The Problem with Putting Veils on Little Girls

woman-sunglassesThe pictures of the family from Beit Shemesh wearing veils has disturbed me for several weeks. We can debate about whether this is in the spirit of the Torah. Or whether it threatens Orthodox Judaism, Israel, or women everywhere. But the most pressing issue involves the young girls in these families.

In the pictures, the faces of the girls are covered with a dark cloth. Perhaps the youngest child is four, perhaps older. In the best-case scenario, as described by the poster in the forum, the fabric used for the veils has small holes, invisible from afar, that allow the wearers to see out. Bus advertisements glued to windows also contain small holes that enable riders to see outside. But in both cases, the view is tinted.

It’s like having to wear sunglasses in all weather and light conditions, including indoors, or having cataracts, or going without correction for nearsightedness. I get a headache if I don’t take off my sunglasses the second I go into my building’s lobby. How much detail are these girls missing from their already limited view of the world?

Poor vision, though, is the lesser issue. The main concern is that the expressions on the faces of these girls are hidden from view. No one knows whether they are sad, happy, scared or worried. And to me that means no one really cares. Not their parents, not their teachers, and certainly not the rabbi supposedly supporting this —œtrend.—

Reportedly, there is an entire school of these girls. Can you imagine the scene on the playground, if they even have one? There is simply no way for girls in veils to have normal social interaction when they can’t see each other’s faces. It is like blinding them, but without providing compensation skills normally taught to disabled children.

A secular reader and friend, who works in the field of children’s health, sent me the following email:

Nobody is suggesting getting the social workers involved, that this could be considered a type of child abuse. I think that perhaps they are afraid of getting involved in a supposedly religious subject. That is why it is so important for religious women get involved.

People who see girls with veiled faces in their communities should report them to the local welfare department so a social worker can evaluate the family. If adults want to dehumanize themselves, that is their right. But covering children’s eyes is more than just a bizarre cultural more. It interferes with normal social and emotional development in a very serious way.

The shawls and veils also cover the mouth and ears. Who is listening to these children? Who can comfort them?

Related:

Hyper-Tzniut Fashions for Young Girls

Face-Covering Mother of Twelve Convicted of Child Abuse

Jewish Face-Covering Women Request New School

Photo credit: lanchongzi

Check out the 2016 fashions at Hydrochic modest swimwear.

Comments

  1. VeredRoyz says:

    BS”D

    I disagree that you can’t have a normal social interaction if you don’t see the face, it sounds like prejudices. I agree though that it isn’t good for the girls and it’s against Torah.

    • Blind people and deaf people do learn to interact appropriately. This isn’t prejudice against the blind. BUt deliberately making someone half blind is a problem. I hope a school would report a child whose parents refused to get him glasses.

      • Ms. Krieger says:

        I once taught a girl who was eager and willing to learn, but seemed somehow dense. It took a couple of weeks to realize she was not dense at all – just nearsighted.

        She came from a very poor family and figuring out how to approach the issue (and get the girl vision correction) was hard. They could not afford the glasses on their own…

        This is a different situation but I suspect approaching it with the families will be equally difficult.

    • Lack of eye contact and facial expression severely limits social interaction. This is a statement of fact. Alternatively, why shouldn’t anyone be prejudiced against a practice that is clearly child abuse? Yes, I’m proud to say I’m prejudiced against this abhorrent practice of veiling young children, just like I’m prejudiced against any other cult that abuses children and the vulnerable.

    • Nurse Yachne says:

      VeredRoyz–It’s not prejudice, it’s just a fact. I am severely myopic, and without my glasses, I have difficulty speaking with people because I cannot see their facial expressions. Yes, it DOES have a serious effect on communication and social interaction.

      Have you ever had to do business with someone in a full-face niqqab (veil)? I have, and it is a serious handicap to communication. Even just speaking with the person, especially if there are any other language difficulties. As one of my colleagues said, “You don’t know where to look! It’s like Casper the Unfriendly Ghost.”

