Culture, Israel, Religion

Surely, someone must have predicted this….

All over the blogosphere , just in case you’ve missed it: the Forward Failed Messiah, the London Jewish Chronicle (and others), are talking about the new Jewish burqa (actually it’s hijab, but let’s not be overly technical).
Apparently, a small contingent of ultra-Orthodox women Ramat Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, started this, and it has now spread to other communities.
I have to say, I’d label this post as humor, except – it’s just not funny. It ‘s sick, and unsurprising, and perfectly in line with the general increasing of controls on women, and the associated ideas that women are a contaminating force. It is in fact, the logical outcome of years of shameful perversion of halakha .
Miriam Shaviv of the Chronicle states pretty clearly – and persuasively- why she thinks this has happened:

And yet, the “frumka” is the logical extension of two clear trends in the frum world.
Firstly, standards of modesty are becoming increasingly stringent and require increasing effort to follow. A CD recording by a top rabbi from Lakewood, New Jersey, for example, reportedly asks women not to swing their arms while they walk and not to allow their daughters to wear colourful banana-clips in their hair. Women know that if they wear skin-coloured stockings, they must include a seam so it is clear they are not bare-legged. Schoolgirls do not wear shiny shoes that could “reflect their underwear”.
Paradoxically, the Orthodox world’s attempt to create a generation in which physicality is minimized has resulted in a generation obsessed with looks, clothes and sex.
Secondly, tznius, or modesty, has long moved from being about modest clothing to being about keeping women, and images of women, away from men.
Open a Charedi newspaper, and there are either no images of women, or they are blacked out. In the past few years, several women have been beaten up in Jerusalem because they would not move to the back of the bus in Charedi neighbourhoods; a top rabbi in Bnai Brak asked women to leave before the end of shul so they did not mingle with men following davening; that same town has a street with separate sides for men and women; separate shopping hours are not unknown.
Just last week, a sheitel shop in New York was boycotted for refusing to remove headshots of women wearing wigs from its window.

I also recommend reading the comments over at Failed Messiah, which are quite interesting.

27 thoughts on “Surely, someone must have predicted this….

  1. These women are a true chillul Hashem. They make traditional Judaism appear disgusting, fanatical, brutal, dysfunctional, and foreign.

  2. What I think is interesting — this was highlighted in the Forward issue, as well as where I first saw it ( — do you think the analysis is different if it is WOMEN who are choosing to take this on themselves?
    It is a different situation than if it was coming straight from the Rabbis, right — I think especially interesting given that there was a case (per the above article) of a husband taking his wife to the bet din to get her to remove the burqa. This clearly isn’t as simple as “men are trying to cover women!” and I think that it is easy to ignore that in favor of the more pervasive narrative of “religious women are oppressed by men” — which might be true, on the whole, but this doesn’t exactly seem to be one of those cases.

  3. The women are the chillul hashem? Wow, way to blame the victim, DK. What about the idiot rabbi telling his followers that women shouldn’t, kholile, swing their arms??? It’s the men who are making this shit up, not the women.

  4. Actually, this is probably in part the result of the lack of feminist and western response to the mistreatment of women in the Muslim world – instead of being aghast at the mistreatment of women in that world, the world has ignored it as multiculturalism – if those idiotic “rabbis” who have encourged our women to follow suit felt the antipathy of the world to those kinds of Muslim extremist actions, they might have been a little more circumspect before taking our own women down that same g-dawful path.
    Between the actions of those “rabbis” and the action of “jew”school in support of trashing Israel (see the post regarding JS sponsorship of Israeli soldiers/photographs in the disputed territories, it makes me wonder why G-d puts up with us.

  5. As I’ve heard the story (the original hebrew Haaretz article), this particular trend originated among the women; it was not imposed by any rabbis.

  6. You know, I wonder if some of the thought behind incorrect’s previous statement bears some thinking about. Not his question in particular, which doesn’t make sense: rabbis who make rulings which result in the burka thing aren’t likely to be especially influenced by, for instance, multiculturalism and tolerance of the other. But in general, I’m curious – does this bother us more in Judaism than in Islam? If so, why? Is is because it’s not halakhic? Is is because we associate it with Islam and that’s de facto problematic? Or does it bother us equally in both?

  7. I assume that this is ultimately attributable to influence from Muslim society and sexual mores. It’s certainly no accident that this is happening in Israel and not America. While the women advocating this–and it seems clear that this is being done by a group of self-guided women acting with minimal male involvement–are on a bizarre (and IMO twisted) path and bear their own moral responsibility….this is simply one of the most obvious examples of cross-cultural influence I’ve ever seen! I wonder if the women even realize it?!
    Even the Forward admits that orthodox rabbis are none too happy with this bizarre perversion of “tzniut”. Yet it almost sounds like they’ve been unable to quell it. Just like in Muslim society, traditional Jews will have to decide whether the wackiest and most extreme voices will set the tone and agenda for the community….or not.

  8. Jewish women have been wearing Hijabs for thousands of years. Only within the past 100-200 years have Jewish women began wearing wigs, snooks etc. or stopped wearing hear coverings altogether. Look at this pic of European Jews wearing Hijab.
    I don’t understand the big fuss. Its about Jewish women returning to their roots. No one has forced them to do this. They have chosen to follow this rebbetzin. When your ancestors arrived in Ellis Island many of the women were probably wearing a hijabs.
    Go educate yourselves.

