Burkas: The New Fashion

A friend of mine attended an odd wedding and shared some pictures of the new fashions. The one on the left is wearing three head coverings: one under her chin, one covering her forehead, and one going all the way down her back. This is in addition to a full-length cloak.

The woman on the right is also wearing a cloak.

It’s standard in some circles for brides to wear completely opaque veils. Usually the mother helps guide her, but at this chupah the bride’s mother wore a decorated “box” over her entire head. Faces were uncovered during the dancing, but sexes are strictly divided by that point.

A post by Jameel, based on an article in Haaretz, sheds light–or more accurately darkness–on this phenomenon.

According to the Haaretz article, a woman called Rabbanit (rebbetzin, wife of the rabbi) Keren is behind this approach. She has ten children and leaves the house as infrequently as possible. She also maintains a “taanit dibur,” a speech fast, except for four hours a week when she gives classes and treats women as an alternative therapist. I don’t know how she manages not to speak with her husband and children. She wears ten layers of clothing (one for each child?) and advises women to switch the heels of their shoes so that they won’t click. Makeup and perfume are also taboo.

Toward the end of the Haaretz article, the author quotes a professor who suggests that this extreme modesty is similar to anorexia. I agree; it’s obsessive behavior based on a desire to deny one’s femininity. Or maybe I’m being judgmental?

When rabbis in certain circles emphasize women’s modesty above all other virtues, it’s no wonder that some will take things to the extreme.

Rafi helped me out by blurring the faces (as requested by my friend) on this additional picture, where you can see the bride:

Update: In a Hebrew article from Maariv, Neshot Hare’alah (Women of the Veil), Sherry Makover-Balikov interviews Bruria Keren and some of her followers.

Further update: Bruria Keren was arrested for child abuse in 2009.

English summary/translation: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII,
Entire series


  1. let us also not forget that the article said this is a small movement around the country. There are a couple of these women in RBS A, but there are a number in jerusalem, some in Tzfat, some in Tiberias, and some other places. This phenomenon has nothing to do with RBS.

  2. Lady-Light says

    Your phrase of “modern Hareidi” is an oxymoron.
    I rarely agree with a Hareidi interpretation of anything. This mode of dress is just a bad interpretation of a good concept (tzniyut) taken to extremes.
    I think the whole message of tzniyut is lost in the hijab case: Where will they go next? Hiding in the home and not going out? Only being accompanied by a male family member? Giving up driving? In my considered opinion, this is the beginning of the downslide into authoritarianism; it will, if taken further, KILL Judaism as a choice for intelligent human beings.
    The whole concept of tzniyut is to be modest (i.e., moderate! )What those women are doing, is NOT the definition of ‘moderate!’
    They just cannot see the forest for the trees.

  3. Lady-Light says

    Ok, this was really bothering me. So finally I posted about it. Read it at http://www.lady-light.blogspot.com
    Thank you.

  4. mominisrael says

    THe picture in Muqata’s post is from Ramat Beit Shemesh, but there’s no reason to think that it is more of an issue there than in the other communities mentioned.
    My sister-in-law in Beitar Ilit is regularly approached by women who tell her that her sheitel (wig) is delaying the mashiach (messiah).
    And the women in the pictures I posted live mainly in Jerusalem.

  5. Lady-Light
    “Modern hareidi,” as I said, means (to me) a hareidi community where it is standard for husbands (and often wives as well) to work, and where a decent number of the kids go to the army. Most parents + grown kids have some kind of advanced secular education. I don’t see how that’s any less “modern” than other religious communities. Although I suppose other hareidi communities are also “modern” in that they use modern technology, so maybe “modern” wasn’t the right word at all.
    I really think you’re overreacting. Yes, this is a very disturbing case. But it is a TINY group of women, whose interpretation of modesty laws is NOT accepted in the hareidi community, let alone the wider religious community. To say that this is going to “kill Judaism” is more than a bit of a stretch, IMO.

  6. Lady-Light says

    This is exactly what I mean: “Her sheitel is delaying the mashiach?!” (Not her actions? Not her deeds?)Talk about superficiality! And who the heck are they to judge someone else, to begin with? One is supposed to teach by example, with love – not by Taliban tactics. The news that this movement exists in other areas of Israel as well, is frightening; what is happening to us as a people? Maybe this is delaying the mashiach? Ever thought of that?
    (But I’m overreacting, right?)
    THINK, PEOPLE, THINK! G-d created us with BRAINS!

