For the past couple months, I’ve been following the story of a small number of Israeli ultra-Orthodox women who have recently taken to wearing burka-style clothing in a display of over-the-top modesty. They were being encouraged to dress this way — in defiance of the ultra-Orthodox rabbis — by a charismatic female guru who lives in the wacky haredi stronghold of Ramat Beit Shemesh.
Now, it appears, the burka-booster of Bet Shemesh is in hot water with the secular authorities over alleged child abuse.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
A fringe sect of Jewish women with a Taliban-like dress code will be overcome by a major spiritual crisis after the arrest of the group’s leader on charges of child abuse, haredi sources in Beit Shemesh predicted Wednesday. [The woman who allegedly…] According to haredi media and a well-informed source in Beit Shemesh, the 54-year-old mother of 12 who is suspected of serious child abuse and failing to report multiple cases of incest among her children, is none other than the head of a sect of women who adhere to a dress code more stringent than that of the most extreme Muslim sects and a rigorous health food diet. “We always knew those women were crazy,” said Shmuel Poppenheim, a spokesman for the Eda Haredit - one of the most zealously religious groups in Israeli Orthodoxy - who lives in Beit Shemesh. “Now we have been vindicated, and those women will have to stop their insane behavior.”
The Post also has some interesting background about the sect. Apparently, a reporter from Ma’ariv attended one of the weekly meetings at which the sect leader addressed her followers. The reporter described the sect leader — who was reportedly wearing 10 skirts and eight headscarves — as “a pile of clothing lumped in the middle of the small living room.”
The ultra-Orthodox rabbinate seems to have been pretty clear in its disapproval of this fringe group’s extreme fashion statement. Still, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this trend has something to do with the increasingly obsessive (and repressive) mores when it comes to female modesty that prevail in some segments of the haredi community.
Meanwhile, the latest revelations from Ramat Beit Shemesh have fueled criticism of what some call the haredi community’s “code of silence” when it comes to abuse.
While these issues are certain to spark vigorous debate, one thing, at least, is clear: Life in the burka cult is not nearly as cool as this imagining:
Hat tip for the video: The Muqata