Video: Undercover Reporter Infiltrates “Taliban Women”

Channel Two’s investigative program, 360, broadcast a report about what they called the —œTaliban women.— Yifat Erlich (of Megeirot fame—she’s graduated from Makor Rishon newspaper to TV) went undercover to infiltrate the group and interview their leader, Malka Benizri.

The report claims that Bruria Keren, who is not identified by name, was  the original leader of the “Taliban women.” While it’s true that Keren had a following, her group met in Beit Shemesh. I’m sure there was overlap, and perhaps Keren was influenced by this group in Geulah. I don’t think there’s one” leader.” Also, Keren always covered her face and none of the women shown at the Geulah meetings do. Benizri half-heartedly praises face-covering and demonstrated to Erlich how she can wrap her shawl over her lower face. But note that she doesn’t do that when shown outside the wedding hall.

Erlich also visited the school Keter Malchut to pretend to enroll her daughter. She’s told that since she is not haredi, she won’t be allowed to be alone with the daughters of the haredi students. The school of 150Jewish woman in Jerusalem shuk wearing cloak. students was not registered with the education ministry, and it was supposedly shut down in light of this report.

Erlich taped Benizri describing how she and her husband got approval for her shal from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef despite the husband’s objection. But Rabbi Yosef’s office sent 360 a statement denying it, stating that neither Yosef’s deceased wife, nor his daughters or daughters-in-law, dress like that. And that kol hamosif, gorea, i.e. it’s bad to do more than necessary. Especially against the will of one’s husband, Yosef added.

Most of the report was about shalim, with Benizri claiming that 10,000 women in Israel now wear them. I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but they are very common in certain neighborhoods.

Erlich went to Nahar HaYarden Street in Beit Shemesh, where the pictures of the veiled family were taken. She got some footage of a home where a makeshift school is housed. Supposedly there are similar tiny schools operating in Jerusalem and Elad. A man gave a phone interview describing how girls were severely beaten up because they refused to wear shalim. He alleged that the girls in this group are utterly miserable and severely sheltered. Erlich also succeeded in getting an interview with Bruria Keren in her jail cell. Because Keren is still observing a speech fast, she writes out her response.

If I were secular I don’t know that I would have considered this news. So a bunch of women meet once a week and talk about tzniut (modesty) and a few children are supposedly being abused. Children getting beaten up doesn’t make for news these days.

Erlich didn’t shed light on the strange practices of these veiled women. I’ve heard from a reliable source that they only breastfeed for two weeks. I’m not sure whether this is because it’s too intimate, like showering, or because nursing postpones that all-important return to fertility.

I’m definitely not interested in what the abusive, mentally ill Keren has to say for herself.

Thanks to a reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, for the picture of the shal-wearing lady in the shuk. He couldn’t tell if her face was covered or not.

Hyper-Tzniut Fashions for Little Girls

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  1. Can someone provide some English for interview at the end with Bruria. Also some of the translations of the subtitles?

    • Neshama, Keren writes that she tried to do good and everyone was against her, so she stopped talking. She did hit her children but only to educate them. At the end Erlich asks if she’ll take off her veil. Presumably Keren doesn’t know she is on camera. We’ll have to wait until next week to see what happens.

      • Keren also writes that something terrible has happened to HER and she forgives her children–even the ones who spoke against her. She never hurt them she says.
        I guess she doesn’t remember leaving them out in the cold, using electric cables to beat them.
        It really sickens me that she has used this time to feel sorry for herself and not to repent.

  2. Here in Rehovot, we don’t have Taliban (that I’ve seen) but the cape (which they call shalim) is getting pretty common. Most of them are black but I have seen some colored ones as well. I wonder if that makes a difference?
    If tzniut is about not standing out then the veils aren’t doing that (yet), but if it’s about being covered then we’re in trouble.

  3. I heard about this video. While being an invasion of privacy, it seems presented in a ‘strange’ manner, that of course because I could not make out all the Hebrew being spoken of and spoken about. What harm do you think they will really do? You either go for it or not. (see my new blog).

    • Last summer I saw a family where the mother wore a blue veil but the husband and kids looked very Chardal. This was in Jerusalem near R. Kook’s house.

  4. “If I were secular I don’t know that I would have considered this news.” Whilst it isn’t “news”, I think it was interesting to at least some of the secular population who are less aware of the “phenomenom”. I know we discussed it at work the following day.

  5. The Future says

    When these girls grow up and go on shidduchim do they really expect to find guys who are interested in a Jewish Woman who dresses like a muslim. This seems to be a woman-initiated movement that I’m sure 99.9% of Haredi men are completely against. I would expect this fad to fade out as quickly as it came.

  6. Nurse Yachne says

    I can’t decide if she looks more like a Moslem or a nun.

  7. The phenomenon of the shalim completely revolts me, and I speak as a religious woman. I watched the program and think that this belittling of oneself which the women talk about, especially Mrs. Benizri, is completely against the spirit of Judaism. (I won’t comment on Halacha because I’m not an expert.)

    I was always taught that Hashem gave us this material natural world to enjoy and to reap its fruits, to exploit its resources for our own benefit, of course within the bounds of halacha and respect for each other.

    Making oneself disappear into the background is not tzniut; it’s a form of arrogance, it is rejecting the wonderful world that Hashem has given to us. It is as if to say “Look at me! See how tzniusdik I am. I’m better than all of you.”. It’s just wrong on so many levels. And certainly forcing it on others goes against all the laws of Bein adam lechavero (between man and his friend).

