Sderot Businesses Asked to Sign “Modesty” Contracts

I’ve written a lot about extreme modesty in women’s dress and we always have this discussion about whether or not it is any of our business. At what point do we say “live and let live,” and when do we begin to worry that these trends will affect us in our daily lives.

Well, the time to worry is here.

I’m posting the whole story from Haaretz and my comments appear at the end.

Haredi group ‘asks’ businesses in Israel’s south to tell female employees to dress ‘dignified’ 

Yair Yagna

Dozens of Sderot businesses, include the retail SuperPharm and Optica Halperin retail chains, signed a modesty agreement over the past few months under which they guarantee that their workers will make sure to dress modestly. The agreement is the initiative of the Mimaamakim organization, which is supported by the Torah-oriented garin (core group) there. A business owner who signs the agreement receives a modesty certificate asserting that the premises is “kosher.”

Weiselberg, manager of the city’s Steimatzky book store, refused to sign the agreement, right.
Photo by: Ilan Assayag

So far some 20 stores and businesses in Sderot have signed the agreement, which states that employees will take care to dress modestly, as a form of identification with the “we are all in favor of dignified dress” campaign. The dress code applies also to ads and notices for the business and displaying obscenities. The Mimaamakim organization blesses the business owner “that he merits with God’s help all blessings.”

Mimaamakim representatives say they are not threatening to boycott businesses that refuse to sign the agreement. However, because considerable buying power is involved, some business owners fear losing customers and are accepting the agreement. An article on the issue appeared last week in the newspaper of Sapir College’s media department.

A local clothing store owner who agreed to sign the modesty pact says, “they came to me and asked that the girls who work in the store dress modestly so that we would receive the certificate. You have to realize this organization is influential and I was afraid of losing customers.”

According to him, “the girls who work for me have a problem with this; it’s simply religious coercion.”

Bat Ami Weiselberg has been the manager of the Steimatzky book store branch in Sderot for two years. She says that she recently refused to sign the agreement: “Three weeks ago, a respectable woman came in and told me that she is from Mimaamakim and they grant modesty certification to businesses if they are willing to sign an agreement in which they guarantee that women will come to work in modest dress.”

In response to her question of what is modest dress, the woman said “the shirt sleeves should cover the elbows.” The agreement she said also covered not displaying things considered obscene.

One Mimaamakim activist said yesterday that “our organization took upon itself the task of strengthening tradition in Sderot. We run a variety of activities in the city, including Torah classes. At one meeting, women approached us and related that there are businesses where they are afraid to send men and children because of the vulgar advertisements. We decided to talk to the owners in a pleasant manner and explain the problem to them.”

Mimaamakim said in response that “the project is part of a campaign to spread Jewish spirit. The campaign referred to is a voluntarily effort based on understanding and full cooperation. The decision of business owners to refrain from joining is also welcomed. We hope to continue with all our efforts and benefit from them based on love for our fellows and respect for all, for the welfare of society and the individual in Sderot and the surrounding areas.”He said there is no boycott or black list involved, and this was merely a request made of the storeowner.

SuperPharm did not provide any comment.

First, a translation of the certificate:

“This is to certify that the owner of the business: Halperin Optical at Peretz Center, Sderot, through identification with the initiative ‘We are all in favor of respectful dress’ will be careful (yakpid) about the rules of appropriate and dignified dress and appearance, whether of advertisements in the store or of employees. We express our deep appreciation for the participation of this business owner in this initiative, and bless him and all of his workers that they should merit, with God’s help, success in all of their endeavors.”