  9. y-love, great minds think alike. But more importantly, I think you underlined something that I failed to: notice the stress placed on “I’m not arab” and the responses to some women wearing this ..garb… “you smelly Arab.” I think there’s some interesting analysis here waiting to be done about Israeli – and Hareidi- attitudes towards Arabs, and perhaps a discussion of how this could be used to raise consciousness of racism, and then along with that the gender dynamics common to let’s say traditional middle eastern society.
    Maybe a whole post just on that….

  10. Omg, I can’t believe it: posters are actually arguing in favour of this perversion of Judaism (and to poster who suggests this was present at Ellis Island, BS!!!)

  11. Aaron, I’m not able to see what you see in the immigrants’ picture. I mean, I see women in headscarves, but I thought that the issue here was that the hijab actually covers part or most of the face as well. I don’t think anyone’s contending that Jewish women (as well as woean from any number of countries/ethnic groups/etc) haven’t customarily covered their hair in a variety of ways.
    Or am I wrong? Is the hijab in question just another headcovering? The picture here and the Jewish Chronicle article both seem to indicate that it’s the covering of the face which is problematic.

  12. Somebody more learned than I can shed some light on this, but in Masechet Shabbat of the Mishna (recorded over 400 years before the beginning of Islam), it says that women who live in Arabia can wear hijabs on Shabbat (without violating the prohibition of carrying), because that was the prevalent understanding of modesty in the region at the time, and Jews should not have a less strict understanding of modesty than their neighbors.
    Ergo, 1) Jews once wore hijabs, and 2) Islam did not make up the custom, but rather adopted it.
    This doesn’t mean that Jews today should be dressing such, and it still may be from Muslim influence, but it doesn’t seem to be the first time Jewish women are dressing such.

  13. Three thoughts:
    This seems like a very obvious (yet unconscious) attempt to out-hijab the Muslims of the region. I don’t know of any Muslim women who wear seven skirts and four or five scarves…
    This also seems like an attempt on the part of some women to make themselves completely invisible. That strikes me as a reaction to the constant vigilance of the haredi world about what women wear and look like. It’s as if someone is saying: “Fine. You don’t want to look at me? I’ll make sure you can’t see me at all. Then you can’t complain!”
    And finally: this seems to be some kind of pietistic movement. Someone above (or maybe in the posts on failedmessiah) mentioned nuns, and it’s a good parallel: it’s as if these women are actually becoming nuns. Vows of silence, rarely moving from their homes, prayer in all-womens’ community, being enshrouded in a robe, talking to God instead of other people: it’s all there. And their ability to labor is also limited, just like cloistered nuns. (I’m not going to mention sex, but the larger article says one of these women goes to bed in mittens and a turtleneck, so I wonder about the attitude toward sex that’s being promoted…) The women are using modesty like men in their community use Talmud: as an all-encompassing spiritual discipline. I’m not sure what to make of this piece of it, but it seems like a reaction to women being shut out of communal spiritual expression…
    I, too, am kind of speechless.

  14. incorrect- If you want to force these women to take it off then your a fascist. Comparing this to slavery is ridiculous. They don’t hurt others when they wear this.
    liberals- You think you guys are liberal but you want restrictions on clothing forced upon people.

  15. KRG, why is it that you say it’s technically a hijab and not a burqa? I was under the impression that hijab was more of a generic term for modesty (akin to tzniut in Judaism), but was often used to refer to head coverings that don’t cover the face, whereas here I think the big issue is that the women are choosing to cover their entire bodies, including their faces, in Taliban-style burqas. I’m pretty sure I saw one article where a woman described trying to convince a male security guard that she wasn’t Arab, but didn’t want to show him her ID card because she didn’t want him to even see a picture of her face. Doesn’t that make it sound more like a burqa than a hijab? Then again, I’m not an expert on these things, so feel free to enlighten me.

  16. There is obviously some type of pseudo-kabbalistic intention to the amount of clothing articles worn by these pseudo-kabbalist women.
    10 skirts? 3 scarfs in front? 2 in back?
    this is extremely disturbing and should show the underlying kabbalistic nature of many of these new stringencies.
    halacha or practice should never be drawn from kabbala whose origins are quite dubious on their own.

  17. Aaron– I’m a little confused by your e-mail. Most people here haven’t suggested that these women be forced to take off their veils. Disagreeing with a practice, or being surprised by it, is not the same as forbidding it.
    Also, you don’t seem to have answered the question about comparing immigrant women’s garb to a burqa. I am still curious about your response, as it does seem to me to be quite different to cover one’s hair and neck and to cover one’s face. If you read the whole article, some of these women are choosing to veil their faces completely and be led around by their children rather than expose an eye. That seems quite different from immigrant women, who had to do all kinds of work in the outer sphere and certainly couldn’t afford to be sightless in public.

  18. Right-wingers – always ignoring oppression of women until it suits them.. then turning around and blaming the liberals. I remember this exact same dialogue in Afghanistan right after 9/11.

  19. Seriously – if haredi women feel paradoxically empowered by tznius, more power to them, then. In the context of the greater misogyny in the community, it’s best that women find some source of self-esteem within the limits/confines of the community. We can hardly expect a feminist revolution (let alone haskala) from this segment of society, so don’t take away whatever self-esteem they managed to dredge up.

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