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

Comments

  1. I keep staring at the picture from the wedding on the right to verify that this is actually a Jewish wedding. I feel like this whole phenomenon is so difficult to really believe!
    And I think your thought on anorexia is spot-on. The desire to make oneself scarce/invisible is a common thread, and not in like with what I think is the true intention of tzniut.

  2. mominisrael says

    SHe wasn’t at the chupah. I’m not sure if that’s because women were not invited, but I think she just was not close enough to the family.
    I asked about peepholes or possibly a periscope, and she said she would try to find out. Hopefully she’ll stop by here and answer your questions.
    I have a picture of the bride, but her face is not covered and the dress doesn’t look unusual. I sent it to you; it’s not quite blurry enough to post and I don’t feel like asking my son to do it again.

  3. mominisrael says

    No, they’re from a haredi community in Jerusalem.

  4. no picture of the bride and her mother?
    she wore a box on her head? how did she see – she cut out eyeholes?
    what did the bride wear?
    come on. this is too intriguing for you to leave this post as is. you have to call your friend and find out more info and get more pictures!

  5. Are these ladies from a certain Yishuv in Gush Etzion?

  6. I’m trying to imagine the Aishet Chaiyil getting anything done in 10 layers of clothing and mismatched shoes.
    It’s like they are trying to be nazirs with their tzniut.
    I just don’t get it.

  7. Hi, I’m the friend who sent Mom in Israel the photos. I wasn’t at the chuppah because it was too early in the afternoon for us to get there on time.
    An extra note: one of the women guests at the wedding was wearing a veil over her face! Just like an Arab. I was both shocked and amused, and tried to regard the whole event as an anthropological experiment.
    To answer some questions: The family are from the Meah She’arim area in Jerusalem.
    The bride wore a regular wedding dress, covered by a lacy shawl. It didn’t look so weird except it’s unusual for a bride to wear a shawl at all. She wore a hat after the chuppah, not a wig or scarf, but I’ve seen that before at haredi weddings.
    We still haven’t worked out how the bride’s mother could see at the chuppah.
    The bride’s older sister, interestingly enough, did not wear a shawl or cape at the wedding, just regular haredi wedding clothes, i.e. a nice scarf and a pretty suit.
    Moreover, our relatives were at sheva brachot later in the week and they reported that the bride was wearing regular clothes – a scarf on her head, and a nice tailored suit. No shawl or cape. So either she decided to dress normally to honour her new inlaws (who are “normal frum”) or her husband doesn’t like this weirdness, or she was happy to be rid of it once she left her parents’ house.

  8. Positively bizarre.

  9. thanks annie. do you have any pictures of the mother? I am curious about her box…. if yes, you can send it to mother in Israel, she can send it to me and I can blur out her face so MOi can post it.. 🙂

  10. Sorry Rafi, I have no pictures of the mother. When I saw her at the wedding she looked fairly normal for a haredi: black scarf, black suit, black tights and shoes, adn it took me a while to realize she was wearing a black cape on top of her suit. But since it’s winter in Jerusalem it didn’t strike me right away that it was odd. Only on second thoughts I realized it’s strange to wear a cape indoors.
    Our relative who was at the chuppah said the “box” on her head was shaped a bit like a cavalier’s helmet, all covered with velvet and flowers, but a box all the same.

  11. Bizarre as it seems to me, and as anti-women, I suppose it’s their prerogative to wear whatever they like no matter how I feel about it, but I have to say I’m really quite upset by the idea of a woman refusing to talk to her family and setting that up as an ideal. What kind of mother could she possibly be to refuse to speak with her children? I don’t even want to think about the long-term psychological ramifications of being rejected by your mother like that…

  12. The cloak is normal as showing pic #2 of the lady with black head covering.
    Let em dress as they please..no one mocks arab women for the way they dress.

  13. Wow. Just wow. Thank you very much for sharing the photos. I’m really not sure what to think, or, I suppose if I should. It’s so easy to be judgemental but I imagine they have their reasons, like I have mine, yes?

