Inside Hasidic Modesty Patrols

Nechemya Weberman Was Leader in Feared Va'ad Hatznius

Community Pressure: Posters in Brooklyn call on Jewish women to abide by ultra-Orthodox standards of ‘modesty.’
Community Pressure: Posters in Brooklyn call on Jewish women to abide by ultra-Orthodox standards of ‘modesty.’

By Rukhl Schaechter

Published December 26, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

A book about these rulings, published in Yiddish by Mordkhe Bernshteyn in Argentina in 1955, explains that these decrees were often quite detailed. According to rules issued by the burial society of the town of Rymanow at the turn of the nineteenth century, for example, women were forbidden from wearing golden veils, pearl-studded or silver-lined kerchiefs. In addition, the dictum said, “women should not wear any fashionable dress or shoes. Even their kerchiefs should be similar to those that their mothers wore.”

Women who defied these rulings were penalized monetarily, as were the tailors that designed them, and if a tailor continued to sew fashionable clothing, he could lose his work permit, Bernshteyn writes, quoting the records of the Rymanow tailors’ guild.

The intention of those rulings had nothing to do with preventing sexual temptation, however. “They were simply worried that if Gentiles were to see how much money Jews were spending, the wealthy landowners would raise the taxes for the entire Jewish population,” Fishman explained. In fact, men, too, were warned not to dress in conspicuously lavish clothing or wear powdered wigs.

However, these rulings were issued during a time when Jews were collecting taxes for the Czarist government and hence had the power to levy fines against members of their own community, and ex-communicate or penalize them for defying the rules. Once the Czarist government took away the power of the Jews to tax their own population in 1844, the only means that community leaders had to ensure adherence to their rulings was through social pressure – a tactic which has remained effective till today, as Hasidim continue to fear being ostracized from their community or losing valuable marriage prospects as a result of so-called indecent behavior.

The strict separation of men and women is a relatively modern one, Fishman explained. In Czarist Russia, men and women used to stand together at weddings; there was no mekhitse, or partition between them. When Sh-Anski, the author of The Dybbuk, led his series of landmark ehnographic expeditions through Volhynia and Podolia in 1912–1914, he photographed cemeteries in which the graves of even the most pious couples were found side by side. Today most Hasidic men are buried separately from their wives. The Ohel (gravesite) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, for example, is not next to the grave of his wife, Chaya Mushka.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.