Keren Interview VI: Maya–I Don’t Enter a Store if Men are Inside

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

Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

To see all posts on the subject click on the label hyper-tzniut.

Makover-Balikov writes that Keren’s followers might have expected sympathy from the haredi community [well, maybe, if they wouldn’t refer to wigs as licentious]. Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, says. “I have seen a few in Safed, and I think they are crazy. Their extremism causes different type of distortion. Extremism is not healthy. There is no commandment to cover the face with a veil and to wear dozens of layers of clothes. This I say as a rabbi.”

She quotes a haredi woman, N., who says that she and others from her haredi community reject the hyper-tzniut trend because they are afraid. Ten years ago no one put tights on girls under twelve. Then a few began to dress that way, even at the height of the summer. Now all haredi girls over two must do so or face rejection from the community.

The next interview is with Maya. Maya became observant eight years ago after finishing a degree in criminology and Jewish philosophy. She is married to a Breslov Hasid and has four children. Her home is covered with pictures and writings of R. Nachman. From the article:

She met R. Keren five years ago. She was also influenced by the book “Olamot Shel Tohar,” Worlds of Purity, by R. Uri Sofer, where she learned about women who covered their faces and bodies because of tzniut.

“At first I wore only three skirts and a cape. Then I read that Rabbanit Kanievsky, a well-known figure in the haredi community, covered the upper part of her hand (shoresh kaf hayad) with cloth. I looked at the place my fingers began, and saw that it was indeed very feminine. So I cut off the ends of some socks and wore them on my hand, to cover the part up to my fingers. At first I wore them only outside, because they bothered me at home. Gradually I also began to wear them at home, and now I sleep in them as well as in a high neckline. When one receives light, one receives holiness.”

“The more a woman covers her exterior, the more room there is for her interior. I come from the secular world, and I know how much women are involved in attracting men with their beauty and exterior. If a woman would know what goes on in a man’s head when he sees her in the street, hears her voice, or accidentally brushes against her, she would go underground in shame. When I go out completely covered, I feel like a princess. Even though I don’t cover my face–I feel that that is too great a light. But I wear several layers of shawls and sell them too. I sew them from delicate fabrics. Light colors, pretty and non-threatening, because it’s important to my husband that I go modestly, but still look nice.

“About two years ago I began to wear scarves tied in front. This was hard, I felt like a ‘Yemenite grandmother.’ The Rabbanit taught us that the only knot that covers all of the hair is in front. If you tie it in back, there will always be hairs that stick out; even if the head is shaved, the roots of the hair will show. The scarf tied in front also covers the back of the neck, because that is a very feminine part of a woman.”

“I see many haredi women who walk around at home in a robe and even wear them outside, may God have mercy. With [these women] everything is reversed. The husband sees them in a robe, but when they go to the dentist, they look their best. Also at home, a robe is tight and revealing, even transparent sometimes. A woman needs to wake up in the morning to the service of God, to run a house of joy, to wrap herself in wide clothes, not transparent ones, and not to sin in a robe. In the book “Worlds of Purity,” there are pictures of righteous women wearing a shawl and tents [use of plural is not my typo]. And not one [of the pictured women] causes the community to sin with a wig.

Maya wears so many layers so that the contour of her body won’t be visible on a windy day. She wears them at home should a man come to the door, and to accustom the family to modesty. The shawl blurs the contour of her shoulders, and it feels like a tallit (prayer shawl). She has a less opaque, airier one for the house.

Her husband is happy with the “great heavenly merit.”

“By us a woman gets her husband used to the idea gradually; first a short shawl and then a long cape. The Rabbanit Bruria says that if a woman dresses modestly and her husband gets angry, it’s her own fault. She must pray to Hashem to remove the objection. Husbands aren’t always right. Sometimes they are worried about society, about what the people in the synagogue will say. Hashem help them if they care more about what people will say, and prefer a woman who is attractive but immodest.”

“The children were born into it and my son brings me a shawl when we are on our way out. When a man passes I lower my head. If there are men in the makolet, I won’t go in. If a man comes to buy from me I “guard my eyes” and don’t look at him. I look at the floor. Yesterday I went by a haredi man who saw me and lowered his head. I said to my son, ‘The daughters of Israel are the daughters of the king, it’s not seemly for people to look at them. They aren’t like a rotten tomato that every passerby can see what’s inside and what isn’t.’ “

In general she gets a positive reaction, but some people make fun of her or criticize her, or tell her she looks like a goy (non-Jew).

The most important part of her day is when she secludes herself and “speaks to Hashem.” She goes to R. Keren weekly to get a “dose of fear of Heaven.”

Rabbanit Keren is from the Lithuanian, Ashkenazi stream of Judaism. The Rabbanit loves children. She is oblivious to her physical surroundings and the cares of this world. She hardly goes out, but people help her because she “looks like a tent.” She sees by looking down. “We all admire her and are all good friends. Some of use are connected to R. Nahman of Breslov and are searching for the truth. When she speaks at a convention for return [to Jewish practice] she calls us to come. Because when one sees many women in capes and veils, it’s empowering.”

