Shawl Cult Involved in Possible Kidnapping

Mystery apartment in Jerusalem–Photo via Kikar Shabbat

Kikar Hashabbat, a haredi news site, reported the following story. Below is my translation, with a few notes.

It started about 8 months ago, when a 19-year-old haredi woman disappeared from her parents’ home. Two days later the parents located her by phone. The daughter explained that she was “strengthening herself” religiously, at a friend’s home. When the daughter again failed to make contact, the parents reported her absence to the police. But because of the daughter’s age the police refused to get involved.

One of the askanim (haredi functionaries–often used as a derogatory term but I’m not sure of the author’s perspective), who was in on the secret, told Kikar Hashabbat that at this point the parents realized that the daughter’s friend had gotten her involved with the “shalim” cult. This group advocates veils for women, and very strict sexual mores. The parents got more people involved, including an influential Jerusalem rabbi.

[Note: There are more and more women in haredi communities who wear “shalim,” or cloaks, intended to disguise the contour of their upper bodies. There is a subgroup of such women who also cover their faces, break off contact with their parents, and practice extreme modesty. See my post, Face-Covering Families in Beit Shemesh: A Destructive Cult?]

The askanim began an investigation to locate the young woman’s hiding place for the previous three months since the last contact with her family. Finally, they found her in an apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh [note: home of some of the cult’s extreme members]. The cult held classes there, so the wife of a yeshiva student wrapped herself in a shal and attended a class. She used the opportunity to plant listening equipment in the apartment.

During the next few days, the missing woman’s voice was taped talking to a second woman who has not been identified. The second woman was heard warning the missing woman against her parents, because they don’t walk in the paths of God. The young woman must not make contact with them.

The mother dresses modestly, and even wears a shal. But  does not cover her face, and does not belong to the cult.

The team kept a close eye on the apartment, but after the cult members found the listening equipment they brought the young woman to a second secret location.

A month later, the askanim believed her to be  in a secret apartment belonging to “Shomrei Emunim” in Jerusalem. A number of yeshiva students kept an eye on the apartment but could not locate the missing woman.

The turning point came right before the Sukkot holiday, with the discovery that the cult had decided to marry off the woman to a convert ten years her senior. The worried parents tried to make contact with her. The head of the Edah Haredit, Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia Weiss was approached and decided to publicize a special letter forbidding the marriage without the consent of the woman’s parents. [Although the letter, pictured here, only mentions her father.] The groom was also summoned to a hearing, along with the parents and others including Michael Levinzon who is reportedly among those responsible for the young woman’s disappearance.

Wedding canceled at last minute

The wedding was supposed to be this week, but the askanim managed to serve the groom with the warning letter of the Edah charedit rabbinical court. The groom notified the female matchmaker that he will not marry.

The big turning point happened early this morning: The askanim located a recording between the matchmaker and the groom, where she tells him the bride’s location. In an additional recording, the groom is heard telling the bride that her parents love her, and apparently the young woman then burst into tears. The groom added that the Edah Haredit forbids them from marrying. The young woman replies, “So what, Rabbi Aaron Tzvi Rumpler told me to marry.” Rabbi Rumpler’s yeshiva has been the object of protests, in light of his involvement in the cult.

On Wednesday after midnight, the askanim came along with the young woman’s parents to the apartment in Jerusalem, and waited for the daughter to come out.

At a certain point, the parents and the aiskanim broke into the stairwell outside the apartment and began making a big commotion. The neighbors called the police. The father was taken by the police for investigation, while his wife went to the door of the apartment and called out to her daughter in tears. The daughter and one of the askanim were investigated by the police. The family claims that the cult members filed a complaint against them.

My comments:

  • The article doesn’t say whether the parents succeeded in speaking to the daughter.
  • Even an extreme community like the Edah Haredit feels threatened by this cult.
  • Marrying someone ten years older is not unusual in those communities. A 19-year-old from a “good” family marrying a convert would be unusual. I think the point was that the young woman was presumably pressured into an undesirable marriage against her will.
  • There could have been other problems with the guy, and she would have no way of knowing. Since haredi couples don’t know each other well, the parents are supposed to do the research on the propective partners.
  • The parents acted as any parents would if their child joined a cult. Only it appears that in this closed society, the leaders have the power to achieve their goal of stopping the marriage.
More posts on  hyper-modesty:


  1. This is so disturbing – as much as the edah haredi, HARDALNIKIM and dati leumi condone this trend it is affecting them. I think this is a classic example of foreign cultures changing Judaism – we live in the mid-east in the middle of the Arab Spring and radical Islam and it is changing Judaism.
    I was at a brit today for hardal family members. 15 years ago, at their first brit, the mother of the baby spoke. Today, the baby’s father spoke and then he read something that his wife wrote. I asked the mother why she isn’t reading it she said “it is more tzanuah for my husband to read it for me”.