  2. Scary scary line to cross… while I completely disagree with the practice of burqa-shawl-wearing Jewish women/girls… is it abuse??? I certainly wouldn’t want social services knocking on my door because my son is too hot wearing his tzit-tzit in the shmoiling Israeli summer or because my toddler is “too old to be breastfed” or other practices some people view as odd or even abusive. As a 10-year resident of Bet Shemesh… I can sadly attest to the fact that there are many social welfare issues that should be reported: leaving kids in locked cars while parents do their shopping, smacking kids across the face, inappropriate touching between children (sexual weirdness at home?), sending sick children to school in order to go to work… to name a few. I’ve personally witnessed all of the above – not one of those parents were Charedi.

    • In some of those cases I would say yes, Erika. Certainly locking kids in cars. I hear what you are saying, though. Especially about nursing the toddlers. 🙂

    • I think this is in a case vastly removed from toddler breastfeeding and tzitzit. These veils cut off peripheral vision and severely limit frontal vision, and cut off access to facial expressions and body language. Would anyone question whether a child locked in a dark basement forever was being abused? What is the difference?
      I see very little difference, aside from the fact that one can talk to these children. I very much doubt these children are getting proper medical care because it’s probably not considered “tzanua” But, again, we don’t know since no one is checking.

      Nobody in the outside world knows what’s going on with them. That’s scary. We don’t know if they’re being physically, mentally or emotionally abused. Horrific things like what happened to the children under Elior Chen’s “care” could be happening. We just don’t know. If that’s the case, then yes, child services should be called to check. One can see whether a breastfeeding toddler or a child in tzitzit is ok or not just be seeing how they walk down the street. Not the case here at all.

      • No one knows what kind of abuse could be happening in many, many cases. If you can make the case that the practice is abusive, then call social services. If you can’t make that argument, then calling social services is simply being vindictive.

      • I agree that it is better to be safe than sorry. If someone feels that a child is being abused, even if that feeling is based on a disagreement of religious interpretation of modesty requirements, the authorities should be called. Call a rav if there is a concern of going to secular authorities about religious people but if the rav says not to call the authorities, ask him who to call instead. It may save a life.
        It would be great if some caring frum people got together and did some cult busting. How in the world does a parent enforce the wearing of those uncomfortable restrictive garments on small children? Most little kids will take off clothing if they are too hot. Putting little girls in tights in the summer is for chinuch but they can go in the wading pool in their swim suits. Most families won’t punish the child for taking off the tights when they get too hot. It is merely an introduction to the whole idea and it is not strictly enforced when the child is not in public.
        I say, let the authorities examine the children, check out the homes, see if their shots are up to date, etc. I personally hope that those kids are given to normal homes to grow up in. An orphanage would be better than a cult.

    • > I certainly wouldn’t want social services knocking on my door because my son is too hot wearing his tzit-tzit in the shmoiling Israeli summer or because my toddler is “too old to be breastfed” or other practices some people view as odd or even abusive.

      Valid, but don’t forget that protecting yourself from unwanted allegations is not a justifiable reason for turning a blind eye to abuse or defending it. I cannot say whether this is abuse, of course.

    • Erika, there may be a thin line out there, but this is blatantly so way beyond it. A bit sad that you have to ask if it is abuse. It’s horrendous.

  3. Nevermind the myriad safety issues. Are these kids (chas v’shalom) going to get hit by a car because they can’t watch all the traffic? What if (chas v’shalom) one of these kids were kidnapped… how do you give a description to the police?

  4. I can’t imagine that these face-covering women have a school. They are an extreme fringe group numbering (maybe!) in the tens.

    Anyways, at home or in school they don’t cover.

    • If you don’t know whether they have a school (reports say there is one in Jerusalem) how do you know what they do there?

      • They do have a school, and they don’t cover at home. Though I am not sure about what happens at school. I would assume that when the male Rabbanim teach divrei kodesh the girls would be covered(but then I am assuming that people who so subjugate women would be teaching them divrei kodesh).