Maya’s house is bare and the reporter asks her if that’s intentional. Maya responds “My possessions are above, in the world to come.”

The last installment is an interview with a follower who is also a convert. To be continued.


  1. Wow. Just…wow. First of all, thanks for the translation. Very interesting- though I admit the whole thing leaves me with a depressed, sinking feeling inside.
    And who knew that hair roots could be sexy enough to drive a man to distraction?
    BTW, I’ve always thought it so cruel when I see those little girls with tights even during the hottest days of summer. What the heck is going on here? As the woman in the article said, it wasn’t always like this. What is going on to make people act this way?
    This doesn’t bode well for the future.

  2. I’m fascinated that this seems to attract ba’alei teshuva and converts. What clicks for these women that they need to do something like this?
    And the realization that your fingers are feminine so you have to cover them?
    Just, wow!

  3. Fascinating and scary all at the same time. I imagine that some of these women could end up divorced if they are davening to remove the impediment. Oy!

  4. Abbi, My husband says that one reason that baalei teshuva don’t always fit in, and sometimes go to extremes as in this case, is because what allowed and inspired them to become baalei teshuva in the first place is their individuality. They had a strength to be different than their non-observant peers. They broke away from their society and went to a different society. But they are still in search of being different. Here’s one way to be charedi but different. Dress like it’s frezzing outside and you don’t have a coat to wear. I’m glad that at least Rav Eliyahu of Tzfat thinks they’re nuts.

  5. I will have to let my husband know that fingers are sexy. They are about the only part of my body that does not have stretch marks.
    Thank you for the translation “A mother in Israel”.

  6. Women did wear gloves in public until the last century. But the gloves were not intended to disguise the “feminine” quality of their hands but to protect it. I don’t know, it sounds like a bit of inflated vanity to think one’s hands are so very attractive that they must be covered from men’s eyes.

  7. There was a video making the rounds a while back of rn kanievsky talking with an interviewer. I did not notice anything especially covered about her hands!
    She also talked volubly to the male interviewer (modestly of course, but no not talking to men there!)
    I also noticed a woman in a long hot pink dress or robe talking to her on the streets of bnei brak, so fortunately there are limits to the “no bright colors” movement.

  8. RR–
    In the Hebrew version the hareidi woman from tzfat (who was against the dress-as-a-tent phenomenon) said that she and others also thought it was cruel to dress little girls in tights–but now they have to if they want their daughters to get into the “best” schools. IMO if everyone stopped worrying about the so-called “best” schools we’d be a lot better off, but I don’t see that happening.
    Abbi– (about converts/bts)
    I think BB has a good point about individuality. I had a couple of other thoughs,
    1. often if people were at one extreme, they go to the other before settling down somewhere in the middle. So if a girl dressed provocatively to get male attention, she might later feel the need to do everything possible to avoid provocative dress, or in this case, showing her body at all.
    If it weren’t for Rabanit Keren Bruria and her group, I imagine that Maya would have worn extra layers of clothing for a while and then removed some of them, but with the group the “settling down” stage probably won’t happen.
    2. It’s easy to get addicted to the feeling of taking on more and more observances. After you’re shomer shabbat, shomer kashrut, etc, there’s sometimes a feeling of “OK, now what?” and then a struggle to make your observance deeper without the “high” of newness. By putting on a third, fourth, and fifth skirts these women can keep the feeling of newness going for longer. (just a possibility).

  9. >> I’m fascinated that this seems to attract ba’alei teshuva and converts. What clicks for these women that they need to do something like this?
    Speaking as a convert, I’ll take a stab at this question. One factor, I think, is that converts and BTs didn’t grow up in the frumme velt so a) they don’t always have a firm grasp on what’s considered “normal” and b) they don’t have family traditions to look back to or a zeidy/bubbie who can tell them, “That’s not how my mother did it, and she was very concerned with modesty.” In other words, it’s harder for people in that position to have a point of reference, except vis-a-vis the old way of life that they’ve already decided to give up. Another factor may be that some BTs and converts are very drawn to strictness in observance but since they did not grow up frum, they have a hard time integrating into the tightly-knit communities where observance is most strict. So again they find themselves without an easy point of reference, without social anchors to clue them in on why this sort of thing might be a problem.

  10. Meshugganah charedim….the only difference between them and the Taliban is that they’re not Muslim. These women need serious counseling.

  11. balabusta in blue jeans says

    ” I looked at the place my fingers began, and saw that it was indeed very feminine. So I cut off the ends of some socks and wore them on my hand, to cover the part up to my fingers. At first I wore them only outside, because they bothered me at home. Gradually I also began to wear them at home, and now I sleep in them as well as in a high neckline. ”
    If I were this woman’s husband, I would be in a straitjacket by now. In the privacy of her own bed she sleeps with socks on her hands? Does he get to see the sock-mittens come off on mikvah night or…OK. I’m getting vulgar. But this is perfectly ridiculous.
    There’s a line in Little Women where once of the girls says something isn’t proper “any more than wearing all your dresses and hats at once that folks may know you’ve got ’em”. NB: wearing all the clothes you own at once, if that is more than one set, is not proper.


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