  1. I believe that businesses are entitled to have a dress code, and that overly casual or exposed dress reflects poorly on the professionalism of the business.
  2. Such a dress code should reflect the company’s interests and goals, and not be imposed by an outside group.
  3. I am happy not to be an employee at one of the businesses that signed the agreement.
  4. The Halperin Optical chain is under haredi ownership, and probably already implements some kind of dress code for its employees.
  5. I noticed that the word tzniut is not mentioned in the certificate, but make no mistake, this is what it is about.
  6. The “garin torani” in most cities is not technically haredi. Mainly composed of hesder yeshiva graduates, who served in the army, they identify themselves as hardal, an acronym for haredi-dati-leumi. More stringent than the average national religious, they have been accused of trying to change the status quo in state religious elementary schools in Carmiel, Tel Aviv, and other places, by getting hired as staff members and pushing for more separation between boys and girls.
    Haaretz often mixes up haredi and national religious. If the report is accurate the initiative is not haredi, which I find especially disturbing.
  7. Who has time to go around and make sure that other people are dressing in a particular way? Surely there they could promote more important social initiatives in Sderot, an economically depressed development town that has suffered barrages of rockets since Israel left Gaza in 2006.
  8. Sderot residents are mainly secular and traditional, not haredi.
  9. The “appreciation” mentioned in the sign reminds me of this letter to the women of Ramat Beit Shemesh. 
This story is a glaring example of how the trend toward modest dress could soon affect each and every one of us. Let’s leave aside employees. What about customers? Are the members of the garin torani not concerned that a woman will walk into SuperPharm wearing a low-cut blouse? Soon the stores will be offering women a coverup, as many haredi grocery stores already do.
And the biggest question of all: Who decides the standards? Even if you favor more modest dress standards, would you be willing to have someone go into your closet, so to speak, and accept or reject each item of clothing?


  1. Yeesh. While I have often complained about how my cellphone company seems to sell their product with their female employee’s boobs (go into ANY cellphone company store and find me 2 saleswomen wearing a blouse that’s not a size or three too small) and I’d rather not watch the news of the latest bombing and be distracted by the cleavage the reporter is showing, I don’t think anyone BUT THE COMPANY ITSELF should be issuing a dress-code for it’s employees.

    And what are the chain stores going to do? Do some coloring on signage that’s not ‘tznius’? Does this group even allow billboards with photos of women?

  2. aviva_hadas says

    I know not all Israeli (insert any country really) blogs are political & some avoid anything political at all. (good, bad, or indifferent)

    But when I read this, I wonder if the people who spend all of this time (not unlike other conservative groups that spend a lot of time on their own issues/agendas) on perceived modesty are unaware of what is perceived in the diaspora (in my opinion) as a more important issue – like physical safety…

    (Without even thinking about treating & supporting Masorti Jews equally to Haredi, etc.)

  3. Like you, I was especially disturbed by the thought that this “modesty police” seemed to not be charedi. A little internet research revealed that Mimaamakim is headed by one Ariel Bar-Eli, who, among other things, seems to teach at the hesder yeshiva in Sderot. Very scary that this seems to be coming out of the national religious camp.

  4. Even though I sometimes have issues with the way people dress, I too have a hard time with the “modesty police.” Do you have to wear skirts? Is it better to wear a short skirt or loose pants? If I’m married do I have to cover my hair? How much hair can be left out? It never ends. It seems we should focus more on deeds and not outward appearance. How about giving out a teudat yosher to a business that commits to honest business practices, all the time? This feels like one more thing that will widen the rift between the religious and non-religious in Israel which is definitely NOT what we need.
    BTW, Devo, regarding Cellcom, I was recently in the Kfar Saba branch with my daughter and I said to her that all the women had long hair, they were all wearing shirts that were tight on them, and all the men had stubble. And everyone was attractive – not necessarily good looking or beautiful, but attractive. Who says sex doesn’t sell?

  5. Just to be clear – I’m sure that given this story was from Haaretz, there is probably bias exposed – on the other hand, where there is smoke there is fire and I am sure there is more than a grain of truth behind this story, whether or not some issues have been confused. To be honest, I’m just suprised its only now that we’re hearing of something like this rather than previously – and the location (Sderot vs more traditional haredi locales)

    To say this is disturbing is an understatement and while I may be dati, I applaud Weiselberg and anyone else who refuses to sign such an agreement. Because the next step, after the employee dress is the customer dress, but even more so what can be sold – a clothing store will not only need modestly dressed employees, but what about the shirt they sell? The pants? anything else not considered sufficient tzniut by whomever chooses to give out such certification.

    And yes, far more disturbing to me is the fact that this might well be an initiative of someone not associated with the extremist groups of the black hat world (that would disturb me too, of course) – because that just goes to show how much others are copying their obsession with tzniut and interference in general freedom. Ironically, if this is a group that attempts to deepen jewish identification and traditions, this campaign is likely to backfire big time – talk about ways to cause the general public to think badly of judaism and our traditions by telling them how to dress when they go to work in the morning to sell eyeglasses or books (not to mention the next step of how they dress when they want to buy these items)

    Now I do believe there is a standard of professional dress – and yes, that might involve some level of coverage of cleavage, but for that matter, it also involves being neatly dressed and groomed (which is an area some religious but covered up folks might well need to work on). And it means being appropriate for the setting – i am perfectly accepting that the sales staff in a sporting goods store is not going to dress the same way as a bank employee.

