. Liad Bar-el says:

    A response to Harry's article, David and to Chaiya who supports Harry. I'm not addressing the nameless Mohammed on this site. There seems to be a dichotomy between David and Chaiya/Harry. When we left Mitzryim, we were such a diverse group of people and of whom may represent the diverse group of Jews now living in Israel. There were the very religious Jews and the very secular not to mention the ones that were mixed; yet, they all became one nation on Mt. Sinai. This oneness does not mean that they all of a sudden became ultra-Orthodox nor secular but rather tolerant of each others’ spiritual level in life. During the past 20 – 30 years that I have lived in Israel, I’ve noticed that this tolerance was more prevalent 30 years ago than it is now. I’ve also noticed that this tolerance even develops into mutual feelings of brotherhood when there is war. When the war passes however, intolerance seems to come back and grow. Surely we can try to learn to be more tolerant with each other without having to suffer a war.

  13. Liad Bar-el says:

    I might add that intolerance leads to a Pinchus Syndrome wherein one feels so self-righteous that he thinks that he has every right to attack the "transgressor". One lady in her 60’s in my neighborhood drove her new car on Shabbat to visit her dying mother in the hospital. Her family members were taking turns 24 hours a day to be with her mother and it was her turn to spend her 6 hour shift. A neighbor couldn’t tolerate this driving on Shabbat; so, he put a few scratches on her doors and hood plus a nail in her tire. The next day as she went to work driving on the express way at high speed, she had a complete blow out. It was dangerous. Also, the tire was shredded into pieces. She was stranded for a few hours. This was about 2 years ago and today her car looks like it was in a war. She recently spent 4,000 NIS for new tires. She doesn’t drive on Shabbat for pleasure but at this age, there is always some friend or family member who is deathly sick. A policeman lives in the same building, drives on Shabbat to go to picnics, entertainment and other non-work activities and all three new cars of his are without even one scratch. If we can not make peace in our Jewish family in Israel, how can we make peace in this world?

  14. Rafi Hecht says:

    100%, we all need to be a little Dan L'Chaf Zechut. Whatever happened to that principle?

    It seems as if Chazal instituted that precisely so that people should NOT become too frum!

  15. Liad Bar-el says:

    Rafi Hecht good point. It seems that many have become arrogant with their learning that they have by-passed the character trait of learning humility. This character trait in particular seems to be learned only through action and when one becomes sheltered and unconnected to the outside world, this character trait becomes undeveloped. Thus, his Torah learning becomes difficult. As the body has 248 parts, so does the soul. A person sees mainly not through his physical eyes, but through the spiritual eyes of the soul. When a person sins, he can blind his spiritual eyes; thus, since he does not see the words he is studying, he cannot understand. For us to continue to live in the Holy Land is truly by the Hen, Hessed VeRachamin of HaShem.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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