Face-Covering Families in Beit Shemesh: A Destructive Cult?


These pictures, from Nahar Hayarden Street in Beit Shemesh, were posted on Rotter.net. The youngest one looks about four years old. They are covered from head to toe in black, except for the youngest who enjoys a red, white and blue print with a blue head-covering. The girls from this group, which the author of the piece calls a cult, attend their own school in Jerusalem.


The author of the article claims that this family is part of a cult that is spreading like wildfire, with new families joining each week. Here’s a translation of the Rotter forum post. I have no way of verifying whether the information is accurate:

Details of the Cult, Regulations, and Stringencies:

  • Every girl must wear at least three layers of clothes, with the shal (cloak) covering all of these.
  • The eyes must be completely covered, by a cloth with tiny holes for vision and air circulation. They see, but are not seen.
  • Members of the cult are convinced that their actions are bringing the redemption closer. The girls are ordered to walk in the main streets, lekadesh shem shamayim berabim, i.e. to sanctify the name of God in public.
  • Aside from the clothes, there are shocking restrictions, like a prohibition against showering more than once a week, a chupah (wedding ceremony) with a mechitza (partition between the men and women, including the parents of the couple, and most seriously, the day of the wedding is set for a day that the bride is not permitted to her husband (against Jewish law), so that the guests won’t be brought to sin by seeing the husband and wife holding hands on their way to the yichud room. [After an Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony the couple have a few minutes of privacy. A couple cannot touch, nor consummate the marriage, unless the bride has been to the mikveh (ritual bath) since her last menstrual period. Usually great efforts are made to ensure that she has been to the mikveh before the wedding.]
  • The cult is supported by a certain rabbi whose name I won’t mention right now, who also supports them publicly and claims that they are bringing the redemption, although he also claims that one cannot force this custom on women who aren’t interested.
  • Still, many girls are known to be forced to dress like this against their will, and are rejected by their former community. In general, when a group of cult members walks in the street, a row of young women abuses them verbally and scolds them.
  • A couple of weeks ago an incident was published in the forum, of a girl forced to dress this way for two years, broke away and found an Arab boyfriend.

The rabbis of the Edah Haredit have tried in the past to fight against this phenomenon, and even issued a halachic ruling against them.

It is also worth mentioning that these are not families of baalei teshuva (religious returnees), as in the case of “Mother Taliban [Bruria Keren],” but well-known and respected Jerusalem families. The process that usually grips these families, when one of the daughters falls victims to the cult, is a complete cutoff of contact between the cult and the rest of the family.

Whoever doesn’t believe these shocking things is invited to check them out for himself. I am sure he will be surprised at the power of this destructive cult, which will cause these girls serious mental anguish.

The second link tells about a 15-year-old girl whose parents sent her to a “counselor” to encourage her to dress as described above. The girl told the counselor that she had an Arab boyfriend.

Response: Are Burka Ladies a Threat to Mainstream Orthodox Women?

The Problem with Putting Veils on Little Girls


Jewish Face-Covering Women Request New School

Keren Interview II: A Little Child Shall Lead Them?

Thoughts on Face-Covering from a Resident of the Arab Emirates

The Burka Wedding Pictures


  1. BookishIma says

    You’re brave to shine a light on this. It bothers me so much, I’d rather look away. But that is not the right thing to do.

    I would translate the sentence: “The process that usually grips these families when one of the daughters falls victim to the cult is the complete cutting off of contact between the daughter and her entire family.” Also, small correction (I’m sure you meant to write it), is that showering is allegedly forbidden more than once a week.

    Great reporting!

  2. Why aren’t his peers taking this rabbi to task for this degradation of women?

  3. Hmmm…they look like Jawas….

  4. No need for a question mark. Adding to Torah is explicitly forbidden, so a Jewish religious sect that is adding their own “halachot” is by very definition dangerous.

    • Orthonomics, I have to remain slightly skeptical until I get more confirmation.

    • Adding to Torah is explicitly forbidden

      What about adding the wearing of a shtreimel?

      Or for that matter adding the wearing of a kippah?

      It’s only different in degree, but it’s essentially the same principle.

  5. I’m a little skeptical about the claim of girls who leave the cult and then date Arabs–though the Bruria Keren saga is certainly a lesson in the pathological behaviors that ensue when people ban permissable (and even healthy) behaviors. Just skeptical because “dating an Arab” is the ultimate taboo in normative Jewish-Israeli society.
    Really horrible to read about this.