    I do hope we’ll hear a contradiction of this but sadly I think we are more likely to see more of it.

  6. US Navy Officer says

    there is zero coercion going on there. I am not religious, but I have a basic understanding of economics. When a store or business is NOT offering a basic need, then no customers really need that store. If the business is really only offering modest luxuries – snacks, meals, new garments, etc – then the customer is king.

    The religious wouldn’t dream of asking El; Al to use this kind or that kind of wrench when doing maintenance…. El Al would tell them: “fly with us as we are, or practice your long-distance swimming!”

    If you really want to help Israelis, help them do something more significant than running businesses that could have been done by 12-year olds.

    The offszhore natural gas fields are standing by to become the Next Big Thing. Perhaps Israelis will be too stuck up to go to school to learn how to do underwater welding etc; then foreigners will get hired – then Israelis will whine and whine and whine about the foreigners. It will be the Filipinits all over again.

    • Hi there,
      does your knowledge of economics stretch to the equation an airline is presented with if it is prohibited from flying on Shabbat ? I noticed that you mentioned ElAl and water sports so I assume you are a high flyer with nautical inclinations. I wondered whether you have considered which type of economic life raft a six day a week airline would need ? If underwater welders were required to wear approved rubber kippot with yellow stars, whilst working on Israeli drilling sites there would be some commotion. Israeli society needs to fight against extremism in all its forms : amen !! Be well..

  7. Just posted this on our facebook page ( Thanks for speaking out about these important issues!

  8. Come on!!! I find this “outrage” unbelievable.

    Think of how Israelis dress in the summer and tell me if anyone in the US would ever dream of coming to work this way. Most companies in the US have a very clear dress code (albeit unwritten). Think of casual Friday, which actually has a dress code of its own. This type of “coercion” send a very clear message that business/work environment is not the place to showcase one’s bodily endowments.

    The problem is that many Israelis have almost no sense of what constitutes appropriate word dress. I’ve heard a completely secular guy complain that he couldn’t concentrate on a test because the girl sitting in front of him wasn’t exactly dressed. On a couple of other occasions when a bank teller or a restaurant waitress tried to pull insufficient clothes to cover up, because they felt uncomfortable in front of my husband (without any prompting whatsoever).

    The point is that people should dress appropriately for the occasion and for interacting with others and this initiative is a fairly mild way of doing so.

    The same goes for the new ads in Jerusalem. Israeli advertising is so extremely distasteful and sensual that for some people it must have crossed the red line. Frankly, i would rather they concentrate on the products (as the have started to do in j’lem) than splash half-naked women all over billboards as is done everywhere else. Think what you would your kids to see.

  9. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS”D: Why always the ‘chareidi-bashing’? I can see what some mean that this shouldn’t be coming from the outside, but is it coercion or commonsense? If they’re selling lingerie, maybe it makes good business-sense (halacha-aside) but why do schools, grocery stores and banks feel my husband or anyone else’s, has to be confronted by 25 pairs of boobs (in varying stages of aging, sagginess, and wrinkliness, btw) in order to give them our business? I mean, shouldn’t I, as a customer, want to do business with an establishment that appears fiscally responsible, and displays good business ethics? Perhaps if sex is the only getting my business, that explains why the bank lines are so slow – they assume we all want to linger to watch the show? Why doesn’t efficiency sell? Maybe we’re all at fault for letting the businesses bring down the standards to the lowest common denominator-boobs.

    Two more points:

    1) Before “making teshuva” (wierd term, like I’m done? No more averot?) and aliyah, I worked everywhere in Silicon Valley from Fed Ex to public schools – and there was ALWAYS, INVARIABLY a dress code “agreement” that we were expected to sign and keep to in every new job I was offered. It did, as others above mention, raise the focus and business standard to quality of service or product, rather than on the size and quantity of boobs, legs, and torso on display. If we didn’t want to keep those rules, we didn’t have to take the job. If we broke them, we were discreetly given a warning, etc.

