Part IV: The reason for the layers of clothing

The next section of the article is entitled, “Why is it necessary to wrap oneself in so many layers?”

This is the fourth part of the translation/summary of the Hebrew Maariv article by Sherry Makover-Balikov where the journalist interviews Rabbanit Bruria Keren and her followers.

Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII

To view all posts on the subject at once click the label hyper-tzniut.

Quoting Rabbanit Keren:

The holy matriarchs and the women of Jerusalem covered their bodies and hid their faces. Even in the Torah it says that Tamar didn’t see Judah’s face because she was covered. [This is based on a Midrash, brought down by Rashi, that Tamar covered her face during the period she lived in Judah’s house. Is this entire movement is based on one midrash?] The Torah doesn’t change. The body must be covered so that no one will see her shape. Because the face and figure of a woman can cause men to sin. The more layers of clothes, the more a woman’s modesty is esteemed.

When the phone rings, and when the Rabbanit’s husband comes in (no mention of whether he is a rabbi), the women are quiet so that no man will hear their voices.

Makover-Balikov is impressed by Keren’s speaking skills, and the women are rapt. At the end the Rabbanit reminds her listeners that it’s not modest to not to walk on the streets late at night.

The rabbanit tells her son, who wanders in, not to walk around near women [she doesn’t signal to him]. She raps the hands of a woman who is crossing her fingers because that movement “wakens the demons.”

In conclusion the Rabbanit distributes holy water from a container: liquid that she saved from the mitzvah of taking challah. [I don’t know about you, but I am left with dough, not liquid, when I take challah. I suspect the reporter missed something here.] The women swooop down over the water, fighting over every drop, but the Rabbanit tells them to give it to the men. “It’s a segulah (charm) for learning Torah.” She pours a few drops into the bottle of a baby who came with its mother.

As a breastfeeding advocate I will try not to read too much into one bottle. But I wonder, despite the emphasis on healthy food, whether nursing is considered modest by this group. Nursing must be challenging with all of those clothes, and surely nursing mothers can’t easily go out while following these guidelines.

The rabbanit continues, “Women don’t have to learn Torah; their obligation is tzniyut.”

I don’t like the approach toward tzniut, also common in the haredi world, as an end in and of itself. The last I checked, it isn’t one of the 613 commandments.

Before the interviews with the followers Makover-Balikov shares her views:

It’s possible to see them as crazy. Some will explain the phenomenon as pushing the dangerous borders of extremism. Even the haredi community, which dedicates itself to faith and tzniut and a unique style of dress, pushes away the rabbanit’s veiled women, ostracizes them and laughs at them.
But I met educated and pleasant women. One has a degree in criminology and Jewish philosophy . Another started to learn philosophy before becoming observant. Their houses are clean, their children are cared for, their minds are wakeful and their hearts are open. The distancing from the haredi world is painful for them. They are humiliated by the insults and derision they suffer in the home and out.

In the next sections, Makover Balikov interviews several followers. Please let me know if you see it translated elsewhere; I won’t be doing any more tonight but hope to continue tomorrow.