  7. A few comments:
    One, women who doesn’t speak to her children- I understand the other stuff. If it makes you feel closer to God, fine- go ahead. But not talk to your kids? I don’t see how any kid growing up like that, no matter how many hugs you gave him or how spiritual and happy and fulfilled you were, could grow up without any issues from that. Similarity to Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen.”
    BAILA, what exactly is wrong with Elchonon’s comment? Just because he has a higher awareness of tsniut than most and is open to the problems of out generation doesn’t mean you have to knock him. Putting someone down like that is the first sign of insecurity.
    LION OF ZION: It was a temporary tanis dibur, there is nothing wrong with that. Judaism belives in taking breaks from normal life to grow higher- what are the inuyim of Yom Kippur and fast days all about? They are temporary and that is the key point here.
    JACK, good point.
    MOM IN ISRAEL, good one about more modesty only making the woman more appealing. I believe it is Jacob Da Jew who makes that point in the comment section of his recent post. The question is now: Is it more tsniut for a woman to be more modest, or does it accomplish the reverse affect by making her more appealing?
    ORA, I agree with you: I posted this on http://muqata.blogspot.com/2007/12/this-aint-your-bubbys-burka.html
    while covering one’s neck and wearing a hair covering as opposed to a wig is understable, covering one’s face is not the Jewish way since the face is the person, and not the body.
    LION OF ZION, what were you trying to bring out with the pesukim from shir hashirim? That women SHOULD cover their eyes?
    JUGGLING FROGS, good story. Thanks.
    ORA, I am in agreement with you about LADYLIGHT’s comment.
    LADY LIGHT, regarding your second comment, try to break out of your “holier-than-thou” slamming attitude and ask yourself this: If you saw a mother slapping and screaming violently at her child, wouldn’t you feel you had a right to go over and say something even if possible arguements against your doing so would be that perhaps this is a one time thing? Since you feel that such behavior is never justfiable. So try to understand that these woman are merely *politely* and *respectfully* making other women stop and think about their actions. Don’t tehy have a right? You attack them as if they sprayed their clothes with bleach, which admittedly is not a decent not correct way to voice one’s disapproval. All they did was politely give them some food for thought- they did not attack them, they did not scream at them nor call them names in the street. Your outcry is far more emotional than the situation calls for and appears to stem from a deepset, emotion based, and knee jerk bias rather than a logical analysis and judging of the situation.

    • Mindy, I am not Lady Light, so it might be presumptuous for me to comment, but I am not sure there is a polite way for a society to oppress an individuals freedom. Just as you say, if one sees something intolerable, one must speak out. A woman who doesn’t talk to her children except once every blue moon is hurting them more then a woman slapping them and yelling. The situation needs to be talked about. What happens when people make small of injustice until it is widespread? Nothing good. These women were not told to cover up in a dehumanizing box by G-d. And thats not whose approval they are seeking in my opinion. G-d doesn’t tell us to hide our face and slink around like a worm and ignore our children. This has nothing to do with modesty. If no one can hear your voice or even see your expression, they really don’t have to consider you present. Of course they still see your hands, and there is a certain gesture that can be done with your middle finger that I think describes how what I think of this.

    • if i remember correctly this “Rabanit” was on trail for child abuse!

  8. mother in israel says

    Esty, tehillim and davening don’t count for the speech fast.

  9. Wow, unbelievable. It doesn’t look like a Jewish wedding with these burqas around. And a fast from speech except for 4 hours a week? So she never says a bracha…or never eats or lains krias shema etc.?
    Extremely bizarre.

  10. Ok. Thanks Mother in Israel.
    It’s still very disturbing nonetheless.

  11. “I think there’s a big problem with covering the face. It’s dehumanizing. I don’t know what research, if any, has been done on the subject, but I would think that not seeing a someone’s face would make it easier to beat or otherwise abuse them.”
    I agree with this, also it allows those with covered face to get away with rude bahavior as well. I live in a Gulf Arab Country and a lot of women choose to cover their face with either a niqab (which can also be called a burqa – or ninja style as others like to call it) or a full veil. I have noticed that many (but of course not all) of these women are some of the rudest when it comes to things like waiting politely in line for something, they push in front of others etc. I am guessing that this is because of the annonimity that having their face lends them – they can’t be held accountable as a person for their actions. They can do something rude to someone, and if they seem them the next day, can walk by them without even being recognized and therefore held to account for their actions. Anyway, this is just my observation and these are women who probably did not choose the veil, it just is the norm for their families. So this is a danger to watch out for if it becomes the norm for certain communities – that it creates a detachment of a person from their own actions. Kind of like if one is invisible.
    I think that people who choose to impose this on themselves (don’t grow up with as a norm) have a whole other set of problems.
    One thing that struck me from the interviews with these women was how one of them talked about how she feels like a princess when she goes out completely covered. This is identical to how converts (or “reverts” as they like to call themselves) to Islam who embrace the niqab or the full face veil speak about how they feel. There is one convert who who talks about how she wishes she could live in Saudi Arabia so she could be completely separated from men, (have separate elevators, etc.) she also refrains from speaking to men. She feels she is more respected by men, etc., and she feels good that her friend’s husband will not try to speak to her because of the way she dresses but will talk to her other friends who only wear the normal hijab (headscarf). This woman will not allow men to comment on her blog because she feels that even communicating with them that way (though they can’t see her or even hear her voice) is wrong. Another interesting thing that I noted about these converts is that most of them have had some traumatic experience or suffered from abuse – often sexual in nature – (which is known to result in a hate of one’s self or one’s own body.) I think there are always some sort of psychological issues when people choose / embrace extreme restrictions to the point of hampering their own ability to function. Not being able to see clearly, or not being able to talk to people including one’s own family, encumbering oneself with too many art

