Burkas and Bikinis

This YouTube video shows an interview of a "Talibanit" lady, sporting her burka, a full head covering veil; the interview is apparently conducted by her husband.

The husband asks his wife several questions about why she wears a full-face veil and multiple layers of clothing, the response of people in the street, and how she responds to critics, from the secular through to the ultra-orthodox?

The lady replies that she wears this non-standard dress in order to be more modest, and in imitation of women (both Jewish and non-Jewish) from previous eras, including the Mothers of the Jewish people, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel.

She explains that whereas many people encourage her in this, she experiences particular hostility in the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, such as Meah Shearim in Jerusalem.

She claims that she has been spat upon, people have tried to forcibly remove her veil, and she has even had rocks thrown at her.

The lady declares her love and acceptance of all Jewish women as her sisters.

She criticises the "Eida Hachareidit" (the Chareidi leadership), who have recently issued proclamations against women wearing veils etc, steps she finds to be negative.

Whereas many see these women simply as loonies, and perhaps subjects of cultish or slave-like regimes by their husbands, this particular Talibanit seems reasonably lucid to me.

There is little doubt that non-standard dress can evoke very strong responses; specifically regarding veils, even liberal democratic France has introduced a ban on (Moslem) veils:

"As of 11 April 2011, it is illegal to wear a face-covering veil or other mask in public places such as the street, shops, museums, public transportation, and parks."

On the other hand, yesterday's fashion outrage, is part of today's regular wardrobe.

Consider the humble (and skimpy) bikini.

In 1946, Louis Reard, the (also French) creator of the then-controversial bikini, initially could not even find a fashion model willing to wear it.

Half a century later, the bikini has been described as "perhaps the most popular female beachwear around the globe", an industry of almost $1 Billion in annual sales.   

Interestingly, the popularity of the bikini has been directly linked to women's rights.

According to French fashion historian Olivier Saillard [the popularity of the bikini is] due to "the power of women, and not the power of fashion". As he explains, "The emancipation of swimwear has always been linked to the emancipation of women."

I'm not sure where the boundaries lie, between women dressing provocatively (at both ends of the normal curve – highly covered, or almost naked) and a woman's legitimate right to express herself through her clothing.

The Burka lady in the video, invokes democracy as protecting her right to wear a burka, which I find a reasonable point.


  1. I am not sure how reasonable though I find the intimidation employed by the burkha-preachers to pray on the weakness of these women and certainly not the picture of the woman's daughter sitting there with a towel over her head and claiming she is doing this of her free will.

  2. IMHO, at the very least it stops being her democratic right to do so when she imposes it on her daughters. Or when she, or a particular group, pressure other women to do so.

    It is true that it one has a legal right to dress one's daughter in a bikini and other clothes I would find inappropriate (not that dressing a child in slutty clothing would be proper either), yet IMHO some account has to be taken of societal norms when determining what one should be able to impose on one's children.

    Dressing in a burkas, at least outside of Saudia Arabia, (1)is weird, and ironically, incredibly attention-getting, (2) will subject the child to abuse and ridicule by others, children and adults, and (3) is frankly a hazard both to the one wearing it and others.

    A woman cannot see through the veil, and no one can tell me that that is safe. Nor could she safely run from a fire or other danger, or help her children in such a situation.

    Furthermore, establishing such a norm -- even among a small minority -- will make the job of our security forces and of average citizens in trying to identify and stop terrorists even more difficult.

    If terrorists dressed as Arab women before to hide bombs and evade scrutiny, it's obvious that they will dress as Taliban women and refuse to be searched. Can we afford to allow this to go on?
    Can we afford to allow women dressed like this to go out into the public? (Not to mention how they're supposed to fulfill the security requirement to have a picture on their Teudat Zehut)

    These are unfortunately not theoretical questions.

    Finally, it has already become clear that the Taliban women's obsession with alleged "tzniut" has led to the physical endangerment of their family. Not only because the mother can't, e.g., see a threat to her family, whether a person or a hole in the ground, but because it has now led a family to refuse medical treatment for their daughter because men (medics and doctors) would see her.

    I don't know if I've EVER before disagreed with you, David (or agreed with the Eida HaCharedit), but this has got to stop -- and be stopped.

    Sounding reasonable and being reasonable are not always the same thing.

  3. I think the bottom line (ahem) is that the French are hypocrites.

    What's nouveau?!

  4. David,

    Perhaps she sounds rational to you; to me she sounds like a classic case of OCD. This is something that's common in the Chareidi community - an obsession with whether a particular Mitzva has been done exactly the way it should be done, with a precise shiur.

    I've seen this with people who repeat words of Shema, because they're not sure they pronounced them with the precisely correct dikduk (and it is a d'oraita, after all), those who wash their hands six times, rather than the required four, before eating bread (because they may have inadvertantly missed part of the hand below the wrist on one of the earlier times - never mind that me'ikur hadin, the requirement is to wash only twice, and the chiyuv to remove Tumah is only to wash until the knuckles - washing four times and until the wrist is a ge'zera derabanan). With Tziniut being emphasized so much in the Chareidi world, is it any wonder that some OCD women are going overboard in that area too?

