Saturday, October 29, 2011


No Role Models Allowed for My Daughters

by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths

Occasionally, and recently more than occasionally, chumrot (extra religious stringencies) and minchagim (religious communal customs) get out of hand. 

Before World War II and further back, Jewish religious communities were relatively isolated.  Oh there were the traveling merchants, and Torah students or scholars or maggadim, and charity collectors who all moved between communities across towns, cities and countries.  But these were not large numbers and they didn’t affect different communities customs or Torah approach much.  This is one of the reasons why the chassidic movement was so revolutionary and frightening at the time, it brought rather major changes directly into communities.

Post World War II the religious Jewish world was completely geographically restructured.  The survivors and the unaffected ended up together in New York and Tel Aviv, later in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.  All the communities, yeshivot, chassidic groups were living side by side – a street away or a neighborhood away at most.

In the normal community situation before World War II, a community might add a series of appropriate restrictions for local conditions and a few extra stringencies also appropriate for elevating those seeking extra piety in the local community.  Post World War II, those looking for ‘extra protection’ and/or ‘extra piety’ became able to shop across every community to always find extra’s to add.

In our time as many Jewish ultra-orthodox religious communities are struggling with the pace of change and impact of the outside world, grabbing for yet another ‘extra’ is seen as a possible way to find a counter-agent for the worldly impact.  Unfortunately this results in some extremes that aren’t appropriate for the general religious public being perpetrated and pushed upon them.

One of these that annoys me is the chumra (extra stringency) of not publishing a woman’s picture in any publication of any sort at any time for any reason.  This may have started as a response to inappropriate advertising making inroads with classy (not sexy) pictures in store windows and publications in religious neighborhoods.  Somehow it turned into a blanket ban where even major news stories involving the female of the species must avoid showing them.

This past week a tzadekes left this world.  Rebbitzen Kanviesky, wife of the litvish posek hador Rabbi Chaim Kanviesky of Bnei Brak left us.  Mishpacha Magazine wrote an extensive article on her.

Bnei Brak is not a place I frequent, nor are the litvish poskim my gedolim.  Regardless, the passing of a tzadik or tzadekes is a matter of note, and it has become a custom of our generation to display photos of the gedolim and tzadikim – so we should see the visage of those crowned with Torah and strive for a bit of that Torah merit ourselves.

kanviesYet with the passing of this holy woman, I could find no image to have any idea who they were talking about.  Someone described as the Bubbe of Klal Yisroel, who’s brachot came true, who was raised in the home of a gadol hador and married a gadol hador, this is an image which should be avoided because???  (Because of an extra stringency for a particular community that was worried about a particular problem which definitely would NOT apply to this special woman.)

I find this disturbing.  I find it worrisome that I can find no holy role models to SHOW my daughters.  I find problems being addressed with generalities that are hurting more than they are helping.  I find every extra of every community being extended across all communities in a competition for ‘holiness’ that doesn’t work and isn’t appropriate (nor was ever intended to operate this way).

We definitely NEED Moshiach now, because someone's got to start straightening up this mess.


  1. I hear you, Reb Akiva, loud and clear. I think it's sort of like kitniyot - my mother-in-law used to buy peanut oil specifically for Pesach back in the 1950s. Now it's considered forbidden kitniyot. What happened?

    Do you think we might be panicking because Mashiach hasn't come yet and some people think that the more strict they are (and demand of others to be as well) the faster he will arrive? Just a thought.

    CDG, Yerushalayim

  2. I really love when you agree with me:

  3. I completely agree with your post. Even at the Chabad school that my daughter attends, they have started off in this direction. At a recent event (for women only) they had a large picture of the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka on display. They actually photoshoped the picture to fill in the neckline which they felt was too low cut.

    I would like to point out that the very first mistake that mankind made was not eating from the fruit, that was only an outcome of a previous mistake. The first mistake was when Adam imposed a chumra on his wife Chava and tried to present it as an obligation (He told her G-d had commanded not to touch the fruit when he had actually only said not to eat it). This is the problem of the Chareidi world today.

  4. The Kikar HaShabbat site has shown pictures of her even when she was alive.

    Here's an article about her from a year ago that has her picture.

    See here for an article of her passing that also has her picture.

  5. Did anyone else notice that similar to waiting the 7 days of Shiva for Metushelah before the Mabul, Hashem waited the 7 days of Shiva for Rabbanit Kanievsky before the rocket escalation in the south?

  6. Respectfully, if Klal Yisrael (and the world) truly needed Moshiach now, then HaShem would usher him onto the stage of world history.

    There's a difference between "needing" and "wanting" something. On the one hand, HaShem more than provides for our "needs". On the other hand, our "wants" frequently go unfulfilled - probably because HaShem knows that our "wants" aren't what we "need".

    Why is it that so many people "want" to dump their issues and problems in Moshiach's lap, so he can resolve and fix them? If we truly "want" Moshiach now, then we should all focus our attention on tikkun nefesh and tikkun olam and thereby create a people and a world that's ready for Moshiach govern and guide.

  7. Akiva, interesting point about how the mixing of Jewish communities post-Shoah has led to the adoption of greater stringencies. Are there any good examples of situations, post-Shoah, where two Jewish communities interacting has resulted in more leniency? (Leaving out the Reform and Conservative and unaffiliated, for the purpose of this question.) In all cases that I can think of, everyone is advised to abide by the more stringent rules. You can see where this is heading. No matter how observant you are, there is always someone else ready to impose a stricter set of rules.

  8. Great article Akiva. Yes, I agree with you that it's a mess, more then one actually. Na, you don't want Mashiach, why, because when he cleans up this incredible mess the 'rabbi's' have put us in, even you may have to adjust your derech. Hope you don't mind. Hey, don't forget about the shwarma you may have to fork out. (:-D

  9. I few days before she was niftar, there was an article entitled "Gedolot Hador" in Makor Rishon newspaper. Rebbetzin Kanievsky was featured in this article which included a posed picture of her - i.e. she knew the picture was being taken and would be published in the newspaper and she didn't object to this...

  10. and during shiva rav chaim told someone thay wont be fasting in tammuz& av 5772
    the man ask him when moshiach is coming

  11. tzvi,

    I received word of that before the Rebbizten passed away, which means we have a new perpetuating Moshiach rumor.

    As the Rav said previously, if you didn't specifically hear him announcing such a thing to the public, don't believe anything said in his name.

  12. Reb Akiva, you are one of my favorite bloggers, but I think you're getting distracted by non-issues just this one time.

    Most frum women wouldn't want their photo in a newspaper or book. Okay, some would. But most wouldn't.

    And you can certainly find pictures of role models in books. Frum Holocaust memoirs and Beis Yaakov memoirs have pictures. Olamot shel Tohar has tons of photos of tznuah women from different times and cultures. Furthermore, your daughter is around women all the time. It's not like she never sees them. Do the only role models she has live so far away that your daughter can only see them in pictures? I am sure there are many special role models in your immediate community. Your wife, for one example.

    What is wrong with photoshopping the neckline? The rebbetzin would probably want it, if she were around to ask.

    Also, while photoshopping a woman who looks like a dumpy middle-aged man (Hillary Clinton) out of a picture is unnecessary, what about women who are young and/or attractive? Isn't that supposed to be a problem for you guys? (I mean, that's what we keep on being told, anyway...)

    I don't feel like there's a "invisible Jewish woman" problem.


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