The Burqa Ban…For Orthodox Jewish Women


Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel are about to issue an edict banning a particular outfit adopted by a few women — because it’s too modest. That outfit? A burqa.

The Hebrew expression hafuch al hafuch — an inversion of an inversion, or the opposite of the opposite — comes to mind in this strange footnote of the politics of women’s dress in the Middle East. A few years ago, a hundred or so women in ultra-Orthodox Bet Shemesh began wearing burqas of their own volition, as a way to trump previously-accepted standards of modesty. At the time, one told Haaretz, “At first, I just wore a wig, Now when I see a woman with a wig, I pray to God to forgive her for wearing that thing on her head.”

Personal choice? Ironic novelty in the bigger picture of Jewish-Muslim relations? Maybe. But publicly sanctioned, as a Haaretz op-ed this past March about France’s burqa ban indicated:

To the Israeli observer, the public debate in France appears as fascinating as it is strange. In Israel no one would think of prohibiting any sort of “extreme” dress. This is primarily because the Israeli model allows a number of tribal campfires to burn alongside one another, within certain limits. The ultra-Orthodox have a beach of their own in Tel Aviv where they can bathe covered from head to toe, while Muslim women can swathe themselves in as many yards of opaque cloth as they like.

No one would think of prohibiting any sort of “extreme” dress — except for Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, apparently, policing their own community. According to reports in The Jewish Chronicle and The Telegraph, the rabbinic organization of Eda Charedit — prodded by the husbands of burqa-wearing women, apparently — are over the Jewish burqa. They’re issuing a statement condemning it.

According to the Chronicle, a top rabbi with the organization said, “Cover the body, fine, but you would think them a sack of potatoes…The Eda Charedit is very against it and sees in it a real danger that by exaggerating you are doing the opposite of what is intended — severe transgressions in sexual matters.”

It’s not really clear if this is kinky because you can’t tell she’s a woman for all the potato-sack qualities of the burqa, or because it has associations with Islam, or because the rabbis didn’t think of it themselves. But these women should have every right to cover as much of themselves as they wish.

Israeli Rabbis Clamp Down On Burka [Telegraph]
Ban Jewish Burka, Say Israeli Rabbis [Jewish Chronicle]

Related: Israel More Tolerant Of Muslims Than Burka-Obsessed France [Haaretz]

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