Channel 2’s “360” program broadcast Yifat Erlich’s prison interview with Bruria Keren. For some reason she called her Rabbanit M.—I don’t know where the M comes from. Her husband isn’t a rabbi, but it is common for female teachers to be known as Rabbanit. Of course the title adds to the drama.
I’ve already reviewed the first broadcast, Erlich’s “undercover” investigation of hyper-modesty.
Below is a rough translation/summary of the program, with a few comments. You can find the video on Rafi’s site.
A prison official said that “Rabbanit M” arrived wearing 27 layers. She doesn’t shower, she spends all her days with holy books, and doesn’t communicate except by writing.
When Erlich asked how she spends her time, Keren replied (in writing) that she says psalms, prays and takes care of her bodily needs. Since she is careful only to eat food she has prepared herself, her body is missing many important elementss. She’s been in jail for 2½ years.
According to prison records, her last visitor was her husband, in December 2009. [This is unbelievable.] The official said she decided to cut herself off from other prisoners and prison staff, and this interview is her first contact with the outside world. The prison official said that while she spoke initially, now she communicates only by writing.
Keren writes that she took a vow not to speak, and this calms her. “I was so good to everyone, but everyone called me the evil-doer of the world. I decided not to speak to anyone. I don’t care what anyone says, I decided to forgive everyone with all my heart.”
Erlich interviewed Keren’s lawyer. [As Rafi said, it’s unclear why she has a male lawyer because she won’t let him see her face.] If he could see her and speak to her, he said, he would be able to present her side better. The court decided that her mental health was compromised, and that she caused irreparable damage to her children. She hurt them not just physically, but shamed and insulted them.
Keren says that she was everyone’s “Kotel.” The children never heard say no, the purpose of her whole life was to make sure her children were happy. She stayed up late working so they could have whatever they needed. “I didn’t stop hugging and kissing them.”
Her husband tells Erlich that he doesn’t know another mother who loved her children more than his wife loved hers. “True,” he says, “This led her to do things that shouldn’t be done.” She did not do anything out of sadism or hate like the media suggested. If she would have dressed like a normal haredi woman this would have been a much smaller issue. The way she dresses makes people crazy.”
Keren tells Erlich that was born on Kibbutz Shluhot [a religious kibbutz] and moved to an unspecified agricultural moshav. She worked with her father in the fields, and loved it. When asked whether she grew up in a religious family she nods her head vigorously. They kept Shabbat, kashrut, and the rest. Her father was a cantor and read the Torah in the synagogue.
The husband said that his wife madee her children healthy breakfasts with soy milk, almond milk etc. “We have twins,” he said, “I think they are numbers 10 and 11. One was born “not well,” and thanks to my wife he reached a reasonable level [of functioning]. The changes in modesty were to save the child.”
Keren says that the heavens guided her in her choice of clothing. She quotes a gemara about the importance of dressing like our foremothers to bring the redemption. She says that kashruth hasn’t changed, hyraxes are still unkosher, so why is it okay that tzniut has changed?
Benizri spoke with the undercover reporter about how strong Keren was, how determined. Benizri says that some women stopped covering after the trial, but after a while they started again.
Researcher Sima Zaltzberg explains that Keren’s followers are in denial about what she did, and they see her as a role model.
Teaching: Keren claims that she didn’t ask to teach, women came to her. She has students in the US, Canada and Israel. If asked to teach again after her release, she won’t refuse. She explains the importance of dressing modestly, like our foremothers. She admits to hitting her children and the reporter says this is the first time that she has. She says she never meant to hurt them or leave marks. She only did it for education, not out of anger. and apologizes if she did hurt them.
She has served 2/3 of her term and is waiting for a ruling on an early release. She is also writing a book about her journey. She has a special talent for including delicious recipes, that she is inventing for her husband and children when she gets out of jail.
“Hashem kadosh ve-ain od milvado.” These are the only words that she speaks, saying that God is holy and there is no other.
Aside from defending herself, she gave the interview to continue her campaign to encourage her brand of modest dress. If we want to dress like the biblical Sarah and Rebecca, perhaps we should pick flax and weave the clothes ourselves too. Fortunately or not, we don’t have pictures. While it’s true they didn’t wear button-down dress suits, every generation has adopted styles from the surrounding culture with modifications.