  12. for some reason it appears that the end of my comment got cut off
    ..Not being able to see clearly, or not being able to talk to people including one’s own family, encumbering oneself with too many articles of clothing can all be quite problematic.
    By the way I am not Jewish, but I found this article and discussion very interesting and I hope you don’t mind me commenting..
    You also might be interested to know that I came across your blog because one of the muslim women’s blogs posted a link to it – not this article but the one about the Jewish soldiers helping the Palestinian smugglers..

    • I saw in Rav Falk’s book it is against the Halach to cover one’s face as this would make the woman anonymous and she would be able to go to and do things that are not acceptable and bad and no one will know who it is.
      Just as Autumn points out above that the women who cover their faces “are some of the rudest when it comes to things like waiting politely in line for something, they push in front of others etc”.

  13. Autumn–
    Of course you are welcome. I put your comments up as a separate post:

  14. After reading every single word here…
    come to this conclusion… this sect of Judism intents to stay in Jerusalem and believes that the West Bank will pass into Arab hands as part of the two state solution… so they are embracing the norms of islam more forthrighteously.

    Not doing so to invent new jewish customs, since it is appearnt that there was a time where the dress of women in some jewish sects matched the practices of islam. i am just saying this sect of judism is making a statement of conformity so to be be able to remain in west bank.
    not saying I agree with it, just my impression.

    Which brings me to an interesting pov, if peace can be abtained at some point those that choose to remain in arab governed west bank, don’t you think that the expectation would be something along the burka dress, and if you don’t like it leave, the alturnative is all will be forced to leave if some compromise is not obtained.
    It is not my choice, to say reject peace out of hand for those that would be willing to live as jews in communities within west bank under arab controll, specifically if there is strong pro quid pro to establish normal relations between arab and jews, real peace not fictional peace.

    the bridge to heal is for all to strive for.
    I think there is a strong desire of introspection on the part of arabs to look at islamic militalism as going no where. I am no apologist… for truely i beleive i understand the danger of arab govts in allowing openiness of democratic instutions to function under current climate of hatred, in if these govts are going to have to act to restrain the weakiness of the polis seeking to turn peace initatives into a ploy for power to continue the fight, then israelis are going to have make hard choices themselves in standing shoulder to shoulder with palestinians willing to make the choice of saying no to more violence.

    What a day that would be to see those that have the power on both sides waking up to the fact that they can send the whole bunch of these hotheads packing, all of them… be they arab or jews. that to is a choice just as continue bloodshed is a choice.
    an american pray

  15. Leah Peretz says

    Just to get a misunderstanding out of the way: Bruria Keren and all the riots that are happening for which Bet Shemesh got infamous for, are from Ramat Bet Shemesh BET, not ALEF. Alef has Dati-Leumi and Charedi residents (great part of Alef is Anglo) whereas Bet is Ultra-Orthodox mostly.
    Also in our Dati-Leumi community in Bet Shemesh the women wear shaitels.
    The Sephardi women usually don’t wear shaitels (no Sephardi Torah authority ever allowed it since the need has never arissen), but unfortunately the young women many times do out of vanity, peer pressure or marrying an Ashkenazi husband.

  16. mominisrael says

    Leah, thanks as always for clarifying details and sharing your perspective.

  17. Oy vey…

  18. Rochel covered her face when she saw Yitzchak, so she must have had some head covering close by and some practice doing it. There are rumors that women covered their heads to enter the Temple. Can anyone give more information? Does that mean that ordinarily women did not cover their heads? Also, apparantly there used to be a woman’s prayer shawl with markings different from that of men. Is this true?

  19. Sorry–that was Rivkah, not Rochel.

  20. Whilst to most people (myself included) this style of dress and behavior is over the top, (and ironically it could be seen as immodest as it draws rather than deflects attention) it is nonetheless a rather limited phenomenon. On the other hand, much more problematic is the widespread, shocking lack of modesty displayed by many religious girls and women from all streams of Judaism. Even when dressed nominally halachically, they are often very far from modest. Maybe your next blog could be on women who cover their hair and show cleavage.

