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 3 of 3)

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who was raised in the Satmar community of Wiliamsburg, and is the director of the Beit Midrash program at the modern Orthodox rabbinical school, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, told the Forverts that the Va’ad Hatznius isn’t an organized body but an informal group of people who act on their own, and whose actions the Rebbe doesn’t officially condone. Every v’aad is comprised of a theoretician, one who decides which kind of behavior to ban, and enforcers.

The theoretician is usually a well-regarded figure, while the enforcers give a more fanatical impression, Katz explained. “They usually wear their tsitsis out, their hair and clothing is unkempt, and they have no job, so they don’t elicit much respect from the community. Weberman was undoubtedly a theoretician, his tsitsis didn’t hang out, his hair was combed, he had a job, this is why families trusted him.”

Katz recalled that the Va’ad Hatznius of Williamsburgh issued an edict about 20 years ago against women wearing ponjelos (loose houserobes) and turbans that revealed some hair, as they stepped outside to dump the garbage. Posters were hung everywhere, warning that tragedies might befall the community if women didn’t start dressing modestly. The Va’ad also rebuked the owners of dress shops for selling ponjelos and immodest turbans.

Katz says that the Satmar Hasidim he knows are privately upset with the Va’ad. “They say they’re bullies, extremists and have nothing better to do because they have no jobs,” he said. “But even if people don’t admire them, they still fear them.”

Rabbi David Niederman, President of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, denied any knowledge of the Vaad Hatznius. When asked whether the group has the blessing of the Satmar rebbe, Niederman replied: “I don’t know (what) the Va’ad Hatznius is all about.”

The UJO is the central planning and social service agency for more than 200 organizations in Williamsburg.

The Satmars are not the only Hasidim to use modesty patrols. Katz remembers an incident his friends had with the Va’ad Hatznius of the Gerer Hasidim, while studying in Israeli yeshivas during their teen years. They had heard that the Tel Aviv Museum was interesting, so they took a trip there. Soon afterwards, their parents back home in the United States received anonymous phone calls, warning them: “You have no idea what your children are doing in Israel.”

“My friends suspected that the Va’ad was shadowing them – Katz said – and one day there was a knock at the door, and there was a Gerer Hasid saying, in Yiddish: ‘We’ve heard that improper things are going on here, that there are too many newspapers. So I’ve come to check it out.”

“Look all you want, you won’t find anything,” one of the students replied. The Gerer Hasid searched the entire apartment until he found an issue of Time Magazine with a photograph of Princess Diana on the cover. “You see?!” he exclaimed. “There really are impurities here!”

This article was adapted from the Forverts.


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!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • 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.