Yediot Gives Platform to Shal-Wearers

woman at Jerusalem wedding wears shal (cloak)Today’s Yediot Aharonit “24 Hours” magazine has an “exclusive” letter from a 42-year-old cult member. The anonymous author sent it to a neighbor, whose husband delivered it to Yediot with the author’s knowledge.

The letter may be original and unpublished, but plenty of similar material is widely available and used to recruit new members.

The author of the letter wears a shal (a long cloak, meant to hide the outline of her upper body and hips). Unlike some of her “righteous” neighbors who cover their face whenever they go out, she only covers hers when she sees a man approaching.

The letter does not discuss the unusual practices of the group that I discussed a while back, like refusing to bathe or use laundry detergent. The group has also been accused of child abuse and neglect.

The author wishes to make several points, defending herself from allegations about the group.

  • Her group is not a cult.
  • There is no violence. The story of Bruria Keren, who is in jail for child abuse, has nothing to do with her group. If you are concerned about violence against children, including murder, look to the secular community.
  • The Jewish tradition is to wear shalim.
  • The group started a school, containing 24 girls, because they were laughed at in the regular school.
  • The Edah Haredit has encouraged the wearing of shalim. [True, but the writer’s group has taken on additional bizarre practices.]
  • Two groups of people hate her group. The first hate them for their extra modesty. “Just like the goy hates the Jew, the harlot hates the modest woman.” The second group is jealous–they know that her way is the right one, but they can’t observe the rules because of social pressure. “So they scream and scream from jealousy.”
  • She and her husband didn’t merit having children for 12 years, until she started wearing a shal six years ago. Now she is expecting her sixth child (!).
  • Group members down’t leave the house except in emergencies. “That way, we don’t hear the Amalekites in the street wishing us evil and slandering us, and we aren’t influenced by this.”

Thanks to Rafi at Life in Israel for directing me to this article in the newspaper’s print edition. He also posted a summary of recent news about the group of shal-wearing women, culled from haredi news sites.

As I said above, the cult actively recruits women to join them. But they have had problems getting their propaganda about the need for the hyper-modesty to other women, without the husbands intercepting it. So the cult managed to get hold of stationery from real estate agencies  and building contractors. I’m not sure why the men would not be suspicious of such letters addressed to the women. At any rate, the ruse was discovered quickly. Yediot Aharonot, of course, is quite willing to publish their material at no cost.

Readers may remember that the group’s members refuse to give birth in a hospital, for modesty reasons. One woman’s husband assisted her in giving birth at home to a premature infant. When the parents saw that he did not stabilize after a few hours, the father contacted a local hatzala (medical squad) volunteer. The volunteer insisted on taking the baby to the hospital, against the parents’ wishes, but refused to provide the names of the parents to prevent complications with the authorities over child neglect.

The hospital is treating the baby but have said they will not release him until the parents come forward. Having spent the day at the La Leche League Conference and learning about the critical importance of human contact for babies, it’s troubling to hear about people who would forgo the welfare of their baby rather than compromise on their religious convictions.

In another case. a couple came to the emergency room with a badly burned little girl and insisted on her being treated by a female health care professional. When none was available, the parents left to seek private care and putting her life at risk, according to the article.

The council of the Edah Haredit has met to discuss these incidents, and has decided to actively fight the group. Stay tuned.

You may also enjoy:

The Problem with Veils on Little Girls


A View from Sweden: Covering as a Health Risk for Women and Girls

Face Covering Mothers in Beit Shemesh Ask for Separate School






  1. Ruth Alfasi says

    BS”D, as my husband often says, “They can put a ‘mizron’ over their heads, but it isn’t doing anything. Tzniut is defined by the Shulchan Aruch.” If all Jewish women could just manage that, we’d be doing great!

  2. One thing I don’t get. If the mother refused to give birth in the hospital due to modesty reasons, why does that preclude taking a sick baby to the hospital? Have they turned into Christian Scientists?

    • I think they were afraid that they would be arrested for neglect.

      • Hmm. Here’s an easy test of whether or ot what you’re doing is right or wrong: if you’re scared that if you take an action that might save your child, you’ll be accused of neglect, then what you are doing is wrong.

    • Your assuming that the published story is really what happened 🙂 Keep in mind that there is more polotics in this story than in the local mikva…

  3. Tzniyut is more than being covered , it is about understatement, not standing out in a crowd or being very conspicuous. Nuns in the same way have a problem with Tzniyut as they stand out and are very conspicuous attracting attention to themselves. Perfect dress is when there is a perfect fit , you notice the person , the harmony with the environment. When a person is over -dressed or under -dressed we notice it.

    The other problem is that Tzniyut is not a personal expression of how we act in the world , the me as a process but rather the than the me as an object which is done to do – dressed in a certain way – external control. Because this behavior does not give expression to a person’s uniqueness , in order to feel unique they need to find even more strange ways of acting out

    We all in some degree struggle with this and rely on ‘ externality’ to help us project onto others instead of our internal growth


    • Allan, I would just prefer if people like you stopped paying attention to what women were wearing and minded your own business. That’s tzniut.

