Warning signs have been posted on the building of two major health clinics in an ultra-Orthodox Beit Shemesh neighborhood, telling women who are dressed immodestly to stay away.
The signs, plastered outside on the clinic buildings of government-funded health maintenance organizations Meuhedet and Leumit, read: “Dire Warning: It is forbidden to walk on our streets in immodest dress, including slutty clothing worn in a religious style.” It is signed “residents of the neighborhood.”
The wording of the signs reflect an escalation in the ongoing “modesty wars” in the city of Beit Shemesh. While modesty signs are not uncommon in Beit Shemesh, they generally make the “request” to dress appropriately, rarely the “warning.” In addition, this sign’s reference to indecent or provocative dress that conform to Orthodox Jewish guidelines is also highly unusual. It evokes the tension not only between the extreme Haredi elements in the city and the secular population, but also between the extremist Haredis and the modern Orthodox/religious Zionist population. That conflict came to a head and became a national issue in late 2011 when young religious Zionist girls were harassed at the Orot Banot school.
Dr. Eve Finkelstein, who works at another Beit Shemesh branch of the Meuhedet clinic, learned of the signs from a frightened patient. When she read the signs, she found them “aggressive” and “shocking.” The clinics in the Heftzibah neighborhood targeted in this latest spurt of modesty policing serve patients seeking specialist treatment from around the area - they do not only serve the local Haredi population.
“My patient was referred to a doctor there, and when she saw the signs, she was too scared to get out of the car,” Finkelstein said. She then complained to the clinic. “I told them that think it’s disgraceful and I think they have the responsibility to be available to anyone of any sex, race, or religion, and patients shouldn’t feel threatened when walking into the doctor’s office.”
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