  8. Don’t know if investigative stories are necessarily news but they are human interest. And if hyper-tzniut is spreading (not sure if I believe all the claims as to size),that is very important.
    And sadly it’s relevant to all of us because it is an extreme form of a reaction to patriarchal attitudes. Of course I am disturbed by this and am convinced of the inherent abuse. But I also am very intrigued by the empowerment language women like Benizri and the woman who talked about how they are “dugmaniot” (models) because they are dugmaot (role models). Benizri’s doing this against her husband’s wishes is a very twisted kind of feminism (I’m trying to be careful about the language I use). In other words, her way of subverting her husband is to take the tzniut he values and take it to a level that he never dreamed of and didn’t want. If it weren’t so tragic it would be funny.
    Oh–and as to a few children being abused and news–it’s one of those things where sometimes it’s news and sometimes it isn’t. Just like in the US where when a blond cheerleader is killed by her boyfriend it’s news but other relationship abuse/murder doesn’t make headlines. Hardly surprising that many in Israel are curious/titillated by haredim behaving badly.

    • They definitely feel that they will lead the men, as the saying goes about Yetzias Mitzrayim, that in the merit of the women we were saved. They speak about this.

    • I meant to say above that this is one form of reaction to patriarchal attitudes that abound in all parts of society–religious and not. Didn’t want to be singling out haredim or religious people as if they alone have patriarchal or oppressive attitudes toward women. And I think that is one reason why this extreme reaction, which is so anti-feminist in some way but which uses empowerment language is so fascinating to so many people.

  9. It is very possible that Rav Ovadiya said what he did to Benizri and her husband in order to maintain shalom bayit in that family.

  10. wow, this was an extremely fascinating video.

    I know women like this. I have a friend who sends to keter malchut, or a similar school where the girls wear shawls. She is an amazing person, a real inspiration.

    And that is maybe why I feel really uncomfortable with what this reporter has done, secretly filming private conversations. If it’s not illegal, it’s definitely unethical or, at the very least, extremely sleazy!

    In general, I think there needs to be more of a distinction in our minds and in these articles/reports between halachic women who wear shawls (like my inspirational, amazing friend) and the hyper-taliban women who abuse children and have all sorts of other weird practices.

    • Chana, while I am sure your friend is truly inspirational, I’m not sure how the distinction is made between inspirational women wearing shawls and hyper-taliban women who abuse children. Bruria Keren did not wear a sign saying “I’m an abuser.” Rather her get up and the acceptance by others of the extreme rules she imposed made it possible to both hide the abuse and for some people to turn a blind eye to what they saw–or even find it inspirational.

    • Chana, the motives and rationale of the two groups appear to be identical, one is merely more extreme. Of course, the motives among individuals may vary.
      No one is suggesting that everyone in a shal or veil is a child abuser. I also know several women who wear shalim and they are loving parents.

      • Yes-I want to make it clear that I agree with Hannah–I’m not saying the inspirational friend is an abuser.

    • Ilana Solomon says

      yay chana, you are the first one to speak out and say that they’re not all crazy! There are many women who wear shawls and even radids, whose husbands are very supposrtive and their daughters dress similarly because they want to be jut like their Ima. I don’t know anyone who forces their daughters to wear shawls or who do it against their husband’s will. Keter Malchut happens to be a wonderful school. I would love to see people reacting just as strongly to the total immodesty in the streets of Yerushalayim. Doesn’t anyone notice that? Reb. Heller once said that we need to see tzniut as a virtue, just as chessed, or honesty. True, most people see this as over the top, but that’s the virtue that they are choosing to go all the way with. If their husbands and children are o.k. with it, then I respect it 100%. Mashiach is around the corner, let’s just work on ourselves and not critisize everyone else.

      • Tell me more about Keter Malchut school. I want to know why your friends wear shalim. What is the benefit? I really do not understand.

  11. Perosnally I love how she says around the 7:50 mark that women 150yrs ago used to dress like that. She is right. Either they were in the frozen wastes of the Russian Pale, or were dressing such as the Ben Ish Hai says, “For their own protection.”
    Considering that Sharia Law(extremist views perhaps) allow for a man to rape an immodestly(by Muslim standards) dressed woman, it was for their own protection that he said(which he states himself) that women should dress thus, so as not to be seen as immodest in the eyes of their neighbors.

  12. Is there a reason I can’t seem to get the video going?

  13. Wow, fascinating! Did you use the word “undercover” intentionally to have two meanings 🙂 ?
    I didn’t get through the whole video (short attention span) but it seemed to me that these women seemed a lot like any ascetic pietist religious movement – think Hasidei Ashkenaz in the middle ages, whose practices included extreme amounts of fasting, standing for long periods of time, and other acts of self-denial. Having a movement like this that is focused on a women’s “mitzvah” is in a sense feminist, just as I learned in my religion classes that becoming a Buddhist or Christian nun was a proto-feminist choice since you were rejecting the normal heirarchy and being an independent person.
    From a religion perspective, though, it just seems so *empty* to build an entire religion around the basically meaningless act of covering up your body. Tzniut is not even one of the 613 mitzvot, and until the last couple of centuries was more of a societal thing than a religious thing. And it really sounded inane – that whole “shiur” about how you cover up like you cover a diamond… um… if you have a diamond you WEAR it so everyone can see it, duh!

    • Channa asked: “Did you use the word “undercover” intentionally to have two meanings?”
      No, but I wish I had.
      The diamond analogy is also used to encourage having a lot of children quickly –i.e. collect as many diamonds as you can when you are still young and fertile or you may not be able to get them later. An equally bad analogy.
      I’ve been thinking about the “emptiness.” Once you cover everything, where do you go from there?

      • you become more acetic it other areas, as we are seeing. Forbidding normal relations, extreme dietary restriction, intense rituals of all kinds. No extremity is too much, nothing is ever enough. it’s a slippery slope.


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