Should women’s names and faces appear in public places?
When I heard that some frum women are protesting the practice of blanking women’s faces out of frum publications, my first reaction was “Great! It’s about time!”
I have often muttered,
“A visitor from outer space, looking at most frum publications, would never know that humans were created male and female. In G-d’s image.”
(Such a visitor would not gather that from Baruch Nachshon’s paintings either — the only thing that pains me about that beautiful art.) It also pains me when women’s names are blotted out, especially on wedding invitations. (I thought that was what we do to the enemies of Israel.)
Once, long ago, I wrote a poem about being nameless and faceless:
I walked through this worldAs one of the dead.Your eyes were mirrorsIn which I was not reflected.
But wait a minute. That poem wasn’t written about frum practices, with which I wasn’t in contact at the time. It was written in the middle of a culture abounding with female images, most of them insulting, in which it often seems that the real female self is invisible, regardless of the proliferation of images.
Generally speaking, photography hasn’t been an unmixed boon to humankind. The German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin once wrote, “The photographic image (Lichtbild) has destroyed the Divine image (Ebenbild).” Maybe we were all better off when to reproduce a human face required time, thought and skill.
There’s also a strong idea in Judaism that it is precisely what is most sacred that is hidden. And it isn’t even only a Jewish idea. Long ago, when I expressed a childish wish to have my picture in the paper, someone who wasn’t Jewish but had a deep sense of modesty came out with a saying:
“Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places.”
On a photograph of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, a’h, taken at a wedding
She must have looked into the camera’s lens,But not that dead glass eye absorbed her sight.Her glance meets yours as if it were a friend’s,And in its depths you catch the soul’s delightThat wells up, at this meeting, from a springNo doubt replenished by the gladness round—The tree of life, shining and blossomingIn dances for life-partners newly bound.O may this world, which often can appearTo have forgotten love, be nothing moreThan that hat-veil of netting, thin and sheer,Which, in the fashion of those times, she wore.We see that grace and know that we are blest;Grant we may make it further manifest.
A year or so ago I read a memorial article on a great rebbetzin I once had the privilege of meeting, and it only had pictures of her sons. I would have liked so much to see a picture to refresh my memory of her face. And lately someone gave me a memorial pamphlet on another rebbetzin, with many warm tributes to her wonderful middot. I never met this rebbetzin, and to see a picture of her would have given me more of a feeling that I had known her.
I have no problem with filtering out images of women that are inappropriate or even just unnecessary. But the screen shouldn’t be an impenetrable barrier against any manifestation of the female countenance. It is not just about our feelings. The world needs the light from our mothers’ eyes.