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Exclusion of women in Beit Shemesh. Thousands of cases are not documented (archives)
Photo: AFP
Photo: Simi Avran
Esti Shoshan
Photo: Simi Avran
Obsession with modesty killing us
Op-ed: Haredi journalist says modesty epidemic serving as tool for exclusion, humiliation of women in her society
It's strange that no one ever thought of it before. But now it's happened: The attorney general has instructed ministers to start taking practical measures against the exclusion of women in the public sphere.

 

From the outside it seems like a democratic, civilian, secular interest, but those on the inside know – it is a clear haredi interest to stop this radicalization which is eating away at our society.

 

Not many are very familiar with the face of the phenomenon which carries the terribly whitewashed name "exclusion of women." In the haredi society, which suffers from this phenomenon the most, they hold their tongue, lower their gaze, keep moving to the back of the bus, and mostly remain silent. A long, resonating silence, which allows the next extremist to set a new, binding standard.

 

The exclusion of women phenomena are a direct continuation of a major problem spreading in the sector – the "modesty madness." The value of modesty has turned into Judaism itself, and when you want to make someone modest, you must conceal them, exclude them, suppress them.

 

While in Saudi Arabia women are rising to protest against the driving ban imposed on them, in the democratic Holy Land the voice of haredi women is barely heard. And when it is heard, it is usually in mock statements of pride from martyrs, who enjoy every moment in the company of the glass ceiling allotted to them, in an apparent show of force against the Women of the Wall or in deep self-conviction that the spitting they were subject to is blessed rain.

 

Note on the bus

It's important to see the ugly face of this phenomenon through a real case, which took place about two years ago, and, like many similar cases, was disregarded. A relative, a haredi woman considered modest by any standard – a wig, a skirt and socks – gets on a bus, a regular line, not even a "kosher" one. In her arms she carries a small baby girl. She sits by the door. The back door. Towards the end of the long intercity ride, a haredi yeshiva student approaches her from the back seat, hands her a note and gets off the bus.

 

Shocked, and a bit confused, she opens the note, which contains the following words: "Hello there, I am happily married to a beautiful, smart and modest woman. And you, you have nothing to sell, so you dress like a hooker! Take off your wig and go to Dizengoff Street, despised woman!" It's hard to describe the shame and shock she felt. He didn't even give her the right to respond.

 

It should be noted that this man was polite compared to other incidents. In most other cases we are talking about blasphemy, spitting and cursing against any stray skirt which accidentally positions itself on the seats reserved for pants. Swearwords, which due to the introvert and remarkably educated nature of the haredi society, almost never receive a counter-response.

 

Underground meetings

Yes, I know, haredi women will be the first to respond and say how happy and protected they feel and that all these phenomena are meant to glorify them and maintain their innocence. They refuse to admit that they are just as humiliated as an exposed woman in an advertisement. They are an object that must be concealed.

 

But the underground streams in the haredi society generate a different kind of discourse, which is said underground in phone calls from unidentified numbers, in quiet underground meetings. For years, I was also subject to intensive brainwashing, in which we were told that our place is clear and we must accept it happily and lovingly.

 

Such brainwashing is sophisticated, poisonous and destructive, it is quiet, elegant and lacks any expressions of physical violence, just like that note. But it fixates the status of haredi women in that same narrow room designated for them, lacking any influence on significant decisions, completely excluded from the public sphere, humiliated, belittled and silenced. They have even been revoked of the most basic democratic right – as haredi parties forbid women to be elected on their behalf.

 

The case I have chosen to present to you is a documented incident. That woman kept the note. But thousands of other cases in which women have been humiliated have not been documented or told, and there is no chance you'll know about them. Cases in which a haredi man ostentatiously diverts his gaze from a female passerby and mutters angrily, "Yuck," cases in which women are called "shiksa" and "hooker" and humiliated on the street are disregarded. There is no chance that a complaint will be filed. There is no one to file it!

 

The phenomenon of radicalization when it comes to modesty is new, and it appears that the haredi society doesn't really know how to deal with it. Girls dressed in shawls, women in veils, kosher buses, men spraying bleach on women and destroying their clothes. These are things which did not exist in the past, and it is getting worse and worse.

 

The haredi sector itself is suffering the most, despite all the opposing statements you'll hear from its members. This is definitely a matter for the legislator and State to eradicate this phenomenon. There is no one else who will do it.

 

Esti Shoshan is a haredi journalist and advertiser

 

 

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