  5. Well, I must say that we have extremist in every religion. We see it in history and we see it among our people today whether religious or not.
    And it is written, Sara imeninu was beautiful. Abraham avinu was worried about her appearance from the Egyptians when they had to travel to Egypt. Avraham told Sara to say that she is his sister, as for the Egyptians might lust after her and will kill him if they were to come as man and wife. Well here alone we can say that Sara imeinu must have shown some appearance (such as her face perhaps) otherwise if she had been covered with a vail completely from head to toe, Abraham wouldn't have been so concerned.
    At the end of the day, those who care to be careful in their spiritual connection with Hashem must attach themselves to a Rav that knows and follows the torah guidelines al pi halacha and who looks out for his fellow Jews (all Jews).
    Modesty is of great importance and so are many other mitzvot. The biggest and hardest one for all of us is "veahavta lereaha kamocha"... "you shall love your neighbor (fellow Jew) as yourself". Take it as...love your fellow Jew regardless of their spiritual path and indeed humanity and all of Creation. Let it be!

  6. David,

    Open your eyes to the fact that her VERY undemocratic society has made it acceptable to wipe out any images of the feminine form. It is misogyny, (hatred of women) pure and simple.
    Her surroundings set her up to believe that her body will destroy men and their disciplined devotion to their values. From there it's a short leap to trying to erase herself completely.

    She has no right to shout "democracy, democracy." She needs help, and until her society stops attacking women (or girls as they did today at Orot Banot again) for being feminine, this horrible phenomenon will only get worse. You don't get to demand democratic values when you are subjugating half of the population!

    Physical attraction is a powerful force, and haredim are scared of it. Their mistake is in thinking that it can be eliminated by erasing women from public view.

    As humans, we will always have our weaknesses, distractions and mistakes in thought and deed. Our job and challenge is to overcome these weaknesses within ourselves, and not by making others suffer for them!

    You are wrong to think that she's okay, she isn't and her society CERTAINLY isn't!

  7. Joel'
    Why are you saying these women are the Charedi view."Physical attraction is a powerful force, and haredim are scared of it. Their mistake is in thinking that it can be eliminated by erasing women from public view.
    The vast majority of Charedim don't try to erase them from view. Physical attraction is a very powerful force and therefore there is separation not abolishment. There are far less male-female problems between Charedi people then non-Charedi people because of this separating factor (divorce, pre-marital relations, etc..)

  8. Chaim Tovim

    Segregation (separation) vs Discrimination is as very small step.

    It is clear that extreme Charedi gender segregation is part of a much broader and deeper systemic discrimination against women. Women are treated as second class citizens in SO many ways in Charedi society, and this is because they are viewed as second class.

    This robot burka lady is a next-step expression of "normal" gender separation in Charedi communities.

    As for your claim that there are less male-female problems in Chareidi society: where this is true (eg lower divorce rates) there are many other explanations, such as the ostracization, stigmatization, financial impossibility, associated with the Charedi divorce process, beyond any links to gender separation.

    And to balance any possible advantages of gender segregation, are real concerns that pedophilia, homosexuality and prostitution are the only available outlets for male charedi sex drive (outside of "tahor" marital relations).

  9. Joel,
    Being a Chareidi , I can tell you very well that Most Charedi streams do not consider ladies as second class citizens at all.There are 100's of stories of how the "Charedi" gedolim treat their wives with the utmost respect and caring. it is the people on the outside, who think Charedi women are 2nd class citizens. True, like any group, we have all of the problems you mentioned. but per capita, it is on a smaller scale. Hashem gave us the Torah as a remedy and as a solution to these problems. This is what we use to fight the Yetzer Hora. It again doesn't mean we're problem free, we're not. And segregation, does help a tremendous amount. When you put boys and girls together, you're asking for problems.
    As far as the Burka ladies are concerned--- When you have the Eida Hachareidis, Which most people would consider as an extreme haredi group come out against them, this shows you how extreme the Burka ladies are, and how they are shunned by other Charedim---So please don't put the Burka Ladies together with other Charedim.

  10. I dont know about you...but that voice is super sexy...maybe we can get them to shut up too?

  11. David R,

    "Kol Isha" is certainly a tznius issue; so I'm a firm advocate for shutting them up entirely on these grounds.

    Women should not be seen, nor heard.

    And certainly not when they're nagging.

    Or right.

    Or (here's every guy's nightmare) both.

  12. I'd be most interested in hearing what this woman would have to say away from her husband or any other man. IF she says the same thing under those circumstances - IOW - she actually does want to dress in this manner and it's not being imposed on her, then all of us should quietly butt out. However, a video of a totally veiled woman being interviewed by a man is, to me, less than convincing.

    Another big if - IF what she describes, namely that she was cursed at and spat upon, actually happened to her, then this is completely reprehensible and, just like such behavior needs to be stopped when perpetrated against seven year olds in Beit Shemesh, it needs to be stopped when perpetrated against burka-clad women in Me'ah She'arim. But again, I'm skeptical. Since behavior of this nature - spitting, cursing, etc., - seems to be the modus operandi of extremist groups within the Chareidi community, I'm not convinced that these claims of abuse that she's describing actually took place. Maybe we need to send Arutz 2 into her neighborhood to videotape this behavior.

    What's with the mechitzah strung up in the room she's in, BTW?

  13. I agree with almost everything she says, except for her conclusions. Dress is not only a matter of personal choice. It is deeply connected to community practice, historical precedent and cultural influence. We don't make our choices in a vacuum. P.S. We don't have any photographs of the imahot.

  14. I don't think that God had this in mind when it comes to tzniut and I doubt that that's what He would want a Bat Yisrael to look like....there is no Jewish law against a woman feeling beautiful or doing anything to make herself more beautiful (make-up, sheitels, jewelry, clothing etc.) Honestly, I pity her girls....no one should have to grow up with a mother who is "afraid" to show her face in public....in the end, there is something very wrong with her going to SUCH an extreme and that her husband encourages it makes me wonder whether or not this is enforced on her (verbally or otherwise...)


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