Who or what is convincing apparently non-mentally-ill religious Jewish women to parade around like human laundry baskets? I am referring to the phenomenon of the “Taliban women” recently condemned and lambasted by the Eda Haredit (Badatz) for ironically being a little too modest, even for them.
In the beginning, there was one woman in Beit Shemesh (where else?) who decided to cover her head and face with a shawl. Since she herself was indicted and convicted of child abuse, and her children admitted to engaging in incest, one would think it unlikely she’d engender a following.
How little you know. The movement is not only alive and kicking, but apparently growing. How much is a matter of great debate. Some claim there are no more than 11 people involved, while Rabbi Avraham Ziat claims there are close to 10,000 adherents to these new guidelines all over Israel.
The Eda Haredit coming out publicly against the women seems to have been prompted by a groom who managed to marry twice before his 18th birthday, without bothering to get a divorce. Apparently, the first marriage was arranged by his veil-wearing mom when he was 16 to a 21-year-old woman (grooms are scarce these days, with the best “catches” in the yeshiva world unabashedly demanding up-front agreements on dowries of $100,000 and more before agreeing to even meet a girl).
But after the wedding, the bride, also a veil-wearer, said it wasn’t possible for her to go to the mikve (ritual bath) because that would require her not only to take off her veil, but to actually immerse naked in the water. Quite reasonable, don’t you think? The groom, apparently not on such a high spiritual level, didn’t agree, and found another, more willing veiled woman to take her place.
“To our sorrow, we the Badatz have listened to testimony regarding the iniquities of these women that have uprooted Torah from Israel, acting on their own, adopting a lifestyle devoid of Torah and educational values. They don’t send their offspring to Talmud Torah and schools; they prevent [them from] receiving medical care even in life-threatening cases, as well as matters not fitting to be discussed pertaining to chuppah and kiddushin [nuptials and betrothal]. Therefore we are warning Jewish women and girls that it is prohibited to join them and one must distance oneself from these customs and ways since ultimately they will, chas v’shalom [God forbid], lead to destruction and annihilation.” (Thanks to Yeshiva World News for the translation.)
I applaud Badatz for this statement, even though it is a bit surprising. They have never in the past complained about their followers endangering lives by, for example – refusing to vaccinate their children, or more recently boycotting Hadassah in solidarity with a Munchhausen-by-proxy haredi woman who was starving her son to death.
Also, since private Talmud Torahs catering to every sector pop up daily without anyone seeming to object, and existing Badatz-approved schools are refusing admission to veil-wearer offspring, I wonder, where is this complaint coming from?
So what is it, really, that has pushed the good rabbis of Badatz over the edge? It couldn’t be, could it, that these women stole their thunder by taking the next inevitable stop on the modesty mafia train themselves, could it? In other words, not that they are veiling themselves, but that they thought of it first?
As Tamar Rotem wrote in Haaretz, “It is hard to ignore the sense that part of the impetus for the Badatz condemnation of the group… derived from men’s feeling of intimidation by these women.”
Indeed, Badatz rabbi Gavriel Pappenheim was quoted as saying: “The moment they let the women lead their path, it developed into wantonness because they do not know how to stop.”
A bit ironic, wouldn’t you say, after a decades-old campaign led by extremist elements in the haredi world to make their women invisible, a campaign which started with sealing off tiny, inhospitable women’s sections in synagogues, and requiring separate gender seating in separate halls for weddings? A campaign that included fighting against electing women to religious councils (kudos to Leah Shakdiel), signs on public streets demanding every woman cover up according to some male-invented fantasy of how to erase women’s sexuality.
It escalated with the closure of women’s seminaries for higher education, segregated buses and streets and waiting rooms and bakeries and barriers at the Kotel (Western Wall), the erasure of all women’s faces from street ads… It gained momentum with the idea, pushed at every opportunity, that women’s lack of modesty was responsible for every disaster befalling the haredi community – including bombs on buses.
Not knowing when to stop is surely not a problem only of the veiled women.
When you interview one of these women, as did Ynet last week, by giving written questions to her husband, Eliezer Machpud, she says the following: “This dress is my joy and happiness. To insist I take it off is like making me walk on thorns without shoes…. We are very happy.”
There is nothing surprising in this. The same kind of lobotomized responses were given during the fight over segregated buses, with haredi women talking about how they love to sit in the back of the bus.
But one thing, it seems, everyone in the haredi world can agree on. Too modest or not modest enough, it’s perfectly all right to scream at women, throw things at them, curse them, publicly humiliate them, and in the case of the veil wearers, tear off their clothes. I experienced some of this personally the first time I inadvertently got on to a mehadrin bus a few years ago.
I’d love to read Badatz condemning that as against Torah values.
Let’s be clear: the veil wearers are cuckoo. But they didn’t lose their marbles all by themselves. A whole society was pushing them down this path, the same society that now seems so shocked that they have finally gone over the edge. As for their claim that this harks back to “ancient Jewish custom,” try imagining Isaac meeting a Rebekah who looked like that, or Jacob meeting Rachel at the well. Right then and there, it would have spelled the end of the Jewish people.
Anyway, if you’re going to be crazy, why adopt Muslim customs? Can’t the Jewish brain think of its own stringencies?
I have a modest proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift). Since God-fearing, pious Jewish women are separated from men from birth and taught to stringently keep covered at all times, we cannot reasonably expect them to has v’shalom get into bed naked with a man (so what if he is her husband?).
Baruch Hashem, modern technology can solve this problem. What I suggest is that artificial insemination take the place of this immodest act. The men will deliver their half via other men to women doctors who will see that the next generation gets started in modesty and piety. Now when the kids are born, the boys will be sent by rocket ship to one planet, and the girls to another…
This article was first published in the Jerusalem Post on 16 December, 2011.