  2. It doesn’t sound like a kidnapping. Not that it makes this situation ok – this sounds like a classic cult situation to me (most cults don’t kidnap their victims.)

    Ariealla, your comment is simply inaccurate. There is a HUGE difference between not speaking in front of a mixed crowd, which IS genuinely an issue of tznius (even if it permitted halachikly), and the actions of this cult, which apparently include ordering people to marry – which is NOT halachikly ok. NO ONE in the Chardali or Chareidi community condones this cult, and to claim that they do because you don’t like some of their practices does not serve any useful purpose.

    • which IS genuinely an issue of tznius (even if it permitted halachikly),
      When people make a distinction btw what is permitted halachickly and tznius – therein lies the “Talibination” of JUdaism.

      • According to you, the “talibanization of Judaism” started at the beginning of our history. It’s quite clear that there is a huge space between what is halachikly permitted and what is a good idea.

  3. shalom from jerusalem
    these women we call them taliban are creepy, seriously creepy. there is something really wrong with this movement. they have a very bad name in israel after the taliban mother who abused her children and was arrested for horrible abuse. she is seriously a nutcase with a following of disturbed woman. all the gory details were on the tv,news, radio. it was well reported

    my neighbour was walking around with the shawls and we were friends. and she kept telling me to be more modest.not wear bright clothes etc etc. the saint of all saints. until she and her husband started a war and we heard her screaming like a lunatic. at the time i thought that her fury had a sexual element to it. we live on a street many people pass by and her screaming and words were just too horrible for words. i tried to talk to her and warned her she would end up in a mental hospital and she was just totally out of control and unable to make one sentance that made sense.

    later i found out from the haradim, that she and her husband were involved in the pedophile racket here in our area. she has now left our area – she was involved in the abuse of the children too.

    there is something very very wrong when women or men become too extreme in their dress and behaviour. proverbs tells us not to be too righteous. a lot of sexual perversions are hidden under those cloaks. its not about modesty.

    we have plenty of modest religious women here who are just normal women no matter what they put on their bodies. when someone has to outdo everyone in being extreme the alarm bells should be going off.

    its too much like the muslims being so extreme. its too unnatural. we cannot deny our human nature we can just control our inclinations. many religious women here have told me that this behaviour is not jewish, its not the way jewish woman behave.

    and its a from of brainwashing. my neighbour tried to get me to go with her to meetings but i did not like how she changed from a friendly woman to a severe dissaproving and narrow minded witch.she is not a young woman and was brainwashed into this insanity -how will innocent young girls like the one mentioned above be able to understand the tricks and manipulations being used.

    even when they walk around in the streets it has a bad feel and a bad energy. now some of them are going to the shuik near my house and attacking women who are not dressed modestly – if i ever see such a thing i will not keep quiet. this is outrageous. they are out of control and troublemakers and there is no god with them.

    • The reason why the appellation “Taliban” is inappropriate, is because amongst the Taliban, the women have no power. Here they seem to call the halachic shots.

  4. In the Jewish Orthodox world in Israel the idea of modesty has become of paramount importance. But the question remains, “How much support does it have from the Talmud?” At first glance there does seem to be some support. A man is not allowed to say a blessing while looking at a woman’s uncovered hair or other areas that it is the custom to cover. But and this has further support from Ketubot 72 and the Shulchan Aruch Even ha’Ezer 116. The Talmud says: “AND WHAT IS DEEMED TO BE A WIFE’S TRANSGRESSION AGAINST JEWISH PRACTICE? GOING OUT WITH UNCOVERED HEAD. Is not the prohibition against going out with an uncovered head Pentateuchal; for it is written, And he shall uncover the woman’s head, and this, it was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a warning to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered head — Pentateuchally.
    it is quite satisfactory if her head is covered by her work-basket; according to traditional Jewish practice, however, she is forbidden to go out uncovered even with her basket on her head.