      • Sorry, I wasn’t clear.
        The school that they have (and where they do not have to cover) is for the community of women who wear full shawls over their body. It is outdoor wear.
        The ones you posted about last week who cover their faces are very very few in number. I cannot imagine (but I do not know for sure) that they have enough for a school.

  5. I totally agree with everything you said, but I also think that imposing any stringent tzniut standard on young girls is wrong and bordering on abusive, both because it sexualizes children long before that is at all appropriate, and because of the discomfort involved. If it’s considered abuse/neglect to dress your two year old in shorts and a t-shirt and then take her outside in the winter, why shouldn’t it be abuse/neglect to dress your two year old in long sleeves and stockings and then take her out in the summer?
    PS – I’m pretty strict about tzniut for myself – I cover elbows all summer – but for very young girls I think it is wrong.

    • This answer from Channa is what scares me… who is to judge me or any parent on how they dress their child? I might think someone is a whack-job for putting a veil on their kid and some lefty anti-religious person might think I’m a whacko for putting my girls in long-sleeves and stockings during summer. (FYI I’m not that strict – just for the purpose of the argument). I apply cult status to Jews who veil and burqa and shawl their girls – that’s NOT Judaism but it’s also not abuse. It’s just weird and ridiculous IMO.

      • Of course we judge parents who dress their children inappropriately. If you saw a child out in the snow with no boots, jacket, or gloves, you wouldn’t judge? When I became a teacher I was taught that one of the signs of child neglect is a child who shows up to school dressed in clothing inappropriate for the weather outside. This is not a matter of “lefty anti-religious people” trying to frame the religious; it’s a matter of common sense. (As I said in my post, I adhere to tzniut standards myself, but I shudder to see those same standards applied to three year olds.)

        • And you have just provided a perfect example of what Erika was talking about. You think that Tznius shouldn’t apply to young children, so you have labeled parents who adhere to a mainstream standard of Halacha as “abusive”. Nice. I don’t care about your politics (left, right or up-side-down.) I do care about the fact that you take it upon yourself to dictate to parents how they may follow halacha.

          • I’ll have to agree with “observer”. Being a religious fanatic does NOT mean you are a child abuser. As far as the Elior Chen case goes that was sick physical brutality against children which included locking a 3 year old in a suitcase for days and throwing a child against the wall. The children had broken bones and teeth. The youngest child remains in a coma to this day. You cannot compare the cases. Elior Chen is a monster who should never again see the light of day….

          • I also feel sorry for little kids who have to wear tights and long sleeves in the summer. I have a charedi niece who used to strip down to the nude when she came in the house at ages 4 and 5 because she couldn’t stand being so covered up in the summer.Parents are free to take on any chumra they want, but forcing those chumras on children is another matter entirely. Covering knees, elbows, even wearing socks I get and there are ways to keep girls comfortable in the summer in that attire. Tights and sleeves down to the wrists is another matter entirely.

            What really gets me is to see the girls completely covered and the boys in shorts and T shirts. :/

          • This is a reply to Erika as well as observer.
            I am arguing that covering with veils outside is, in and of itself, a serious kind of neglect at best. It’s worse than putting tights on girls in the summer. And what’s more, it’s inappropriate in the cultural context of Orthodox Judaism in Israel today. There are a relatively small number and it is still possible to keep this from spreading further. Not because I disagree with their religious views. But because it is cruel.

            It doesn’t have to be on Elior Chen’s level before getting reported–that was the worst case of child abuse ever in Israel. There’s no point in comparing the two.

          • Erika, putting a veil on a young girl, or on any female, is not part of judaism. This is not a religious practice, but a sick innovation. It affects the child’s physical and emotional development and cuts her off from the world. It is also a safety hazard. Parents do not have the right to do absolutely anything they want with their children.

            This is also an issue in europe.
            http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2004/veiling-young-girls-must-be-banned/

      • Erika, your posts are getting scarier. You really don’t see the problem with putting a veil over a child’s face?

