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Jewish Modesty Warriors Take Up Burkas

Y-Love, over at Jewlicious, calls attention to a crazy new trend in the ultra-Orthodox community. A small group of women in Israel, intent on being as uber-modest as possible, have started voluntarily wearing burkas and hijabs. Y-Love links to and quotes from Muqata blog, which has translated part of the Haaretz article about the new fashion move:

A group of Ultra-Orthodox chareidi women in Ramat Beit Shemesh have hyperbolated tznius [laws of modesty] to the extreme and now wear burkas whenever they go outside their home. Not advocated by any known rabbi, the burka fad is apparently a radical ultra-Orthodox feminist "invention", and many are wary of this custom being adopted or repudiated. The radical Beit Shemesh tznius patrol is even scratching it's head whether someone managed to out do them, and leave them in the dust with the liberal left. The husband of one such woman took his wife to Beit Din (religious court) to request from her to remove the burka due to shalom bayit (a peaceful home). The court ordered a religious divorce even though the husband didn't even request one — because the court found her behaviour to be so bizarre.

Mother in Israel posts some truly unbelievable pictures, and the issue is being discussed everywhere from the Forward’s Bintel Brief to the Lilith blog where Friend of Jewcy Rebecca Honig Friedman writes:


They are adopting the ideal of modesty that to some extent has been ingrained in them by male religious authority (and no doubt by female authorities, too), but they are doing so on their own terms. They are taking the power of dictating women’s dress away from the male religious authorities in their community, deciding for themselves what modesty means and, in classic fashion, being persecuted for it. These women have the right to wear whatever they want, but we should also question the values that have led them to such extreme decisions, and the society that perpetuates those values.

I’ll be the first to admit it: there are days when I would happily put on a burka so as not to have to spend half an hour blow-drying my hair and putting on makeup in order to be presentable. And I think the visceral negative reaction to burkas has more to do with the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries than with the burka itself (and anyway, all of the pictures I’ve seen so far are not of women in burkas, they’re of women wearing jilbab). Do I think the women in Ramat Beit Shemesh are going overboard? Absolutely. But though I find it all pretty strange, it’s not as offensive as if they were being told to wear jilbab by their rabbis, which, no doubt, is just round the bend.

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