'Modesty' standard instituted in Sderot businesses
Religious sector in town launches project called 'Mutual Respect' in order 'to raise issue of modesty in public consciousness.' Rabbi Ariel Bareli: We aren't asking that female employees come in skirts, just without cleavage just as there is work dress code abroad
A new type of religious certification has been launched in Sderot: A modesty standard. Businesses that commit to ensure modest dress and modest advertisements are to be granted a "modesty certification" after religious inspectors from the Ma'amakim organization examine the business's premises and certify that it upholds the standard during periodic visits.
The newly formed standard is the initiative of Ma'amakim, which was established by the Reut-Sderot organization in a bid to deepen awareness of Jewish tradition in the city.
"The idea was formed on the backdrop of the security situation in the city," explained Rabbi Ariel Bareli, one of the leaders of Ma'amakim. "We felt like we want to do something to help. Bombing Gaza is not within our capacity, so we thought of doing something in order to increase opportunities to do something good. We consulted with Rabbi Eliyahu on how we can strengthen them in terms of Torah, and what came up as a request from the public of the Torah core families is the issue of modesty.
"It was clear to us that we could not turn to the general public and ask them to grow stronger in their abidance of modesty because this would not be accepted. Therefore, we thought of starting with people who serve the public. What we are in essence asking of them is to be considerate of the religious public. After all, it is fairly acceptable that businesses have uniform dress."
Initial contact was made with large businesses like banks, sick funds, and the post office. The task has been entrusted with women in order to avoid the embarrassment of a man coming and talking to women's cleavage.
"We started very cautiously," said Rabbi Bareli. "There were places where it was important for them to cooperative with us, like sick funds, because we are satisfied customers. In their case, instructions were simply given that the desk clerks also be asked to wear the sick fund smocks. We reached people who understand us, like the branch manager of Superpharm, who contacted the chain's management and asked that the Sderot branch be deemed a haredi branch so that the appropriate advertisements be sent to them. In the municipality, however, we weren't successful. They weren't interested."
Improving the campaign
The modesty standard campaign, titled "Mutual Respect," was promoted by notices hung throughout the city emphasizing the advantages of modest dress. The signs, which initially featured a picture of the Baba Sali along with one of his statements "Modest dress – happiness, honor, and blessing," were not particularly successful. The organization then changed the word modesty to "Mutual Respect."
The campaign was bolstered by print ads run in the newspapers featuring a list of the stores that abide by the modesty standard. "Our goal today is to raise the modesty issue to public consciousness," explained Rabbi Bareli.
"We want people who don't keep the Torah and mitzvoth also to understand the pain and suffering of a person trying to raise his children in purity but encounters public representatives who spoil it for him. I want people to understand that there is no oppression here."
"Abroad, there are clear standards for appropriate dress in the workplace. We don't want to close ourselves off like the haredim. We want to be part of the general public, and I am asking you to allow me to do this. We aren't asking businesses to have their female workers come to work in skirts and long sleeves, but just without showing cleavage," explained Rabbi Barel.
"It must be understood that despite all my good and earnest intentions to integrate into general society, I can't sacrifice what is in my soul. I hope that in Sderot, which is a small town with a traditional character, we will manage to do this. I would be pleased if this model is later taken to other places as well."