    The level of trashiness in the style of dress here in Israel, I think, is really at the heart of some of this, because even amongst the non-Jewish, tasteful is professional. If most women in these businesses dressed reasonably dignified, yes, even basic suit pants and a blouse, etc, no hair covering, I suspect there wouldn’t be such a push for “modesty incentives.” I am confident most of us reasonable “chareidim” can see a professional woman, in professional attire, with a dignified hair style, and decent makeup, without screaming for the tznius police. In essence, women like this DO garner more respect, because they move the focus from the sexual, making it easier to give them the benefit of the doubt and not focus on all the halachic details. I mean, there IS a difference between a woman in dress slacks, a basic blouse with sleeves above the elbow, a neckline below the collarbone but not PLUNGING and tight, and a dignified modern hairstyle, and a woman (from aged 14 to 70) in black leggings, spikey heals with studs, a belly-shirt, and spaghetti-straps, bra straps intentionally showing, and all topped with black eyeliner and red lipstick – along with an aggressive frown. Does that REALLY sell? I asked my bank manager about this once, and he said – it’s the unions and he can’t fire them. Maybe business owners should feel more empowered to dictate to their employees, instead of the other way around, without the news calling it coercion?

    The chareidi-bashing needs to end, and I’m glad you caught that blending of the terms in the article, Hannah. “Chareidim” is a broad term, not a mental-illness characterized by extremism and shawls, judging, and all the rest.

    • You can agree or disagree with the initiative, which is apparently not even haredi. Disagreement and criticism do not equal “bashing.”

      You wrote about breasts “(in varying stages of aging, sagginess, and wrinkliness, btw)”
      Just because you think breasts should be covered doesn’t give you the right to insult how women look, especially older ones. Not cool.

      I don’t know what the certificate’s standards are, but if they require sleeves past the elbow as reported in the article we are talking about much more than a professional appearance. As I wrote, I’m not against company dress codes.

      • Ruth Alfasi says

        I do think this (the original article) is chareidi-bashing. I disagree with you Hannah, respectfully. Just as I am voicing my own view (and it is a nuanced view), I would surely hope nobody would forever attribute my personal ideas to all religiously observant Jews in Tzfat, and forever label or dismiss them accordingly. I don’t represent Tzfat, any more than any other self-identifying chareidi person represents all streams of chareidi-ism. And the people passing out these “kashrut certs” don’t represent all of any other group except their own. By making these negative connections where none exist, HaAretz is chareidi-bashing, looking for another excuse to discredit.

        The article’s title above is – “Hareidi group ‘asks’…” while the group mentioned is not hareidi at all. The article name is catchier and will get more readers that way than the actual description of the group included in the body of the article: “Mimaamakim organization, which is supported by the Torah-oriented garin (core group) there…” Huh?

        HaAretz (and my comment to the article is found there, too) is certainly not neutral or chareidi-friendly, being too quick to use the classification of hareidi, when they really mean “religiously observant,” as you and other comments have pointed out. It’s marketing, and sorry, lashon hara sells, too.

  10. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS”D: No, no, you’re right, that was inappropriate of me. I was borrowing the term used by another comment, above, and was trying to make the point that it’s so prevalent, that I wonder if there’s a reverse sort of coercion or pressure for women in secular society here. That without regard for age or any outward physical markers, Israeli, non-religious women, tend to be dressed much more sexually and provocative than their US counterparts. Are they fulfilling a social expectation, as well? Where I came from, CA, we’d at least be aware of a pressure to be attractive, AND try to hide parts of our body that didn’t meet society’s expectations for beauty. Here, on the other hand, the mode seems to be show everything. It’s the showing, the availability of it, that’s more a focus here. I can’t believe feminists aren’t opposed to this, truthfully.

    I didn’t mean to offend, quite the opposite. It says something sad, I think, when very aging women still feel they must, in a sense, compete for attention, with 20 yrs by setting their bosom on display while working in a bank, a store, etc.

    Is there no decency or dignity? Do my or your aging, physical flaws ALSO have to be on display for a woman to earn a living here? I think Israeli “feminists” missed a lot about feminism, frankly. It isn’t/wasn’t about this. It is supposed to be about not objectifying women as sexual beings, and that’s also what tznius and halacha are doing, albeit from different places.

    Betty White comes to mind as an example- smart, beautiful, witty as ever, and dignified. Her sleeve length (aside from halacha) really isn’t so noticeable, because she’s overall dress nicely and with self-respect. Why can’t that look also be an employable look in this country? Do you know how many places I’ve tried to work in and been told, openly, I’m over forty, and they don’t want me? What does over forty have to do with my ability to sell a pair of shoes? I’m told that’s really Israeli-code talk for, “you aren’t sexy enough.”

