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A Modest Proposal

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.

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17 comments on “A Modest Proposal”

  1. Ayberk

    It never ceaess to amaze me that the Jewish men who marry non Jewish women and complain about Jewish women. Seem to marry non Jewish women who fit the negative stereotype of Jewish women

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  3. Peter Bernfeld

    A great peice of writing. I just wonder when it will be that Orthodox rabbis (not Ultra orthodox)turn round and say ‘this is not Judaism. There is no justification for this behaviour’.
    I have in safe keeping a guide to Judaism that was printed in the UK during the Second World War. It was a small book, designed as the Chief Rabbi of the time wrote, ‘to be put in a battledress pocket’ of Jewish soldiers. In the introduction, he wrote scathingly of (and this is from memory, not a direct quote) of those who follow a sect which sprang up in Poland and who’s originator misunderstood or misinterpreted the Torah.

  4. Sue Deutsch

    Some great suggestions, Naomi! Off to Mars and Venus we go!! I lived in Milwaukee for many years but moved to NYC 2 years ago to be near my kids and grandkids. I love reading the Jewish papers here. They seem to be vying with one another as to which one will be more ultra-frum. Many of them have NO pictures of women at all!–Not even drawings. Others might have one tiny picture of a very little girl or a very ancient lady. There are wedding stories with no photos(or even mention) of the bride or the bride’s mothers. Just photos of Rabbi’s. There are birth announcements which are sort of the reverse of the Christian concept of the Immaculate Conception–only in this case the child is brought into the world only by a father–no mother at all…..There are letters that compete with one another with lunatic suggestions of piety. I read the Flatbush Jewish paper yesterday(I live on the Lower Eastside but my son picked up the paper on a trip to Brooklyn)–apparently there had been a letter the previous week from a so-called “marriage counselor” who objects to the first amendment of the constitution(!!) and suggests that Jews follow the rules of the Taliban for women. He(I assume it is a “he”–but who knows?) also feels all of the problems of the modern age stem from women working. In this weeks paper there was a letter from a woman who objected to Jews reading or seeing weather reports. Apparently a Rabbi in Poland, 100 years ago or so, when papers first started carrying weather reports, said reading them was forbidden for Jews. It would mean that somehow we are doubting G-d. Amazing! It is always refreshing to read your newsletters which represent the voice of sanity!

  5. chava

    Didn’t Rivka veil herself when she realized it was Yitzchak in the field?

    • Rabbi Fleishig

      Chava, only when Rivka met her husband. On the long journey from her home, she was unveiled in the presence of Abraham’s servant, as she was when she drew water at the well.

  6. Joshua

    Yesterdays Parsha, Vajeshev, gives the correct answer to these women:
    It says about Yehuda (Vajeshev 38, 15):
    And Yehuda saw her (Tamar) and thought her to be a prostitute, because she veiled her face.

  7. Rabbi Fleishig

    In yesterday’s Torah reading, Yehuda concludes that Tamar is a prostitute because she has covered her face. Is this the ancient tradition these Taliban ladies and their super-holy rabbis are relying on? So when a man sees one of these women, is he supposed to do what Yehuda did?

  8. Naomi R

    Modesty taken to a higher level? I think not. Sounds more like what are they smoking? Naomi, your “modest proposal” of artificial insemination is pure genius. Thanks once again for an excellent post.

  9. selma Ost

    Women – sabra and immigrant alike should rise up and dewmand better treatment in that country Israel – they created it too – it should be free of religious domination and be a non-sectarioan state like the US.

  10. Karen

    I truly believe that modesty when executed properly is a great thing, but when anything is taken to an extreme it can be damaging to the practitioner. I hope and pray that the women and men of this community will wake up and realize that they are only damaging THEMSELVES and their children. Dressing in a way that you look attractive without being too revealing (so that men can look at you as a person not an object) or covering your hair after marriage is a great way to express your belief in Judaism. The important point here is balance, modesty doesn’t mean cover your self from head to toe, wrap yourself like a mummy, hide your face from view. After all, Hashem made us to be the beautiful women we are. There is nothing wrong with a man seeing a woman’s face. If a man can’t handle seeing a woman’s face or seeing a woman who is modestly garbed, not making herself invisible, there is something wrong with HIM! I will never understand the ultra-orthodox habit of excluding women from celebrating or worshipping with them. It seems to me the problem doesn’t lie with the women, it’s the men’s thinking that needs to change. You don’t have to look at a woman as a sex object, and truthfully isn’t that what they are afraid of? You know, that ancient Lilith/Eve thing that the women are the temptresses that “cause” the men to sin! It’s those evil, scheming women plotting the spiritual downfall of pious men! Busha! These men need to grow up and take responsibility for their own thoughts and deeds, if they sin it isn’t caused by listening to the voice of a woman singing.

  11. Iris

    Darn! I didn’t think of the artificial insemination route. I was hoping this mishugaas would take care of itself by their refusal to breed. But there is of course always the sheet…

    I have started sending emails with stories of this type to our synagogue e-mail list with the subject line “This is not my religion – “

    • Abdul

      to be happy, he said this is not psobisle. We should only hope to have strength to do mitzvot and fullfill our duty and die faithful. As there is much wisdom in what he said, it is too difficult for me to beleive that having the strongest connection to Hashem equals misserable. May you find your way and may we meet up in Olam Obah some day.Moshe

  12. Reuven

    Such behavior is generated by the same source that generates extremism elsewhere (Islam, Nazis, today’s Internet-generated-kooks).

    When you isolate yourself and only talk to others of “like-mind”…you eventually think that your thoughts are “normal” and that others are “not-normal”….if you do this enough, it is not a far distance to travel….you can (but thankfully, not always) start believing that “the other” is not human.

    This is why these nutcases throw Torah out the window when they pick up a rock on Shabbos and throw it at a car….or they attack a woman who might not be dressed to “their standards”. This is why the Hitler Youth were created – this is why you almost never find a 50 year old suicide bomber. This is also why the lunatic-left sequester themselves in their Tel Aviv cafes and chatter about Peace Now…. if you don’t look outside your little shtetl, you begin to see your life inside your shtetl as “normal”.

    • Rahul

      Maybe Jews shy away from mrnayirg each other because they fear they may be related? (The 12 tribes?) The incest taboo is totally appropriate and Jews DO have the lowest incest rate of any people, ever.I’m a Gentile broad, 3 times married to Hebrews. Your people ROCK. And the ladies even moreso.

  13. Tom Carew

    Since from the Jewish people have come, and still do, so many outstanding figures in Psychology, when will some of them explain this kind of diseased state, which also infects a similar fanatical fringe in other faiths ? But when found among any Jewish people [ or among any Christians who also acknowledge the same Tanakh ], you wonder have they ever pondered that great command – Devarim [ Deteronomy] – Ch 30, 19 – I have set before thee Life and Death, the blessing and the curse – therefore Choose Life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed. Or the last verse of the first chapter of the first book, Bereshit [ Genesis ] 1, 31 – And G-d saw EVERYTHING that he had made, and, behold, it was VERY good

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