  14. That certainlly is taken it to a very unhealthy extreme. Furthemore, to be blessed with 10 children and not speak to them is just plain odd and unhealthy. To be honest though I see this part of Tzniut with some women that they are embarresed at being a female but usually those types have difficulty dating and geting married and waste their childbearing years and find the whole process of being a women and even being pregnent as bad and being a baby machine. I guess they are scared by the women at the opposite extreme.

  15. I just can’t conceive of how they justify this. There are levels of tzniut, but this is out of control.

  16. This kind of extremism can be dangerous, but let’s face, it is limited. But with our world getting “frummer” everyday, I just don’t want my daughters ever thinking that is by any means halachically required. I grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Those Satmar women knew how to take tzniut to the max–but we never saw this…unless its there now…

  17. mominisrael says

    Thanks, Annie, for helping out here.
    I find it amusing that the men are out in full force with comments on women’s dress. Don’t you have anything to say about housekeeping?

  18. Could this be expressing the women’s desire for greater power over themselves and their relationship with their husbands?
    About denying any [male] rabbinical authority (shulchan aruch, or living rabbis) over defining tzniut?
    About the women choosing to follow a woman-leader, and using their bodies as instruments of social rebellion?
    Overall the choice to cover up in such an extreme fashion strikes me more as defiance than godliness.

  19. Wow, I heard about this sickness on Chanukah, but it’s unbelievable to actually see pics of it.
    I also agree that your anorexia analogy is spot on.
    And this woman who won’t talk to her children is “treating” women as an alternative therapist? How sad.
    I also don’t think you’re being judgemental. It would be one thing if these were random non-Jewish pple choosing to do this kind of stuff. But these are Jews sickly twisting halacha with their craziness and calling it halacha (and seemingly influencing others with their “halacha!). That already turns it into the business of other Jews.
    And of course, not a word from Charedi authorities on this matter. ( in contrast to all their blustering about things that have nothing to do with them).

  20. Elchonon,
    I’m glad all that hard work has paid off and you are only noticing women with their elbows, knees and collarbones covered and not the ones with skin tight shirts, and short skirts that when they sit down ride up over their knees…..

  21. There’s a woman in the Yishuv where I live who for the past 5 years or so has been covering her head with a longsnood and over that, a scarf, fastened under her chin like many of the Arab women do.
    I was told that she was told by her Rav that in order to attain a certain higher level of spirituality, she should cover her head like that.

  22. Oh give me a break, THIS is extreme ? I am a settler and live in kiryat arba / chevron.. where in shulchan aruch does it say that a married woman can show half her hair ? I didnt say to shave it.. but dati leumi hold they can show the top 8 cm….
    Wearing a sheitel / peah in dati leumi / chareidi leumi circles is taboo and some say against halacha.. as a Lubavitcher I find THAT extreme..
    I am blunt, and the way some married women dress is sickening.. skin tight shirts and short skirts that when they sit down ride way over their knees… I mean do as you please but that is wrong.. your just asking for every guy to stare at your body.. then women complain at his sick guys are that they stare..
    It took me many years of hard work and self control not to look at a woman’s legs etc.. many guys are guilty of it without even knowing.
    Dressing immodestly is a violation of lifnei iver (do not place a stumbling block before a blind person)
    Modest according to shluchan aruch means covering the elbows, knees, and collarbone..
    I am not the tznius patrol and respect what people wear.. but hey these people are not TOO extreme…
    Yes the rabbanit is missing some screws..

  23. Let’s hope this doesn’t become a trend and is limited to just a few sick individuals. Yes, I said sick. I think that rabbanit is suffering from some sort of mental illness and she is passing on the manifestations of that illness to several naive, gullible women.
    I would hope that she would get some psychological help- if not for her sake, then for her children’s. Those poor kids.