    • pseudoI, I also wondered whether the girl made it up to get back at her parents. But these things definitely happen and are getting more common.

    • If you were living in a fundamentalist society and needed to get out, wouldn’t the easiest place to run be a seemingly friendlier fundamentalist society?

      A vulnerable Jewish girl in Israel can always find an Arab boyfriend to make her feel wanted and protected (until after the wedding), H’ yishmor.

  6. This just seems like such a surreal thing. What’s curious to me is why women would follow this krum path if it led to ostracization from family and society. How was it started and why is it “spreading like wildfire.” There are many, established ways to bring the geulah, why follow something which isn’t from the mesorah?

  7. Even if we were to assume that it is OK for women to behave more stringently, this type of behavior negatively affects perceptions of religious Jews all over Israel (and possibly even beyond).

    • Even if we were to assume that it is OK for men to avoid army service, this type of behavior negatively affects perceptions of religious Jews all over Israel (and possibly even beyond).

  8. Yochi Eisner says

    This very worrying trend has been going on too long. However, I have to say that I can see how some women would be attracted to it and how this ‘uniform’ makes them feel ‘special’. If you grew up in the 60s and went to a girls’ yeshiva, then you remember how wearing a long skirt was ‘different’ and how your mother would tell you that this was a ‘good different’, it meant that you were a good Jewish girl?? Well then…
    But this is not a ‘good different’, this is a cult and its growth is alarming. I feel that we all have a responsibility to bring the facts out into the open, provide women and girls who may want to escape this cult with a safe way out and somehow get the ‘right’ Rabanim to take action against this movement. I am also a realist and I feel/know the answer will not come from the Rabanim – as the movement – to begin with – did not spring from them. We have to stop equating tzne’ut with piousness. We all have stories of true piousness and tzne’ut that is deep within the most simple, many times, not-frum person. We have to ‘just say no’ and reject this cult from our midst and teach our daughters what it truly means to be a Bat Yisrael.

  9. Since it is “spreading like wildfire”, has anyone actually seen these women?

    Also, who is this rabbi that endorses them? If he does so publicly, then why not just mention him?

    • I have seen them, I live in Bet Shemesh and just the other day I was horrified to see a group of little girls dressed like this crossing in front of my car at a crosswalk. My friend told me she saw some today, with an adult.

  10. I have to confess a good deal of skepticism about this situation. The claim of “spreading like wildfire” simply doesn’t fly.

    I was in EY this past summer and spend most of my time in Yerushaliyim, including Meah Shearim and Kevarim. I saw ONE woman with a long black skirt and big shawl that pretty long (probably covered her hands.) and two-three women who were wearing shawls. That’s all. Not a single woman with a face covering.

    We know that Bruria Kerem existed, so I’m not saying that this doesn’t exist. But, as others have mentioned as well, the claims that a girl who is dating an arab is making do lack some credibility, as well. Again, could it be that this is the ultimate pushback against insane restrictions? Yes. But, you have to recognize that she could be lying to get at people.

  11. Another reason I’m a bit skeptical is that one of the rules doesn’t make sense, even from their point of view. The claim is that couples are required to have a chupas nidah so that people should not be brought to hirhurim by seeing the couple walking hand in hand. However, it’s a lot simple to just say that the couple should not walk hand in hand. Period. No need t get into chupas nidah or not. (In fact, that is standard practice in some circles anyway; not because of hirhurim, but to avoid “announcements” about the status of the couple.) Besides, I’m more than a bit skeptical that any marriages have taken place under the rules of this supposed group – you need to find a young man who would agree to this. (How many guys are going to want to be in one room with a woman who only bathes once a week?)

    • observer:
      I agree that the chupat nidah sounds strange, but the rest is similar to other things I’ve read and heard about. (I come across plenty of stuff that I don’t publish.)
      And who’s to say the guys bathe more often?
      Jerusalem is a big city, group is still relatively small, and the fact that you didn’t see them means nothing. Many people who live in Jerusalem haven’t seen them.
      It’s certainly possible that the girl made up the story about the Arab boyfriend.

      • And who’s to say the guys bathe more often?
        I could give you a list(albeit short) of Yeshivot where the men/bochurim are taught that it is ga’ava to bathe more than once a week, and then only in honor of Shabbat.