        I mentally judge people who smoke over their children and I feel fine with that.

  6. I was about to post something about how horrible it is to sexualize little girls–and then I read Channa’s post which I would like to 2nd. I also agree with what has been said about covering up someone meaning that abuse can be covered up.
    Last but not least, by cutting off vital experiences (the ability to interact with the world, to run & play) there is no question that the cognitive development of these girls is being impaired. And why do I think that if there is indeed a school, we would be pretty shocked by its curriculum?
    I don’t think the fact that Elior Chen was so abusive in like circumstances is a coincidence-this kind of covering is a form of abuse, allows abuse to continue, and is part of whole structure of abuse.
    As to the tzitzit question-while it may seem bordering on abusive to some to see boys dressed so warm in the summer, and while we may sometimes say some accepted religious practices may seem cultlike, there is still a difference when there are old, established practices, rather than those created and enforced by a cult-like fringe (had to use the word fringe :)). But frankly it scares me in the Jewish community when people impose any really difficult practice on small children.

    • As far as I know Elior Chen’s case didn’t involve any kind of clothing cover. It was the Bruria Keren sibling incest & maternal abuse case that did.

      • I thought Chen also had clothing cover but I guess I was mixing them up. As to Bruria Keren and covering–I think children who commit abuse have often been abused and I wonder how far back that cycle goes. Did Keren’s need to cover and other hyper tzanua acts (tzom dibur as one example) stem from her own abuse?

      • It was the Bruria Kerem case. And here is the significant issue. Despite the coverings, there were, in fact, clear signs of abuse. Not only were the signs there, but the issues were reported several times, both by her family and the neighbors.

        The people who refused to get involved were the social service, who never followed up on the reports.

        • shocking. I got reported b/c my baby had colic and there was a social worker at my house within a few days.

          She quickly realized that the crying was caused by things like putting the baby down for “tummy time” and my need to put the baby down to go the ladies’ room, and she told us that she was sorry to have bothered us…
          but she showed up. fast. on the first report.

          • Yes, it was very shocking. There was an attempt to slam the community for shielding her, but then people – especially her immediate family – started speaking out about their attempts to alert social services. Interestingly, the slammer got very quiet, very fast.

            I’ve always wondered why they didn’t point out what should be obvious – this was an inexcusable and serious breach of appropriate protocol.

            I’m not defending the veils, by the way. I’m just making the point that if other serious abuse is happening, it generally shows up in other ways.

  7. I think you make a good point that covering up the girl’s expressions is like saying, “we don’t care how you feel.” But to suggest that the girl’s don’t play outside because of their ultra-tznius ways, may be close minded. When my mother found out I was planning to have my daughter where skirts and sleeves when she turned three, she didn’t miss an opportunity to skeptically ask questions about her physical activity. Would she be allowed to play soccer or ride horses? The answer to many of her questions was, of course. Kids run around. A skirt won’t stop that. The answer to other questions was, “who cares.” No one cares if a secular girl learns how to water ski, but we worry if a religious girl doesn’t want to wear a bathing suit around men? I don’t ag\gree with this extreme view of what is modest, but lets focus on the real issues and hold everyone to the same standards.

    • I really think this is a whole other level of covering- these girls’ peripheral vision is cut off and their frontal vision is severely circumscribed. It impedes daily activities outside the house, forget about horseriding or swimming.

      A skirt might not stop horseriding or soccer, but this facecovering impedes daily activities

  8. While folks here are worrying about whether or not someone might scrutinize their religious practices, I think the obscures the point of how extreme the veiling is. It exists to limit what girls/women do. I think the very fact that Hannah is still concerned about the pictures weeks after she first saw them demonstrates how unsettling it is. Perhaps not a legal standard, but I think our guts are often good guidelines.

    • Ms. Krieger says:

      Yes, I agree with this. Hannah’s concern and PseudoI nails it…it is just very disturbing.