  24. I’m leaving lurker-ville just to say that the idea of a taanis debur (a speech fast) can have a positive application too! My husband’s good friend did one on a temporary basis (just as most people don’t do self imposed fasts willy nilly). He felt it gave him a better chance to listen, not be the center of attention, spend more time learning and less talking, etc. He took time off for Shabbos, and B”H it was positive and bigger B”H it was temporary, very annoying for those interacting with him. Can I say again, temporary? A permanent one seems extreme, but at least there’s no chance of lashon hara! 🙂

  25. Lion of Zion says

    MOM IN ISRAEL:
    i really don’t understand why anyone is surprised at all this. it’s not like it is unexpected.
    what i think is interesting is that these directives come from a rabbanit rather than a rabbi
    “I find it amusing that the men are out in full force with comments on women’s dress. Don’t you have anything to say about housekeeping?”
    ok. how is she supposed to get all the housework done while wearing ten layers of clothing?
    ELCHONON:
    “Wearing a sheitel / peah in dati leumi / chareidi leumi circles is taboo and some say against halacha”
    this is not a leumi issue. it also assur for sephardim, haredi or otherwise. hakham ovadia yosef has very strong opinions on this (iirc, something along the lines of it’s better not to cover your hair altogether, but i could be wrong). and as long as you invoked the shulhan arukh regarding the tefach, please find me a makor therein that one may wear a sheitel (particularly the lubavitcher variety).
    “as a Lubavitcher”
    i find your comments regarding DL women amusing, considering that (in america at least) lubavitcher women are often considered the archetype of the “hot channie.”
    “no one mocks arab women for the way they dress”
    a) yes they do
    b) we are not arabs
    YONIT:
    “at least there’s no chance of lashon hara!”
    also no chance of lashon tov
    JACK:
    “I just can’t conceive of how they justify this.”
    i don’t know how they justify it, but there is a rambam in the mishne torah that, according to some, obligates females (marriage is irrelevant) to wear a veil.

  26. My biggest issue with all of this is the implication that men cannot control our urges. I notice attractive women regardless of what they wear.
    Sometimes I have sexual thoughts because of this, but it is my choice as to how I react or not react.
    Because I am a grownup I don’t pay a second thought to it.

  27. mominisrael says

    Jack, what if they cover their faces and don’t talk? Do you think that make the mystery and attraction greater?
    I dress modestly because I don’t want to be seen as a sex object,. It’s not my job to protect men from their urges.

  28. I’ve heard of a double headcovering — I suppose a tighter fitting tichel with a shawl type thing on type in connection to chassidim of Slonim, and , of course there’s the doubling of a hat over sheitel that Satmar women wear, but I’ve never heard of more layers than that.
    As for you last pronouncement, “I dress modestly because I don’t want to be seen as a sex object,. It’s not my job to protect men from their urges.” Hear! Hear! A man can claim he finds anything provocative, even if it is not something usually covered. We cannot anticipate such things in planning appropriate dress. Otherwise even our eyes would have to be covered lest some man somewhere find the sight of them too enticing.

  29. Lion of Zion says

    MOTHER IN ISRAEL:
    regarding Elchonon’s comment that dati leumi women don’t wear sheitlach (which i think is a true observation), is this due to actual halakhic objections (a la ovadia yosef and hakhmei metz) or rather to pragmatism (e.g., cost).
    ARIELLA
    “A man can claim he finds anything provocative . . .”
    which leads to obvious conclusion (and practice in certain societies) that women may not leave the house unescorted.
    “Otherwise even our eyes would have to be covered lest some man somewhere find the sight of them too enticing.”
    i’ve seen pictures of wahabi women with covered eyes.
    also, eyes do have an intrinsic beaughty:
    הִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי, הִנָּךְ יָפָה עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים
    Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves (shir ha-shirim 1:15)
    moreover, eyes can be the locus of attractive mystique:
    הָסֵבִּי עֵינַיִךְ מִנֶּגְדִּי, שֶׁהֵם הִרְהִיבֻנִי
    Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me(shir ha-shirim 6:5)
    thus it may have been necessary to wear a veil:
    הִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי, הִנָּךְ יָפָה–עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים, מִבַּעַד לְצַמָּתֵךְ; שַׂעְרֵךְ כְּעֵדֶר הָעִזִּים, שֶׁגָּלְשׁוּ מֵהַר גִּלְעָד
    Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil
    (shir ha-shirim 4:1)
    (trans. from http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm)

  30. balabusta in blue jeans says

    “Let em dress as they please..no one mocks arab women for the way they dress.”
    No one should–but adopting another culture’s clothes for no apparent reason is…odd. Jewish women have conventionally not covered their faces unless the surrounding culture required it.
    This doesn’t surprise me much though–I’ve been hearing people get more and more obsessive about modesty for years now, and often enough someone will throw in how much more modestly Muslim women dress. Sooner or later…
    Ten layers of clothes, and not talking to your husband and children is just worrisome. Has the husband made any public statement about all of this? Is he supportive of this mishegoss?

