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August 21, 2014 / 25 Av, 5774
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The Invisible Woman

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Why? Do women not make up half of the community? In what way can a thumbnail size image of a woman’s face be viewed as being immodest? This misguided interpretation of modesty has even resulted in female Israeli politicians being photoshopped out of group pictures with their male colleagues – as have been highly placed, gentile female American government officials – in charedi print media, actions that have set Yidden up as objects of ridicule and scorn.

Even heimishe magazines geared to women have taken on this stringency. While the columnists are named, (so far) there are no photos of them above their bylines. A more recent entry in making women invisible is the head-scratching action of erasing pre-bat mitzvah girls’ faces from ads. Last year, Jewish Press columnist Tziona Greenwald expressed her outrage over erasing the faces of little girls in Purim costume ads. When did this become “Torah”?

What kind of message does that give to little girls?

This push for invisibility or keeping women out of sight from men has lead young people to question going to family celebrations (including Chanukah parties) because their teenage cousins of a different gender will be there. On Shabbat, girls refrain from inviting their friends over if their brothers are home from yeshiva.

It’s almost as if “mixing” a non-related female and male at the table is as unacceptable as putting a glass of milk near a plate of hamburgers on the table.

I recently glanced at a Bais Yaacov yearbook from the 1970’s and was reminded what the then olam’s perception of proper dress for a frum girl was. No pants of course, and no plunging necklines, but colored skirts and blouses; kneecaps showing; sleeves near the elbow. These girls were not Modern Orthodox. Their fathers belonged to Agudah.

With all this pressure to be un-noticed or invisible, is it so strange that the burka-wearing women stubbornly go the extra mile – despite their husbands’ objections? That they are extra “mehadrin” in their tzniut, covering themselves – and their young daughters – so that only their eyes are exposed? No doubt if they find a way to navigate with their eyes covered they would do so.

It seems that in our community, the norms are always being challenged and there is a push to go one step further. After a while, what was once extreme becomes the new normal. Then that extreme becomes “not good enough” and there is a push to go one step further.

Sadly, the extra step can lead to falling off the cliff. Perhaps it’s time for our spiritual leaders to put up some safety nets.

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