I’ve written a lot about extreme modesty in women’s dress and we always have this discussion about whether or not it is any of our business. At what point do we say “live and let live,” and when do we begin to worry that these trends will affect us in our daily lives.
Well, the time to worry is here.
I’m posting the whole story from Haaretz and my comments appear at the end.
Dozens of Sderot businesses, include the retail SuperPharm and Optica Halperin retail chains, signed a modesty agreement over the past few months under which they guarantee that their workers will make sure to dress modestly. The agreement is the initiative of the Mimaamakim organization, which is supported by the Torah-oriented garin (core group) there. A business owner who signs the agreement receives a modesty certificate asserting that the premises is “kosher.”
Weiselberg, manager of the city’s Steimatzky book store, refused to sign the agreement, right. Photo by: Ilan Assayag
So far some 20 stores and businesses in Sderot have signed the agreement, which states that employees will take care to dress modestly, as a form of identification with the “we are all in favor of dignified dress” campaign. The dress code applies also to ads and notices for the business and displaying obscenities. The Mimaamakim organization blesses the business owner “that he merits with God’s help all blessings.”Mimaamakim representatives say they are not threatening to boycott businesses that refuse to sign the agreement. However, because considerable buying power is involved, some business owners fear losing customers and are accepting the agreement. An article on the issue appeared last week in the newspaper of Sapir College’s media department.
A local clothing store owner who agreed to sign the modesty pact says, “they came to me and asked that the girls who work in the store dress modestly so that we would receive the certificate. You have to realize this organization is influential and I was afraid of losing customers.”
According to him, “the girls who work for me have a problem with this; it’s simply religious coercion.”
Bat Ami Weiselberg has been the manager of the Steimatzky book store branch in Sderot for two years. She says that she recently refused to sign the agreement: “Three weeks ago, a respectable woman came in and told me that she is from Mimaamakim and they grant modesty certification to businesses if they are willing to sign an agreement in which they guarantee that women will come to work in modest dress.”
In response to her question of what is modest dress, the woman said “the shirt sleeves should cover the elbows.” The agreement she said also covered not displaying things considered obscene.
One Mimaamakim activist said yesterday that “our organization took upon itself the task of strengthening tradition in Sderot. We run a variety of activities in the city, including Torah classes. At one meeting, women approached us and related that there are businesses where they are afraid to send men and children because of the vulgar advertisements. We decided to talk to the owners in a pleasant manner and explain the problem to them.”
Mimaamakim said in response that “the project is part of a campaign to spread Jewish spirit. The campaign referred to is a voluntarily effort based on understanding and full cooperation. The decision of business owners to refrain from joining is also welcomed. We hope to continue with all our efforts and benefit from them based on love for our fellows and respect for all, for the welfare of society and the individual in Sderot and the surrounding areas.”He said there is no boycott or black list involved, and this was merely a request made of the storeowner.
SuperPharm did not provide any comment.
First, a translation of the certificate:
“This is to certify that the owner of the business: Halperin Optical at Peretz Center, Sderot, through identification with the initiative ‘We are all in favor of respectful dress’ will be careful (yakpid) about the rules of appropriate and dignified dress and appearance, whether of advertisements in the store or of employees. We express our deep appreciation for the participation of this business owner in this initiative, and bless him and all of his workers that they should merit, with God’s help, success in all of their endeavors.”
- I believe that businesses are entitled to have a dress code, and that overly casual or exposed dress reflects poorly on the professionalism of the business.
- Such a dress code should reflect the company’s interests and goals, and not be imposed by an outside group.
- I am happy not to be an employee at one of the businesses that signed the agreement.
- The Halperin Optical chain is under haredi ownership, and probably already implements some kind of dress code for its employees.
- I noticed that the word tzniut is not mentioned in the certificate, but make no mistake, this is what it is about.
- The “garin torani” in most cities is not technically haredi. Mainly composed of hesder yeshiva graduates, who served in the army, they identify themselves as hardal, an acronym for haredi-dati-leumi. More stringent than the average national religious, they have been accused of trying to change the status quo in state religious elementary schools in Carmiel, Tel Aviv, and other places, by getting hired as staff members and pushing for more separation between boys and girls.
Haaretz often mixes up haredi and national religious. If the report is accurate the initiative is not haredi, which I find especially disturbing.
- Who has time to go around and make sure that other people are dressing in a particular way? Surely there they could promote more important social initiatives in Sderot, an economically depressed development town that has suffered barrages of rockets since Israel left Gaza in 2006.
- Sderot residents are mainly secular and traditional, not haredi.
- The “appreciation” mentioned in the sign reminds me of this letter to the women of Ramat Beit Shemesh.