    R. Assi stated in the name of R. Johanan: With a basket on her head a woman is not guilty of going against Jewish custom. In considering this statement, R. Zera pointed out this difficulty: Where [is the woman assumed to be? If it be suggested, ‘In the street’, it may be objected that this is already forbidden by Jewish practice; but if she is in a court-yard the objection may be made that if that were so you will not leave our father Abraham a single daughter who could remain with her husband! — Abaye, or it might be said, R. Kahana, replied: The statement refers to one who walks from one courtyard into another by way of an alley.” []
    There is a basic debate here about the courtyard requirements. The rambam on one side and everyone else against him. [Rosh Tur shuclchan aruch etc]

    This little paragraph of the Talmud is good example of the issues that arise in learning the Talmud. I have actually not looked at the tosphot there for many years but just off hand you can see some of the major question that arise right away. Fist what in the world in Rebbi Yochanan talking about?!!! Is he coming to disagree with R. Ishmael. or just with the conclusion of the Gemara that in a public domain even a basket if forbidden. Or is it possible he is not disagreeing with the conclusion? Even thought that seems highly unlikely.
    Then next question. What in the world is rabbi zera talking about? The Mishna or Rabbi Yochanan? Now we have 6 factorial [6*5*4*3*2*1]possible combinations of possibilities of how to explain this gemara. even before we get into questions of content!

    The problem here with the Orthodox is that in fact they do not cover the hair of their unmarried daughters. So they obviously do not hold that R. Ishmael is the halacha. Rather they are depending on the fact that it is not the Jewish custom to cover the hair of unmarried girls even though to R. Ishmael says it is forbidden by Torah law. But furthermore, the whole Gemara and Shulchan Aruch for do not mention anything about covering any other part of the body. Now the frum [Orthodox ] are right that it would seem that the other parts of a womans body might be considered to fall into the same category. But the problem with this is that there is not a single authority that says so. Just open the Shulchan Aruch and you will see many many authorities discussion the issue about the hair and no one says that you can extrapolate out of that anywhere else. [and when the Gemara wants to include other things besides hair in the category of what is forbidden it has no trouble in stating them openly. I don’t need to mention examples because they are many.] And the third problem is it depends on the common Jewish custom. the last time I checked the Orthodox does not represent the common Jewish custom.There are many Jews with other customs like going to the beach on the weekends.

  5. avraham , really no mention of clothes and dress styles at all. wow that is amazing. i just took it for granted without checking, guess many others do as well.
    well common sense says that the israelites would wear clothing suitable for our weather here in israel. for the work in the fields and so on. hair would be covered also from the heat of the sun and the cold of the winter.

    we also have a problem with the european jews coming with their clothes from europe and trying to force it on us here and you see young girls dressed like old women and its ugly.and totally stupid with our hot weather. then we have beautiful sphardi women with really lovely clothes and head coverings, some have indian style clothing some have biblical style, but far too many of the haradi religious world dress just plain ugly. its not modest its ugly. hashem loves beauty.

    i am grateful for the young israeli religious girls who dress like they should for this hot land and look great and like healthy young girls should look.

    • Ruth, you say “avraham , really no mention of clothes and dress styles at all.”

      Actually, that would be amazing, but it’s not really accurate. While there is not as much discussion of specific dress styles, there is a lot more than one would expect. I don’t have the time or resources to go back to sources, but it’s there.

      Also, the discussion in the Talmus is absolutely predicated on the conditions of the Middle East and EY, not Eastern Europe. The later commentaries a an interesting mixed bag. (Rambam – Maimonides – lived in the Middle East, among Muslims.)

      I would point out, by the way, that your remarks about the European styles of many Chareidi groups are not substantively different from what you are complaining about. You say the style so it’s “wrong” and “not the way girls are supposed to look.” Your basis? Apparently, you don’t like it.

      • shalom. thanks for the info. no i did not mean it as my own personal preference. we live in a hot country and we need to dress suitably for the climate. the european clothes are hot and bothersome. and we are israel, the land of the bible. why cant we dress like our mothers rivka,and leah, and sarah and so on.?? why do we wear clothes from the goyim?? that is my point. could we stop looking and acting like we are still in galut and start to behave,dress, like we are the nation of the bible in our homeland. that is what i am trying to convey.

  6. Ariella suggests: “When people make a distinction btw what is permitted halachickly and tznius – therein lies the ‘Talibination’ of Judaism.”

    I would put a distinction not between what is letter-of-the-law permitted vs. spirit-of-the-law expanded into. Instead I’d draw the line at personal resolution vs. forcing upon others.


    Is a dati leumi Shabbat newsletter policy to not show photos of women – force, or the personal choice of those in charge of the newsletter?

    Is the decision of a health advocacy organization to only present male speakers, so that a particular group will attend who otherwise would feel socially pressured or personally uncomfortable – force, or a personal decision albeit to serve other goals?

    Is a charedi kennes (gathering) which encourages women to improve/increase their level of tzniut (even if those levels are more cultural than explicit halacha) – force, or encouraging the personal choice of the attendees?

    Is the exclusion of a young boy from the “best” shidduch opportunities because his mother doesn’t adhere to these “extra” levels – force, or the exercising of personal choice across a subculture?

