From the Yated to Mishpacha, our magazines have presented the Jewish world with a definition of what it means to be a modest woman: She’s not in print. Even if she follows halacha perfectly, she is still not modest enough to be featured in the pages of our publications. This policy requires that even pictures of our great rebbetzins and leaders, past and present, cannot accompany the articles written about them. Rather, pictures of their husbands, their residences, and their speaking venues take the place of the special faces and spiritual beauty of our righteous women. This policy requires that historical photographs capturing unforgettable events in Jewish history cannot be included in our magazines if a woman is in the shot. This policy requires that non-Jewish female political leaders can never be featured. And this policy requires that girls above a certain age cannot be seen, giving the message, especially to young girls, that it is not tznius (modest).
I just completed a three-year stint at a Cleveland Bais Yaakov teaching English Literature and Public Speaking. Since the school has neither internet access nor a secular library, I struggled in setting expectations for the girls’ requirement to do research for an informational speech. Eventually, I decided to assign a “biography speech.” Each student was asked to choose an ArtScroll or Feldheim biography of a gadol (Torah giant) and select three traits of this gadol as her focus. Despite the fact that my students’ speeches relied on a single source and were therefore one-sided, each year they came out rather good – at least according to my adjusted standards. The speeches were structured, organized, and well delivered. And as an unexpected bonus, I walked away feeling inspired by the stories of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) and kavod haTorah (honor brought to the Torah) of these great Torah giants.