      For what it’s worth, I never saw young girls (under 11 or so) veiled and covered like this when I traveled in the Levantine Arab world. On the street in Damascus, women in full niqqab wearing even opaque black gloves etc. would have their ten year old daughter walking along beside them in short shorts and a tank top.

      I just bring this up to give as an example even some cultures that regard total veiling as acceptable do not veil little girls. Veiling children is seen only in cultures with extreme theocratic governments (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Iran(?), Afghanistan under the Taliban, etc.) And often those places are extremely abusive of women’s rights.

      • I had a good friend in high school who spent her childhood and early adolescence in Saudi Arabia. She told us the story of the first time she wore a chador. She went into the store dressed in her street clothes. Up until that point, no one had ever given her a second look. When she came out of the store in her veil, suddenly every man on the street was trying to get a glimpse of her ankles.

        It’s obvious that these kind of veils inappropriately sexualize young children. Why would they need to be hidden if there is nothing to hide?

        Which is to say, I agree with all those who are disturbed.

        • Mrs. Krieger,
          I was going to say that I had noticed Muslim families where moms are covered up but at least the girls look like girls in play clothes–but I didn’t think my observations were scientific. So it’s good to hear about your experience in some ways but disturbing to me that some (on the extreme fringes) in the Jewish community are even more restrictive of their girls.

  9. I am hilonit but can understand the ideas of tsniut & head coverings. But the idea of covering yourself totally, including your face, seems to me to be a sign of negating yourself. And we know that in Muslim communities where women wear burqas they are generally considered unimportant, possessions. The question that struck me is what damage is this going to cause to the children’s self-esteem in the future?

    • I agree, Julie. The repercussions of negating these girls’ very existence are something to be considered seriously. This isn’t just a religious difference – this (and other excessive tzniut practices) DOES indeed cross the line into child abuse and should be reported as such.

  10. There is a law that says that one is obligated to report a case of suspected child abuse. The Hebrew wording is :
    היה לאדם יסוד סביר לחשוב כי זה מקרוב נעברה עבירה בקטין או בחסר ישע בידי האחראי עליו, חובה על האדם לדווח על כך בהקדם האפשרי לפקיד סעד או למשטרה
    this is from one of many sites on this subject: http://www.abiliko.co.il/index2.php?id=1645&lang=HEB
    I can also think of the real medical problem of lack of vitamin D for these covered children. One of many other possible issues.
    Ellen L.

  11. What I do not understand about this whole thing is that are we not supposed to be imitating the gentiles? Why has the rabbinate of Israel not censured this rabbi and his followers for this?
    They shame women who dress like Hollywood movie people but they do not control dressing in a birka? Yes one is more tzinus than the other but there is NOTHING in halacha that mandates a little girl or a grown woman for that matter to dress in a black sheet.

  12. BS”D

    Mother in Israel. I agree but don’t you think this girls can learn to interact with each other as blind children can do?

    Abbi. I didn’t spoke about the practise I spoke about “normal social interactions”.

    Nurse Yachne. I’m know what I’m talking about, I’m (totally) blind and I can have normal social interactions with other people. It’s of course a lot of training behind from my mother but today people don’t even think about my blindness.

    Yosefa. I agree with you!

    I’m sorry for the spelling/grammar mistakes, English isn’t my first language.

    • There’s no reason to assume these children are blind. Why should they be forced to interact as if they have a disability for so called “religious” reasons?

    • Nurse Yachne says:

      Vered–I am sure your parents, teachers, etc. invested a lot of effort into giving you maximal stimuli and maximal exposure (in a nice way, I mean) precisely to help you overcome your defecit. The proof is that you DO interact socially in an normal fashion, which speaks almost as much to your gumption and determination as to their labors.

      Certainly NOBODY deliberately deprived you of contact and stimuli, G-d forbid. That would have been crippling. I’m willing to bet that deliberate deprivation would have been very nearly as crippling for a “normal” child.

      A lot of people manage very well although legally blind, but being legally blinded–deliberately, and by one’s parents, no less, is a far graver matter.