    One last thing – Kashrut in the US. Most food companies understand the Kosher market is huge and they have a real incentive to want to comply with kashrut standards. Where does their interest come from? They generally approached by kosher companies and sold on the idea. They aren’t forced or coerced, they’re sales-pitched by those who’ve convinced them to set aside some of their valuable time and listen to the reasons why investing in a kosher product line, equipment, and supervision – is a good business decision. I think “modesty” or a reasonable standard of dignified dress, can be seen as a good business decision both by consumers AND sellers.

  11. Of course Israeli feminists are a diverse group but I think they are mostly united in their opposition to the objectification of women’s bodies by those who overly sexualize them. The hyper focus on women’s bodies can be found in all strata of Israeli society–and as MOI points out the obsessive focus on covering women up is now found among certain members of the National religious in Shderot.

  12. I was chuckling at the idea of women being offered a cover-up until you said some grocers do that. Do you know anything about the standards for Yesh employees? They seemed more covered up than the Shufersol employees in the same location.

    I think we should start a no-smoking initiative with certificates and a monthly advert listing the restaurants that offer out door non-smoking at least once a week and shops who will commit to no smoking inside or in the doorway.

    • I’m not sure if my comment came off as sarcastic – often my goal 🙂
      I really am in favor of banning cigarette smoking most places and making it a real pain to smoke.

  13. Halacha states that we’re supposed to take care of our bodies, which led to such prohibitions as against suicide, smoking, etc.

    So if a religious guy comes along and starts petitions for smoking bans, is that religious coercion? Don’t make me laugh. There’s plenty of good, secular reasons for smoking bans and only smokers, the tobacco industry, and libertarians (as few as there are in Israel) ought to have a problem with it.

    There’s so much stuff labeled as “religious coercion” in Israel that just makes a mockery of the concept. Religious coercion, in actuality, is when we start to see forces that would either prohibit the practice of certain religious beliefs or require the practice of other certain religious beliefs (distinct from political demonstrations, i.e. “price tag” attacks on Mosques which are more anti-Arab/Palestinian than anti-Muslim, even if the two are basically the same in reality).

    So if we see Datiim in Israel start to blockade Reformi synagogues, or prevent Christians from wearing crosses, then I’ll start to react. There’s NOTHING about dressing more professionally that is against the beliefs of Reformiim, just as it isn’t against Reformi beliefs for the buses to be shut down on Shabbat.

    …but, the Reformi cries, “I do believe the buses should be running on Shabbat!” That’s not his *belief*, that’s his PREFERENCE. And guess what? The preferences of the majority overrule his. We have a democracy, not a republic.

    • My friend was telling me about the ads she’s getting with Christmas trees and Russian girls in Santa dresses. She basically said it shouldn’t be allowed in a national newspaper in Israel. I say whatever sells, let the market forces decide. That’s the point of this, right? The idea that observant people in Sderot would prefer a shopping in a store that is “certified.” A little more sensitivity WOULD be nice. Many kosher restaurants in the US have inappropriate TV playing and music during the 9 days.

    • BS”D: To Sol – Now THAT is what I call a nuanced opinion! Kol haKavod!

      Your explanation of “religious coercion” was excellent. You’re right – there’s nothing, in essence, about a skirt, or a shirt that is reasonably decent, that Reformim, etc are against. It’s what the skirt symbolizes to them – religiousity, that they can’t bear. Too bad it doesn’t symbolize normative business attire here in Israel. It’s unfortunate that “freedom of religion” (which they tout) here tends to me, freedom of any religion that isn’t Jewish.

      According to the kabbalah, where ever there is kedusha, the klipa tries to counter it, indeed feeds off it. That’s why we have such a disparity between the raunchy “pritzut” (unmodest) clothing here, and the tzniut, that isn’t found in the US to such a degree. It’s like a pendulum swinging more and more widely in order to find balance – the center.

    • Sol, I hear your point. I don’t think we have enough information. What standards are they requiring here?

  14. the one element i had expected but was thankfully absent (at least as reported) was a link between tzniyut and something else (in this case i was expecting a link with rocket attacks)


    Now THIS is what tznius should be! If women wore these, the Iranians would never want to erase Israel from the map. Instead, they would look to inzere hyliger bnois Yisrooel as examples of how their women should dress.

    A frelichen Peerim…wait, which Al HaNissim am I supposed to be saying today :)?