  4. Ari,
    I agree with your point – to an extent people notice the things that are going on in their heads , but it is only part of the story – we cannot ignore structural issues and just blame people . We are trained to notice the different, ask questions – why is the burning bush etc

  5. Group members don’t leave the house except in emergencies.

    So they send their husbands to the grocery, and subject them to circulating among all the women who don’t hide at home?

    How do they earn an income – not likely with an internet business. I guess if they stay in the house, they aren’t shopping, so the family can get by on a kollel stipend?

    • Ellen, I believe a lot of them have home-based businesses like sewing or sales.

      • Sewing and selling burqot? (Please use the term burqa and not whatever term they decided to use – this shows the practice for what it is).

        We are hoping to export our no-sew, adjustable fitting tin-foil burqa, which is a big hit in Talibanistan, to Ramat Beit Shimush and Mea Sheorim. However, we only accept Iranian toman and US food stamps, so we have problems getting payments fin de tryfe medine.

        • Der Shygetz, I”ll keep your point in mind about the terminology. Good luck with the new business plan.

          • You want maybe a few free samples? Just send me $499.99 for shipping and $299.99 to cover conversion to Iranian toman. It’s a long way from our very sheltered workshops in Tora Bora to de tryfe medine, and I have to send my burqelach over the Allenby Bridge by donkey.

            PS: I just realized I know you. We were both active in OJC (Columbia) many years ago. If you can figure out who I am or want to guess, you have my Email address – pls don’t guess in public (not because of embarrassment, because I’m an Internet pro and having my name in comments can skew my search engine results).

  6. By the way, it’s not true the the Eidah encourages the wearing of Shalim. When it first started (and not in conjunction with all this other lunacy), they put out a letter saying that it seems like a nice extra “hidur”, but never made any official pronouncements. Then they wen quiet and things dies down. When some of the Shalim wearers started become very public (and the practice seemed to start being associated with a lot of other things that are serious problems), they at first were quiet. Then Rav Papenheim, the Eidah spokesman, started giving interviews in which he said that the Eidah does NOT support the idea. I don’t remember his exact words, but the key thing he said was that when you start going this far it has the reverse effect, and all you are thinking about is the mystery of what is under that shal.

    As for the “Jewish tradition” being to wear shalim – it’s a flat out lie. Unfortunately, when the trend first started some folks who should have known better gave some support to that, but it’s simply not true.

    • BS”D

      The only places Jewish women ever wore anything remotely similar to that would have been in rural parts of Yemen, where local fanatic Muslims enforced such dress for all women. I saw pictures of women dressed that way there, but I don’t remember or was not paying attention to the date of the pictures. They’re online somewhere.

      (I guess Jewish women stuck in Iran have to wear veils but I’m not even sure what they actually have to cover to conform with the dress code).

      This burqa certainly is NOT a Jewish tradition. It is a psychological illness.

  7. You have posted in the past about whether or not this is a feminist movement. I don’t think the women are feminists, although this is certainly a female rebellion and a subversion of what the men want. What is interesting (and upsetting) is that the Eidah’s response has nothing to do (as far as I’ve seen) with the fact that the women are negating themselves and a lot to do with the fact that the women are in some way or another rebelling against men and against norms. Even the stories the Eidah cites have to do with women who aren’t doing what they should do with their men–e.g. the bride who wouldn’t have the husband put the ring on her finger (I think the metaphor here is a little too obvious).
    So the Eidah worries about women taking things too far and thus rebelling against their husbands & male authority. By making that the issue rather than the extreme negation of self and taking tzniyut to absurd lengths, the Eidah doesn’t have to question itself and wonder what is it about its world view that would make women take these steps.

    • BS”D On the one hand I think they shouldn’t be called a “cult,” without making sure that term fits. Isn’t that Lashon Hara? On the otherhand, it’s unfortunate that these women don’t realize that they may actually be discouraging tzniut, by setting such a high (and rather unpleasant) example they make Torah and mitzvot out to be something quite unreachable in the eyes of women who might otherwise begin to consider being more tznuah. I’ve known many women here in Tzfat who’ve kept like this and not one says her husband agrees that she go around like that. So, if men are supposed to be the deciders of halacha in the home, and these women go “over their heads” what kind of example of shalom bayit and respect of their husbands is that? Furthermore, I hardly think this makes the women oppressed. It might be the opposite, from what I’ve seen. The men just do their best to put up with it, or wait for it to blow over.

  8. esther kohn says
  9. US Navy Officer says

    over on one of these websites, I saw a picture of some “hareidi” young girls who were stated to be in the vicinity of the Kotel.

    Every inch was covered, but in a quasi-semi- form-fitting way such that you could see that they were humans, not Martian apparitions.

    I believe these kids are going to grow up badly damaged by lack of vitamin-D complex. There is NO plant food which provides it; animal products can only provide it if the animal ate actual grass, and spent a good part of each day in actual sun-drenched pasture. Which very few livestock in the western world are. Israel is very (deservedly) proud of her agricultural productivity; but quantity does not prove quality.