  13. Vered: you’re dealing with an existing challenge that you and your parents have no choice about. To blind a child purposely for their whole childhood is a whole different story.

    Imagine if blind parents wanted their children to wear a blindfold at all times so they could relate better, or if deaf parents wanted their child’s ears plugged.

    it would certainly be considered abuse.

  14. I am very interested in knowing what happens after this is reported to the authorities. Has anyone who posted here reported it? Maybe I’ve lived in Bet Shemesh too long… I actually put a light baby-blanket on my head with 2 eye-holes in it… to experience what we’re discussing and I had to pull it off within minutes, I felt like I couldn’t breathe! That is scary.

    • Is there some law in Israel that the police cannot act until someone reports the crime to them? Are they incapable of initiative?

      • @ Michael, there is not a law that police can’t act until it’s reported but the police have limited resources and choose their priorities. Many criminal investigations are not undertaken and others are shut because “ein inyan le’tzibur.” Of course, for many years (thousands?), child and spousal abuse were seen as matters which were private and in the family. While that has changed in many ways and many in the police no longer tell a couple to “walk around the block and cool down” when answering a call about domestic violence(something a former DC beat cop told me was standard training protocol in the 1970s), there are still those in the system who choose to see these kinds of things as private, not something that warrants police protection. And as you can see, even in this discussion, not every one has been sure that veiling girls is abusive.
        Last but not least, usually abusers know how to keep things hidden and how to make sure their victims won’t speak up. Once upon a time (not very long ago), domestic violencd cases weren’t prosecuted if the wife would recant–in theory, such cases are now prosecuted.
        So to sum up, no law against prosecuting without a complaint, but given limited time/energy, police are unlikely to do so, especially in the face of societal norms that make it less than clear cut if we are indeed talking about abuse.

        • My experience has been the police/authorities are willing to simply turn a blind eye. Two years ago, I was walking to the mikva at 3am on a Sunday morning. Several blocks away from a certain community that I had to walk through, I could already hear screaming.

          As I got closer it became clear it was a domestic violence event as you could her the husband striking his wife, and her alternately begging him to stop(as apparently this had been going on since minha time on shabbat, at least that’s what she screamed at him), and threatening to leave him and inform the world what kind of monster he was.

          Just ten feet away from the open window in which this drama was unfolding were two police officers having a smoke. I was incredulous, and asked them why they weren’t intervening. Their response, “No one reported it.” My response was, “Well I am reporting it now.” They then said that it was probably better if I minded my own business. So then I asked for their names to report them as well, and they took action. So it seems to me that SOP is to do nothing until someone makes an issue of it.

          • @Michael, sadly what you say may reflect practice but as you see as soon as you threatened to report it, it’s not the law. Thank you for taking action!

  15. Oh, and to snwer Erika’s question: I would not be sure that a complaint is followed up even if I did report it. So I would not see a report as sufficient. If you hear something that makes you think a neighbor’s child is being abused, I would urge you to do whatever you could to help that child if you feel something is possible–and @ the very least to follow up repeatedly with the authorities.

  16. “Certainly locking kids in cars.”

    a little while ago i came across a teshuvah in a volume from eretz hemda dealing with this question. i couldn’t believe it.

  17. After reading all the oponions on this issue I just want to make another point that has not been mentioned. I don´t want to argue about the abhorrence of covering up little girls, in my oponion that goes without saying. But what about the health issue. In my country, Sweden, we are starting to have servere health issues in the muslim section that cover their girls. The girls are suffering from osteoporos from a very early age. Their children suffer from an explosive raise in autism and skeletal diseases. All of this depends on lack of sun exposure caused by the covering of their bodys. What do you think will happen to girls who grow totally covered in weils?

Trackbacks

  1. […] A View from Sweden: Covering as a Health Risk for Girls and Women Posted on Feb 1, 2011 in Hyper-Tzniut | 0 comments This comment came to me from Maria Gellert, a Swedish reader, in response to The Problem with Putting Veils on Little Girls. […]

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