More Details Emerge about Veiled Women’s Cult

Alex Libeck of Haaretz

Tamar Rotem discussed the recent opposition to the cult of the veiled women in the Haaretz Friday weekly Hashavua. Even Haaretz calls them “Taliban women” only in quotes.

She reviews the incidents of the last few weeks leading to a condemnation of the cult by the Edah Haredit:

  • A 16-year-old boy got married twice withing several months. The first wife had returned to her parents’ home and refused to receive a get (writ of divorce). When she learned of the remarriage, she and the young man went to Rabbi Karelitz’s rabbinic court in Bnei Brak for the divorce.
    At first the family maintained that the groom received a “heter me’ah rabbanim,” a document signed by 100 rabbis allowing a man to remarry without a formal divorce. In addition, the 21-year-old bride, who covers her face at all times, refused to immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath) before her wedding. She cited modesty reasons. [Rotem pointed out that one immerses while naked.]
    Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim is quoted as saying that fewer than ten rabbis could possibly have signed the proclamation. He said that no one knows who performed the wedding, and whether or not there was a minyan (quorum). If ten men gathered in Meah Shearim for a wedding someone should have heard about, it but no one did.
  • A home birth was supposedly attended by the laboring woman’s father (not her husband, as I wrote earlier). The baby was brought by a volunteer medic to the hospital and the social services were notified. The parents appeared after a few hours to claim the baby.

Rotem writes about the hearing by the Edah Haredi council:

“Fathers of daughters who had joined. . . the group of veiled women, including prominent rabbis, along with dissatisfied husbands. sat and testified over several hours at the rabbinic court about what was happening in their homes. The women were condemned for not accepting rabbinic authority, for removing their daughters from school and teaching them at home, and worst of all: not following the most serious precepts of Jewish law. It sounds almost like the great women’s revolt.”

Women in the group were also accused of breastfeeding only their daughters, not their sons.

Not all husbands testified against their wives in the cult, but those who support their wives were dismissed as weak and easily led.

After this meeting, the Edah issued its statement warning women to stay away from the group.

Rotem points out that in the Edah Haredit, neither private schooling nor home birth is uncommon. But the Edah has now understood that the group  has taken hold and is not limited to returnees to Judaism in Beit Shemesh. It is a social problem, not only a religious one.

The women who covered their faces and believed they were thus bringing the redemption closer, soon found themselves isolated and their daughters rejected from school. This is why there are stories of 16-year-old boys getting married to women from the group. The veiled daughters are not easy to marry off.

Rotem writes, “They were ostracized and so became a closed group that earned the name of cult.” Pappenheim claims that the group attracted women on the edge of society. He says the mistake was ignoring the phenomenon until it had already taken root. “As soon as they allowed women to forge their own way, it developed into licentiousness, because they don’t know [when] to stop.”  [I am not sure where the licentiousness comes in–there is none mentioned in the article.]

Pappenheim tells of his experience as an ambulance driver, when a woman from the group ran away from him instead of staying to explain to him, a man, how her husband had fainted.

Yoel Krois, an unofficial spokesperson for the community, minimizes the prevalence of the cult claiming it contains only about four families. But because each family has so many children, they are quite visible.

The article quotes several haredi women about aggressive recruitment efforts by the group, especially at weddings and other large gatherings.

The article also contains an interview with an American shawl-wearer, who insists that she nurses her children of both sexes and dismisses those and other claims. I’m not sure why it’s included, as the discussion here is not about the thousands of Israeli women who “merely” wear shalim. The women the Edah Haredit belong to an extremely small, closed sect of women who wear veils and, according to reports, violate many aspects of Jewish law.

You may also enjoy:

The Burka Wedding Pictures

Genetic Testing in the Religious Zionist Community

Undercover Reporter Interviews “Taliban” Women





  1. As disturbing as this trend it, I find the Eida’s response equally disturbing:

    ” It sounds almost like the great women’s revolt”
    “As soon as they allowed women to forge their own way, it developed into licentiousness, because they don’t know [when] to stop”

    To my mind the hypertsinuit movement is about two things: trying to get control over ones life (empowerment) and response to sexual abuse. The Eidah, in the above comments is just addressing one motivation of these women. The important thing to ask themselves is why do the women want to forge their own way? What is missing in their lives? How can the women feel empowered over something positive? The more serious issue that they are ignoring is teh sexual abuse that must undelie the need to cover up ones body.