      • As I said, I believe that something like this probably exists, unfortunately. What I am questioning is how widespread it really is – If it were really “spreading like wildfire” you would expect to see it in Mea Shearim and the immediate environs which is where you are most likely to see the most “extreme” folk in Ylm. I’ve seen a tendency to over-state things like this, and it is worrying to me, because it makes it much harder to deal with the real issues. And, it also tends to come along with other “baggage” in the sense that it often gets linked to people who are being “too extreme” being “the real cause” for these types of things.

  12. The picture is taken in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. I pass through there occasionally, and my wife practically daily. We see them “once in a while” and see the ones who leave their faces uncovered – which is the Bruria group.

    In RBS-Alef, where many people from RBS-Bet come shopping, we see maybe one every 2 weeks or so.

    Here’s some pictures I caught of one in RBS-Alef two years ago.

    Being local I can’t say we see them increasing – but neither are they disappearing.

  13. Ben Waxman says

    If there is such widespread opposition to this movement, than who are the men marrying these women? Who are the rabbis telling the men that it is OK to go against the halacha and have a chuppah nidda l’tchatchila? Who are the rabbis officiating at these affairs where I assume the bride is dressed is all these layers? Who is running the schools where their kids learns? Assuming your story is true, it would seem to me that there is support for them in the official rabbinic establishment?

    • Ben, you only need one rabbi to officiate at a wedding. He has to be on the Israeli rabbinate’s list, and many charedi rabbis are. He won’t get kickd off for holding this type of wedding. They only have a girls’ school so far, so no rabbi necessary.

      • Ben Waxman says

        i meant “rabbis” in the general sense. if there is a rabbi, or if there are rabbis, willing to officiate at these weddings, it means that they have some rabbinical support.

        • Not so. A Rabbi can be come a Rabbi then go off the deep end. No one is going to do anything about it, unless he winds up like Elior Chen. (Or winds up in the sights of the Israeli police for incitement to racism or the like.)

  14. lavender garden says

    dear hannah,
    why do you keep posting about these fringe madness groups? Why not share positive and inspiring things with your audience, people who live beautiful, truly tzniusdig lives, for example. Why focus on the sensational?

    • Lavender garden,
      I’ll be happy to. Send them along and I’ll post them (no promises).

      • I want to commend MII for writing about these fringe groups (and also posting many positive things). Too often, people ignore craziness and ignore the victims–and I think it is important to speak up.

  15. Actually, all burqa ladies are a threat to everyone in Israel.
    We live in a country where terrorists are relentlessly trying to find ways to murder civilians. Any person who walks around with their entire form (including their face) covered causes a real problem for those charged with keeping us safe.
    These women are nothing more than provocateurs – now the state will have to make a rule against this in order to not give Hamas the opportunity to blow up marketplaces by dressing like these women and this issue will become a “secular persecution of the charedim”.
    This behaviour plainly creates a physical danger for others in the context we live in – so if there is any question about halacha here that needs to be taken into consideration too.

  16. It is written that one should not add or subtract from the Torah. This cult is adding, and instead of “bringing on the geulah,” as they think it is, I believe it is pushing redemption back further.

    • Was the addition of sheitels also “adding to the Torah”? And if not, why not? (and why can’t the same reasoning be applied in this case)

  17. Oh great. As a non observant Jew in the entertainment industry, it’s hard enough holding ones ground as your peers (all Jews themselves) mock the regular orthodox Jews. The real obvious zinger in this story would tell itself: “look, the crazy orthodox Jews are no different than the Arabs!”
    I mean, I realize the difference, but these people need to realize what a chilul Hashem they’re causing.

  18. avigayil witt says

    i think that a specific family or 2 were singled out. i know a few women like this who dress this way outside of the home only. they have other restrictions such as so make-up or earings outside the home. but inside the home the are dressed normal and modestly and enjoy very normal relationships with their husbands and children. color is allowed in their cloaks but nothing too flashy. this cloak face covering thing is definately becomming more and more common and i think that 1 or 2 single families of nuts shouldnt be used to judge the community as a whole. i strongly believe that they resemble our foremothers more than we do and as long as their midot are good – great. just one correction. EVERY SINGLE JEWISH WOMAN MUST GO TO THE MIKVAH BEFORE SHE IS MARRIED!!!!!!!!!!

  19. They should outlaw the burkas.
    WHY won’t u say the name of the so called ‘Rabbi’ in charge ?! U hv a chiyuv to warn people abt these sick, twisted and dangerous ppl. !!!


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