  31. balabusta in blue jeans says

    “Let em dress as they please..no one mocks arab women for the way they dress.”
    No one should–but adopting another culture’s clothes for no apparent reason is…odd. Jewish women have conventionally not covered their faces unless the surrounding culture required it.
    This doesn’t surprise me much though–I’ve been hearing people get more and more obsessive about modesty for years now, and often enough someone will throw in how much more modestly Muslim women dress. Sooner or later…
    Ten layers of clothes, and not talking to your husband and children is just worrisome. Has the husband made any public statement about all of this? Is he supportive of this mishegoss?

  32. mominisrael says

    In my community in Israel many dati leumi women wear sheitels, and not just on Shabbat. At least ashkenazi women. For me (are you surprised) it’s pragmatic–easier to throw on a hat than tease a sheitel.
    I’m not sure how much is economic– a variety of hats can also get expensive, but the new fashionable tichels are cheap.
    I’m wondering where the women buy those cloaks.

  33. I’m wondering where the women buy those cloaks.
    mominisrael
    From the Arabs, of course!!!

  34. Aren’t there halachic problems with dressing like non-Jews (in this case Arab Muslims, who in most cases (at least in Israel) are enemies)? Jews are supposed to have a unique style. Would Jewish women have dressed like nuns in 18th century Europe? I suppose these women might have a unique, non-Muslim way of wrapping their “shawl” burqas, but if nobody else can distinguish, isn’t it still problematic?
    IMO there’s no problem with covering the neck, and I think it was a fairly widespread way of dress among Jews from certain Muslim countries. OTOH, 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.

  35. “I have to say I’m really quite upset by the idea of a woman refusing to talk to her family and setting that up as an ideal. What kind of mother could she possibly be to refuse to speak with her children?”
    The worst part about it is that she breaks her speech fast to give classes and act as a “therapist.” It seems to me that she is telling her children that other people outside their family are more important than the children. Afterall, she is willing to break her fast for the outsiders, but won’t talk to the children or their father!
    Anyone who has been the subject of the “silent treatment” knows how hurtful it can be. I hope her children don’t think that they are the reason she isn’t talking. What a sad and demented situation.

  36. Okay, so yesterday I was at Hadassah Ein Kerem and I saw two women who were obviously together. One of them was wearing a black scarf covering all her hair in typical charedi fashion. Her clothing also lead me to believe she was charedi (dark, everything covered). The woman she was with looked just like her accept for her head covering, which was was wrapped around her head and neck in typical muslim fashion. I, of course immediately of this post and follow-up discussion. So, were they Jewish, or Muslim? Hmmm…

  37. This blows me away. Here is one of the scariest parts: that she “treats women as an alternative therapist”. Yikes!

  38. I’ve seen several Arab women in Yerushalayim in snoods. Talk about confusion!

  39. mominisrael says

    Funny how it’s so hard to imagine that a charedi woman and a Muslim woman would be visiting a hospital together. . .

  40. It may be a fashion, but it’s not based on real halacha.

  41. Lion of Zion says

    MOM IN ISRAEL:
    “In my community in Israel many dati leumi women wear sheitels”
    olot or natives?
    “hats can also get expensive”
    we happened across a hat store in teveriah a few years that my wife liked and was affordable (although this may have been from our american standards).
    “the new fashionable tichels are cheap”
    here they charge a lot of many for shmatas, i mean tichels. the last time we went to israel my wife bought them by the dozen for her friends.

  42. mominisrael says

    LOZ, many of my “olot” friends have sheitels. But most have been here a long time. Maybe a higher percentage of Israelis wear them, but I’m not sure. Here in the cities they are more common than in the SHomron, say. It’s part of a more formal style of dress.
    Women’s hats are much, much cheaper here. Maybe sheitels too, for all I know.