  2. Ariela, I agree with you. If Hareidi women are so happy, as the BT seminars, rabbis and everyone else within the community is telling us, why are they revolting? Shouldn’t we address the root of the problem as well? But ignoring the problem (both women’s dissatisfaction and the beginning of the movement) until it gets out of hand and then banning the consequences is so much easier.

    by the way, did you notice that husbands who supported their Taliban wives got dismissed as easily led? Why? Why is the evidence pro movement ignored? Haven’t we learned that ignoring the truth never leads to anything good? Wouldn’t you rather know what exactly you are dealing with and why some husbands support it?

    • What I think it interesting & revealing is the way the husbands who allegedly support their wives are characterized by the eidah. In fact, the whole notion that they go along with it, rather than that impose it is kind of interesting. I’m not sure what is going on but to me it seems like a sick reaction of taking things to an extreme–when we already thought they were extreme as they can get. What seems scary to the eidah is that it is women-led and that some of the women are essentially denying their husbands sex. If not for that, they would approve of this sick behavior.

  3. BS”D: Hannah, again, I really think you should be careful not to fall into lashon hara. I mean, have you at least defined your use of the word “cult?” I have known, and continue to know, a few women who just get all nutty about the “tznius-er than thou” approach and they often-times WAY more extreme than their husbands want them to be. They seem to learn from each other, bring in others with their charisma, and appeal to a certain kind of thinking, but “cult” usually means they’re controlled by the group and can’t get out, etc.

    I really think this is such part of a larger problem of women wanting to compete and define themselves by their outside appearance (the opposite of Cosmo). And it ALL misses the point – tznius, real tznius, is about NOT trying to be better than, prettier-than, skinnier-than, your fellow Jewish women. Tznius is about not competing at all. Too bad we all find women of many walks who criticize one group for being too extreme, yet the next group of women for not being – well, let’s face it – “like me/us.” And if we’re all trying to compete with our “sisters” what to do with those who really make my keeping halachic tznius, look like a day at the beach in a red…

  4. Ruth, everything I have heard and read leads me to believe it is a destructive cult. I would rather err on the side of warning people away from joining this group than in being over-tolerant of religious sensibilities.

    • hope I didn’t sound too harsh. I always appreciate your willingness to hear all sides and respect your thoughts on this, as I have done very little research. They probably ARE cult/cultish, I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’m just not hearing how you’ve come to that conclusion. Perhaps I should read more…Our trend here in Tsfat, fyi, now is the super-veil, in white, buttoned snugly under the chin making them look decidely Druzishy. And, you know, the more I think of it, i see you’re right – the women I know insist that eventually their husband will SURELY come around to liking this get-up. That’s pretty cultish, right there. Too bad they don’t respect their husbands more and stick with being tzniusly nice-looking.

  5. I think tsniut is about drawing people to listen to what you say rather than to desire your body.

  6. Twenty years ago I had a chareidi male co-worker whose father-in-law delivered all his daughters’ babies at home. Not so unique??

  7. red hot chill says

    Maybe a bit offtopic, but I’d like to hear your opinion about women discrimination in Israel. I read an article in the newspaper last week and I was surprised and disappointed. Are those stories about segregation of men and women on several Jerusalem public bus lines and separate entrances and waiting rooms for men and women and orthodox prohibition against women singers true? Any personal experience maybe? I don’t live in Israel that’s why I’m asking you. Thanks in advance.

  8. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS:D – Instead of looking at women and men wanting to be separate ie “discrimination and segregation” try this familiar scenario: You go to put gas in your car, upon entering the cashier’s office five men (who are likely married) stop their conversation, look you up and down as if you’re there for them and their viewing pleasure, and the alfa-male tries to strike up a conversation, “Ooh, wow, your eyes are sooo blue, honey. ” During which time, all the others are goggling and oogling your backside. You’re wearing basic pants, maybe a sweater, nothing out of the ordinary, to you. To them, you’re just a source of sexual entertainment. As the guy gives you your change, he swipes your hand intrusively, even caresses it from underneath offensively with the other hand before finally letting make your exit. Admit it, this has happened to you MANY times. How do you feel now? Belittled? Degraded? Angry? Certainly not “interested” as they’d like, because it’s repulsive.

