Shabbat Parashat Vayigash| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: My digital camera enables me to make a picture that puts A's head on B's body. I did that at a family wedding with permission from all of the subjects of the "split" pictures to share with family members in an electronic wedding album. Included was a picture of a 23 year-old male’s head on his 17 year-old sister’s body. Their father (a relative) has suggested that under Jewish law it is improper to include these photos. He says that the sacredness of the human body is a basic value in Judaism, based on the Genesis 1 comment that G-d created humans in His image, and that deliberately distorting the body in such a manner deviates from that value. 1) Is he really right? 2) Does his opinion matter, considering that the pictures are mine, and they were taken with consent?
Answer: As far as strict halacha (Jewish law) is concerned, we are not aware of a specific ruling which would forbid the type of split pictures you describe. On the other hand, we must understand what halacha is. The Torah discusses and hints and the Rabbis over the ages have derived many values, which are manifested in thousands of specific, binding commandments and regulations. Once there is a specific regulation, the matter takes on a life of its own, and we apply halachic rules, which are semi-independent of the original value. Certain cases, especially subjective ones, are not included in a specific regulation but may still offend a certain value. While treatment of such cases has somewhat more flexibility, it is inaccurate to say that Judaism has no objection to them. Rather, the pros and cons of the situation need to be weighed, and the matter may be viewed differently by different beholders and in different contexts. Your case is such an example.
Whether you ascribe the Divinely related nature of humanity to the body or just the soul (a broad topic in itself) the dignity of the human body is an unquestionably serious Torah value with far-reaching halachic applications. There are times when one can compromise certain laws in order to protect a person’s body from disgrace, during life (Yoreh Deah 303- see this week’s Moreshet Shaul) or after death (ibid. 374). The body is the Divinely ordained home of the pure soul He granted us and it represents the person. Disgracing the body disgraces the person as a whole.
You would surely agree that it is disgraceful to display such “split” pictures of a deceased person at his funeral. Your relative would presumably not object to using such pictures in the frivolity of a Purim party. Context is crucial. A wedding album is a borderline case, as things wedding related have a formal side, but people are encouraged to do “wild and crazy” things to increase the sense of excitement (Ketubot 17a). It is most appropriate to consider the tastes of the bride and groom (without dragging them into a family squabble).
Regarding your relative’s involvement in his children’s affair, there is a limited precedent for his right to raise a moral protest. The gemara (Bava Kamma 86b) discusses one who disgraced a sleeping person who subsequently died without becoming aware of his disgrace and suffer damage from the affair. The gemara leaves it as an unsolved question whether the family can demand payment for the vicarious disgrace to the family. This likely implies that before the fact, the relatives have a right to prevent the act from being done (see Bava Batra 22b). There are many distinctions that can separate your case from that of the gemara, but it is important to see that the father’s feelings have some grounds in Jewish ethics and should be taken into account.
If this question would come to a religious court for adjudication, there could be some fascinating twists and complicated issues to hammer out. However, neither side of this hopefully friendly disagreement on this subjective, borderline matter has moral grounds to turn it into a quarrel. Neither your desire to include the picture nor his objection appear to be of cardinal importance (as family relationships are). You must reach a meeting of the minds on the matter of “split” bodies.
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