  21. I’m not sure about this family in particular but there seems to be a growing trend of these bizarre sects and in my opinion their leaders are perverting Judaism. We see these Burqka ladies in and around my city and sadly there was a well publicized story of abuse and incest perversion within one of the sects. As a Torah observant Orthodox Jew, I don’t see how the rabbis are allowing this let alone condoning it! It’s not Judaism. I would compare it to a cult and I just refuse to believe that that’s what G-d intended – it just doesn’t seem kosher!

    • Errikkaa: If you follow the links at the end of the post, you’ll see that the case was discussed here extensively. I see cloaks frequently, do you see women with their faces covered? I hope that that trend is over. . .

  22. I have seen a handful of women with their faces partially covered but maybe it’s the same woman… I wouldn’t know! They seem to have the head piece fastened with some kind of hairclip and once I saw a woman holding the head shawl with her mouth! I was in a head-scarf store and saw a woman wearing multiple skirts and a cloak so I engaged her in conversation… she didn’t even seem strange and she was quite friendly to me. I think these women have lost their way. It makes me sad.

  23. Well, there goes my trip to Israel, the way i dress, with pants and t-shirt, i probably be stoned uh? Last time i covered my head i was a little girl attending catholic school.

  24. Connie, I don’t think you have to worry. You dress like 75% of Israeli women.

  25. Cutiesmum says

    How interesting that half nude women strolling the streets are perfectly acceptable by society but not those who go to lengths to cover themselves. I think both are extremes.

  26. Cutiesmum says

    im thinking young girls with short skirts exposing legs above the knees; and/or low neck lines with cleavage showing. is that acceptable to most of the people on this forum who find extra covering unacceptable? i guess i am asking what level of “immodesty” is acceptable.

    thing is less clothing on women is FAR more detrimental to society than extra layers. so how come there is less objection to immodest clothes?

    • I would far rather my daughter was comfortable wearing a short skirt, then being told that her body was evil. It is VERY detrimental to women to be told that they are temptresses and should take responsibility for a mans desire. Or even taught that being the object of desire is shameful. I am not arguing how this is in respect to the teachings, but as far as society goes its very, very hurtful to young girls. I am sure you can see that yourself. All girls deserve to grow up feeling proud of their bodies and at peace with their sexuality. Its not a question of wether immodesty is acceptable, but a question of what amount of self shaming is unacceptable.

  27. Cutiesmum: I think that covering up in the name of Judaism is behind much of the objection. Some people feel that those who cover up are making Judaism stricter than it needs to be, and possibly distorting it.

  28. when you’re all covered up except for your hands – then your hands give off all that pent-up sexual energy!! HOT!!! keep on covering up it makes you a real antena for the men.

  29. Loyal Jew says

    The mitzvos related to tznius and men’s eyes use the word “lo”. This means it’s not enough for men to control their eyes and thoughts. If that were so, the mitzvos would use the word “al”. Instead, the very possibility of seeing or talking to the opposite sex should not exist. Since this is de’oraisa, it is simple halacha that we should be machmir. I wouldn’t wear a veil but that’s because I was raised among goyim and treif Jews. Now that we’re growing in numbers and influence, maybe this is the coming trend and should be so.

  30. I’m not sure if I’m repeating something already mentioned but I’m pretty sure the Aida Chareidis came out against the burka. These things make me want to move to a moshav ASAP. Whenever I see someone dressed like this I cringe, why? Because it does catch my eye! It catches the attention of my husband too. And my kids are asking me why there are Arabs in the shopping center.

  31. There is nothing in the torah that says that covering the face is an “extra tzniut”, in fact, the face is considered an extension of the soul, and is not supposed to be covered.
    The reason Hareidi magazines and such blur the women’s’ faces is because a man might be offended when he sees a beauiful woman because he will have “impure” thoughts.

  32. Let us tour Eretz Yisroel says

    This Bruria Keren woman was put on trail for abusing her children! She is a very sick person.

  33. I would just like to say that I’m startled such comments can be made by frum women. Let’s be real here; do you really think the matriachs dressed like the modern-day religious women. Beautiful make up, tight clothes, skirts that reveal the legs; hats that cover the head but not the hair. Don’t even get me started on shtels!! (of course they’res exception, Baruch Hashem!) Frum women these days are more concerned with being stylish then modest. We live in a generation in which muslims are more modest in dress then Jews! Of course I’ll get a response like, “veils dehumanize” or “it’s oppressive”. Granted islamic culture has it fair share of problems. But tziniut is NOT one of them. Women are nothing more then sex objects in modern western culture and it’s sad. Especially when religious Jewish women defend it. Check out photo’s of Jewish women and MEN from 200 or 300 years ago. You’ll see the difference. Am Yisrael were supposed to be AM KADOSH! To label a whole group of women who want to preserve their self-dignity as taliban, is disingenuous. We’ve spent far too much time mixing with goyim, and it shows.


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