For the week ending 18 December 2004 / 6 Tevet 5765


by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Jack

Dear Rabbi,

Hi. I have a question for the Rabbi. My digital camera has a function that allows me to take 2 photos, and combine them into one. In other words, I can take 2 pictures, one of one person from the neck up, and a second photo of a second person from the neck down, and combine the 2 shots into 1. The resulting combined photo shows person A's head in the place of person B's head. Many people find the combined photos to be funny.

Last week at a family wedding I took many pictures of that sort. Everybody was wearing appropriate-for-wedding-photographs clothing. I checked with everybody at the wedding who I had taken "split" pictures of to see if they were OK with my sharing the combined photographs with other family members as part of an electronic wedding album that I would prepare and email to them. Included in these were my 2 nephews who are in their 20's, and my 16-year-old niece, though she is not identifiable in the photos, since my nephews' heads are in those photos superimposed where her head would otherwise be. All said that it would be fine for me to send their combined photos on to others as part of a wedding album. Some volunteered that they thought that the pictures of them were funny.

My sister's husband has suggested that under Jewish law it is inappropriate for me to email the combined photos of my nephews and niece (his children) to my family members. He maintains that: "One of the basic values in Judaism is the sacredness of the human body, based on the Genesis 1 comment that G-d created humans in His image (interpreted as a value statement, not "physically"). To deliberately distort the human body in this manner is a deviation from this Jewish value in my opinion. At the same time, he says that "it was cute for a moment." He is far more learned than I am in Jewish law. But I find his conclusion surprising. (I should note that he does not have a problem with photographs of people in general.) My thought had been that these are my photos, that the people in the photos have all consented to my emailing the photos to the rest of our family, that most are adults, and the 16 year old (an adult, I guess, under Jewish law?) is not even identifiable. Can you tell me your view of this issue under Jewish law?

Dear Jack,

Your very unique and detailed question is itself interesting reading, so I'll limit my response to a brief answer. While there does not seem to be any halachic prohibition with your photo-montage as far as the "letter of the law" is concerned, I think there may be a problem as far as the "spirit of the law" is concerned. Such a montage seems to compromise tzelem Elokim, man's being created in the image of G-d. After all, a person might just as well be superimposed over an animal or vice versa. Similarly, merging men and women, as in the photo in question, creates an image which the Torah prohibits in action, namely cross-dressing. If such images are spiritually inappropriate, it would be improper to make and share them with others, even if they agree to it and find them funny. In any case, there is certainly a basis for the father's sensitivity, and in the name of peace and good will, you should respect his request. May your family have only joyous occasions.

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