    What makes the, um, “tznius advocacy” of the Burka ladies different from existing tznius encouragement throughout Orthodoxy?

    • Halacha actually does give imprimatur to stringency that are more cultural than essentially halachik. But there are some limits. These women are going WAAY beyond that. The worst issue is that, if even half the stories are true, they are also doing things that are against halacha.

      • My daughter told me that in her highschool they taught her that the Rambam says not to add additional stringencies to Judaism and to walk a golden mean. If you add stringencies because they are culturally acceptable, like not letting women talk at public gatherings, even if they are halachically permissible, that is going against what the Rambam said.

        • Ok so that’s a different concern versus advocating extra-halachic stringencies. Maybe stringencies are ok so long as they’re within an overall framework that shows balance. (I’m not saying *how* to show balance, but I can agree with you that the burka folks don’t. I can’t agree with you that the Dati Leumi folks don’t. Regarding main-line charedi I think it depends which neighborhood/shul you visit!)

        • I don’t know what your daughter learned, but your interpretation is is simply not correct. Tznius is one thing that is definitely partially culturally determined. The Rambam, by the way, would certainly have considered a prohibition on women speaking in front of a mixed crowd to be very basic

          • The Rambam also said that women should only go out of their houses once a month. So I do not know if he can be the best example on this subject!

  7. Nurse Yachne says

    It’s more a question of constantly ratcheting up the severity of the prohibitions. Also, the fact that the severity tends to fucus exclusively on limiting women’s freedom to choose, even within halachically sanctioned norms. As Ruth implies, you don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to see a strong strain of sexual hysteria in the matter.

  8. besides the min halachic requirements – Avraham’s inference about clothing is a clear distortion – a community can have its own standards – even the chiloni community have min standards . So Tziniut has to be seen in the context of the community. Here the tzniut contradicts other halachic demands as not being so conspicious even if you are covered up and this is not ‘ darchei no’am

  9. When you begin to equate showing an elbow with showing a breast, or speaking in public with soliciting sex, you have lost all ability to measure relative behavior. You have also lost legitimacy in most of the rest of the world, which holds common sense virtuous, too.

    • Nurse Yachne says

      A popular saying regarding the ability to distinguish between one’ hindquarters and one’s elbow springs to mind

  10. “Actually, that would be amazing, but it’s not really accurate. While there is not as much discussion of specific dress styles, there is a lot more than one would expect. I don’t have the time or resources to go back to sources, but it’s there.”

    You are welcome to show a source. for your claim. and you are welcome to show how my quotation from the Talmud is not accurate as soon as it is convenient

  11. I hope Rabbi Weiss, have wrecked this girl’s shidduch with his “dass torah”, will find her what he regards as a more appropriate match. Otherwise he will burn in hell.

    • Is it better for her to be part of a cult where she will give birth at home with an unqualified midwife, won’t take off all of her clothes to bathe, and will cover her own and her daughter’s faces in veils?

    • I agree with Hannah. Really you could write that we hope Rabbi Weiss continues on his campaign to save this woman and follows through by helping her marry into an environment where she can live a good life not an oppressed and distorted one.

  12. i find this very interesting all the views here. and would like to put up a quote from my gggsaba the rav aisel harif. he was a man of the people and was not interested in creating rabbinic dogma and hardships – he especially resented the unnecessary strictness of the dayyanim(in slonim , poland)

    “you engjoy forbidden things” he told a senior dayyan
    “what do you man” asked the dayyan deeply offended
    “simply that you enjoy your own severity and forbidding matters to others” he replied

    the modest genius. – reb aisel harif – by esther rafaeli

    we cannot lose sight of the gift hashem gave us to be happy and enjoy our lives. we need to guard that we do not revert back to pagan,christian, muslim fanatic ideas to stamp out all joy and the natural relations between men and women.

    judiasm should not be a religion that scares the hell out of people into obedience. our children should not be dressed like freaks. i am not haradi, not very religious and we all need to keep a balance between normal and acceptable and extreme weird behaviour.

    its up to all of us to make sure that we dont end up looking like muslims and having our women bullied and our boys growing up to be perverts.

  13. Hannah, I’m so glad you brought this issue to your blog as I had NO idea about it. As you know, I’m not Orthodox, but we go to Chabad and are totally comfortable in that environment. This cult, however, doesn’t seem “Jewish” to me at all–Orthodox or otherwise. I wish they’d knock off the veil stuff–certainly isn’t good PR for the more mainstream Orthodox groups who already suffer from bad PR. And of course I hate to think of any women spending their lives behind a veil.

    • Nina, thanks for your visit and comment. There is definitely a trend toward austerity in some Jewish traditions. This group does not seem to have a particularly Jewish outlook, though.