    That is what Jewish “Orthodox” tradition is trying to avoid. Women AND men (it isn’t a one-sided deal as is assumed) don’t need to be putting themselves, their sisters, mothers, or daughters through that sort of scenario. If all Jewish women were keeping basic tznuis (modesty) we wouldn’t need extras to keep our husbands and sons from looking at near-naked women getting on a bus, buying milk, or anything else.
    And let’s be real, who of us really enjoys some other woman grabbing our husband’s attention, even when he tries NOT to look? Wouldn’t every woman like to feel she’s the ONLY woman in her husband’s eyes? We’re actually, by keeping tznius and separated, helping ALL our fellow couples to have shalom bayit. Would you want some other woman’s husband looking at you? I should hope not, so we just try to make sure they don’t “check us out” either. Fair’s fair. Maybe I’ll blog about this.

  9. Redhot Chili, sadly those stories are true. There are many people in Israel–including many Orthodox people, who find this segregation offensive & are working to put an end to it. Sadly, many others in Israeli society have let this happen even though they don’t consciously subscribe to discriminatory behaviors–they may be thinking that for one reason or another they should accommodate what is actually the most extreme elements of the ultra Orthodox community.
    Meanwhile, Ruth A, I was actually quite distressed by what you wrote and the world view behind it. I don’t think the scenario you describe is familiar or would have been familiar to me in my younger days. In fact, I find it distressing that women must put themselves in purdah because of men’s purported inability to think about anything other than sex. Women in Israeli society have the right to be free from harassment and assault–there are laws against it. They also have the right to human dignity.
    I do not want to single you out, but I often feel that arguments like yours that assume that women would be assaulted at all times and/or behave licentiously if they are not covered up and/or hidden (the possibilities vary depending on the speaker) assume things that I don’t find to be true about human nature in the more or less secular world in which I live. In fact, I think the fetishizing of women’s bodies–that is the constant increased demands to cover more and more–leads to more sex abuse and harassment. The men I know and respect (one of them is even someone to whom I’m married) view women as more than sirens/vessels of temptation. I find it distressing that those who claim modesty (a) seem to place such an undue emphasis on sex and (b) claim to want to help women but instead want to remove them from the public sphere.
    I have strong feelings about this for a few reasons. One of them is that the hiding of women and the oversexualizing of women often go together and often lead to abuse–which can be more easily hidden.
    I also just read an article that says women think about sex as much as men. So I don’t buy
    that they have greater evil impulses and we must control them.
    How about we start leaving women alone about what they have to do and instead work on supporting our our husbands/sons/brothers etc in our belief that they are not animals totally controlled by impulse and that we expect them to treat women respectfully. I know this will be hard for some men who have been trained to live in a women-free world but I’m sure that as they start to get to know us they will see we are people too.

  10. BS”D: To Miriami, I’m afraid maybe you misunderstood me above. I was responding to red hot chili’s question about segregation in the public sphere. I’m from California and not at all FFB, and had that gas-station scenario a million times. Important note: Basic halacha is a Kiddush Hashem. Whereas OCD humrot end up actually being a hillul Hashem, because it decreases the motivation of women who might otherwise consider taking on a bit more tznius. It’s a process.

    And most normal women understand that – maybe try to wear a cute scarf, ok, fine, on shabbat. Maybe throw on a jeans skirt instead of pants. It’s still a mitzvah, hello! Unfortunately, these humrot make basic halacha look like, well, not enough. Who would want to start covering her hair with a cute, pink, sparkly, tie-dyed, whatever you like scarf, if the message they get is only dull black, grey or brown will do? Or better all three at the same time!

    • oh, I wasn’t clear. I meant, I’m totally against this whole nonsense – segregation AND burka. It isn’t halacha and makes halacha seem so unappealing and actually if all Jewish women would keep basic halacha, we wouldn’t have these OCD shallies thinking they need to compensate for the less tzniut among us. I meant, that tznius is trying to do many things, one of which is to avoid the icky-ness of that gas station scenario where we’re treated like waiting babes from some men. “Segregation” isn’t the solution, but neither is pointing the finger at Torah saying it’s useless (haz v’shalom) out-dated, or mean-spiritedly against women.