  43. JF–Thanks for sharing. But I can’t imagine not talking to toddlers or teens for an entire day. Even my 6yo is confused when I nod my head.

  44. I experienced an externally-imposed taanit dibur a few years ago when I had a very virulent case of strep throat, and couldn’t speak (or even whisper)for two weeks.
    It hit a few days before Pesach.
    We spend the first days with family out of town. I cleaned for Pesach, packed the family, traveled, was a guest (although could only swallow liquids with the help of painkillers, and thus couldn’t even swallow a bite of matzah), traveled back home and had guests for chol hamoed shabbat and the last days.
    (My point isn’t that I’m such a martyr, but rather that it was a logistically very complex and stressful time, with much to talk about/to/with my family.)
    I (sort of) joked that this situation was a message that I needed to speak less and listen more.
    I learned a lot in that time. I couldn’t speak with my family, but I could listen, and I could communicate.
    At the sedarim, with extended family, I found it fascinating what other people said on my behalf. When I used gestures to try to signal something, inevitably someone would call out what they thought I wanted to say. I learned what they thought I thought, what I thought they thought, and how many assumptions we all make about one another.
    I also learned how little of what I say in a given day is really necessary.
    I would clap my hands, and my kids knew EXACTLY what I meant. Clap, clap. “Mommy says to hurry up, we’ll be late for school!” Clap, clap. “Mommy says it’s time to brush teeth and get ready for bed.” Clap, clap. “Mommy says to bring your laundry to the laundry room!”
    I often think of those two weeks. I can’t imagine doing it through self discipline, in a busy family, even for one month.
    I don’t know the mechanics of the taanit dibur. Perhaps she’s allowed to say, “Please pass the salt” and “Good Morning”, but refrains from “extraneous” speaking? Perhaps she’s a REALLY good listener, with a toddler on her lap and her arms around the shoulders of a teenage daughter, listening intently and nodding, with meaningful eye contact?
    I hope so.

  45. This is sick. The rabbonim should condemn this in the strongest terms. This is not Judaism, it’s more reflective of the Taliban than anthing halachik. Where are the Kol Korehs?

  46. If she’s doing this (taanit dibur) with young children, how will they learn to speak without hearing her voice?
    I still can’t imagine it.
    With teens, well, I could probably benefit from spendinding more time smiling and shrugging, than the lectures I’m often tempted to give.

  47. P.S. Confusing a teenager would be a victory. After all, turnabout is fair play.

  48. I say whatever rocks their boat. As long as it doesn’t get imposed on me! lol
    I don’t understand the speech fast though. How does she teach her children day to day things?

  49. Lady-Light says

    Ok, this is it. We’ve descended into barbaric insanity, just like the Arabs. Congratulations, Jews: You have lost your minds, followed the extremists on the other side of the fence, and don’t see that the emperor has no clothes. (NOT intended as a tzniyut pun).
    I am going to go out on a limb here, and opine that this is not what Hashem intended for human beings to do, let alone Jews. Remember this statement?(paraphrased)’al tosif oh tafchit la-Torah?’ Well, folks, these women (or whoever put them up to this) have just added to the Mitzvot in the Torah.
    Sorry, NOT allowed. Where is this form of dress derived from? Answer: from nowhere. Even covering one’s hair is not stated outright in the Torah; it is implied from the story of the sotah.
    So from where do we get wearing a hijab? From our friendly neighborhood Palestinians across the other side of the checkpoint? Get real!
    (Hubby, remind me to cross off Ramat Bet Shemesh Alef as a place to live when we make our second aliyah.

  50. Lady-Light
    If the women dressing this way consider their dress the best way of fulfilling a mitzvah (instead of a mitzvah in and of itself), I doubt they’re guilty of “al tosif.”
    Also, I don’t think the actions of a very small group of women (who, if you read the Haaretz article, find that their dress is rejected even within the hardcore hareidi community) justifies a black mark against all of Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph (which is overall a nice, fairly American, modern (aka working + even sometimes army) Hareidi neighborhood), and certainly doesn’t justify “we’ve descended into barbaric insanity” (how can clothing be ‘barbaric’ in and of itself, anyway?).

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