Today’s Yediot Aharonit “24 Hours” magazine has an “exclusive” letter from a 42-year-old cult member. The anonymous author sent it to a neighbor, whose husband delivered it to Yediot with the author’s knowledge.
The letter may be original and unpublished, but plenty of similar material is widely available and used to recruit new members.
The author of the letter wears a shal (a long cloak, meant to hide the outline of her upper body and hips). Unlike some of her “righteous” neighbors who cover their face whenever they go out, she only covers hers when she sees a man approaching.
The letter does not discuss the unusual practices of the group that I discussed a while back, like refusing to bathe or use laundry detergent. The group has also been accused of child abuse and neglect.
The author wishes to make several points, defending herself from allegations about the group.
- Her group is not a cult.
- There is no violence. The story of Bruria Keren, who is in jail for child abuse, has nothing to do with her group. If you are concerned about violence against children, including murder, look to the secular community.
- The Jewish tradition is to wear shalim.
- The group started a school, containing 24 girls, because they were laughed at in the regular school.
- The Edah Haredit has encouraged the wearing of shalim. [True, but the writer’s group has taken on additional bizarre practices.]
- Two groups of people hate her group. The first hate them for their extra modesty. “Just like the goy hates the Jew, the harlot hates the modest woman.” The second group is jealous–they know that her way is the right one, but they can’t observe the rules because of social pressure. “So they scream and scream from jealousy.”
- She and her husband didn’t merit having children for 12 years, until she started wearing a shal six years ago. Now she is expecting her sixth child (!).
- Group members down’t leave the house except in emergencies. “That way, we don’t hear the Amalekites in the street wishing us evil and slandering us, and we aren’t influenced by this.”
Thanks to Rafi at Life in Israel for directing me to this article in the newspaper’s print edition. He also posted a summary of recent news about the group of shal-wearing women, culled from haredi news sites.
As I said above, the cult actively recruits women to join them. But they have had problems getting their propaganda about the need for the hyper-modesty to other women, without the husbands intercepting it. So the cult managed to get hold of stationery from real estate agencies and building contractors. I’m not sure why the men would not be suspicious of such letters addressed to the women. At any rate, the ruse was discovered quickly. Yediot Aharonot, of course, is quite willing to publish their material at no cost.
Readers may remember that the group’s members refuse to give birth in a hospital, for modesty reasons. One woman’s husband assisted her in giving birth at home to a premature infant. When the parents saw that he did not stabilize after a few hours, the father contacted a local hatzala (medical squad) volunteer. The volunteer insisted on taking the baby to the hospital, against the parents’ wishes, but refused to provide the names of the parents to prevent complications with the authorities over child neglect.
The hospital is treating the baby but have said they will not release him until the parents come forward. Having spent the day at the La Leche League Conference and learning about the critical importance of human contact for babies, it’s troubling to hear about people who would forgo the welfare of their baby rather than compromise on their religious convictions.
In another case. a couple came to the emergency room with a badly burned little girl and insisted on her being treated by a female health care professional. When none was available, the parents left to seek private care and putting her life at risk, according to the article.
The council of the Edah Haredit has met to discuss these incidents, and has decided to actively fight the group. Stay tuned.
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