      • I do think that the “shallie” phenomenon is tied to the lower tzniut standards seen in both the haredi and secular communities. But I don’t think that women who wear short skirts should be blamed for this extreme behavior, nor that if everyone dressed modestly there would be fewer problems.

  11. Ruth, thanks for writing. I too have lived in CA a little but I have to say that I still don’t relate. Of course, there have been times when I have been harassed. It was clear to me then and clear to me now that I have actually done some work in the area of sexual harassment and violence that the way women present themselves has nothing to do with harassment. Harassers harass–in fact, they even harass women who are very covered up, etc. I worry that the approach that blames women really does damage to some women making them think they are responsible for being victims.
    I don’t think that if all women would keep halacha, we wouldn’t have the shallies or other perversions of Judaism. I think the key lies in men who currently dictate a very restrictive lifestyle and in some cases ask women to negate themselves, their desires, their presence–everything that makes up their personhood.
    And I don’t think that people (like me) who are offended by the emphasis on women’s presentation are saying the Torah is useless, out-dated etc. When my friends and I speak out about these phenomena we are speaking out about how the patriarchy has hijacked and twisted religion.

    • Ruth Alfasi says

      BS”D: First, I just came back from a chatuna last night with shallies and have much more to say but will restrain myself with this – oy v’voy, nonsense! But that doesn’t negate our Torah or the mitzvah of tzniut…I may blog about it myself, if I can keep my lashon hara in check:).

      Second, wow, those are heavy claims, at the end there and I surely can’t agree with you and wonder what use Torah DOES have for you, if Torah’s been “hijacked and twisted.” The author herself suggests that these women don’t represent any version of our religion, not chareidi, not Eida, not even their own husbands so “patriarchy” isn’t supporting them. Most of the husbands are also against it – I know several here in Tzfat and not ONE husband wants his wife to look like this.

      I think we should all try to remember – we shouldn’t judge one another and it’s one of the BIGGEST claims made by secular and less frum Jews, they feel judged. And so do Chareidim. But busying ourselves talking about the “sins of my brother” isn’t helping anyone work on themselves.

      • BS:D You don’t think that, as they claim, (I can’t search your blog now, but I know I read it) that we’re all angry as hell at their super-tznuis. which inspires THEM to keep MORE, and us less-than-shallies or secular women, to keep less, DAFKA! I mean, what secular woman would want to go from Tel Aviv nightlight to THAT? They have the opposite effect, but all the “chareidi-bashing” doesn’t help. It’s an easy excuse.

        I understand that they believe they’re 1) motivating thru example, ugh, and 2) making up for the lack of tznius in the world (which is a wierd contradiction). I suspect it’s a bit of Caen and Abel going on – “Hashem likes me better!”

        I do believe if the GENERAL, Shluchan Aruch version of tznuis (and it’s the interpretation that gets everyone in trouble) really is NOT such a jump for most women and their partners. A skirt, no boobs hanging out all over the bank counter, haha, a shirt that covers a belly, eventually a scarf or something. It’s not that hard. It’s what these things represent = brainwashing, not being cool intellectuals, that is really at the heart of things, I think.

        Do most hilluni women really look at a happy, colorful, skirt clad girl from say the Gush (or Tzfat) and think she’s oppressed by patriarchy, itching to burst from the confines of our religion? I don’t think so. Happy women seem happy. Unhappy don’t. But if a secular woman is so obsessed with her basic assumption that SKIRT=religious=oppression=unhappiness, as opposed to seeing smiling eyes – she might miss that and assume she’s seeing what she wants to see – misery. And if she does see misery in a girl’s eyes, she assumes its the skirt equation above, instead of giving the benefit of the doubt that gosh, maybe the girl has issues beyond a skirt?! – bad grade on a test, friend is mad at her, just found out she has lice (hahah), mom had a troublesome mammogram … human life is a lot deeper than this nonsense of frum = pathetic, chareidi= patriarchal oppression of women vs. secular = personal happiness and fulfillment. Enuf, I gotta write on my own blog now.

  12. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS:D Apologies, I wrote about this and the chatuna with the shawlies, but my husband the Rav prefers I still with kollel-related topics. So sorry about the broken links, Hannah.
    Here’s a link to another site, in Hebrew, if interested: