The extreme Eda Haredit faction in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighborhood has launched a war on the "veiled women", as they are referred to on the haredi street, and is surprisingly slamming a radical-religious phenomenon from a more moderate position.
Until recently, the haredi society found no interest in launching a battle, but recent evidence on the actions of the "Taliban women" ignited a war. The Eda Haredit rabbis realized that those women had blown the modesty issue out of proportions.
According to some of the testimonies, the women refuse to have sex with their husbands (except in very special cases), won't let them see their own daughters and force their children into marriage at an early age against their will.
The haredim claim that the "Taliban women" have turned into a dangerous, anarchistic sect, which damages families in the name of religion.
A special meeting of the Badatz – the Eda Haredit's supreme religious-spiritual authority – concluded with a proclamation titled, "Holy call for the sanctity of Israel's homes." The rabbis warned Jewish women to stay away from the customs and ways of the "Taliban women", who "are doomed".
The proclamation led to a series of acts of protest against the extreme women, and even against rabbis suspected of collaborating with them.
Demonstrations attended by dozens and sometimes hundreds of people were held in Mea Shearim, with the protestors including relatives of the "Taliban women" who oppose their ways.
Modesty above all
The "veiled women" phenomenon began developing in recent years mainly in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. It involves dozens of women – either ultra-Orthodox affiliated with the Eda Haredit faction or former seculars.
These women have radicalized an old custom, which was accepted by parts of the haredi society for decades, to wrap the neck and chest with a thick scarf. Instead, they have chosen to dress in black and cover their faces completely, viewing Muslim women's modesty rules as a role model.
'Taliban' mother and daughter (Photo: Yitzhak Tessler)
Over the years, the phenomenon began spreading, and the "sect" now has some unofficial leaders influencing their friends not to obey rabbis' instructions.
Some of the group members are imposing the strict dress code on their minor daughters as well, and are refusing to send their children to educational institutes whose staff does not follow their ways. They believe they are sacrificing themselves and their dignity for the Jewish people's redemption, and are therefore willing to absorb every insult directed at them.
The final straw in the haredi battle against the "veiled women" was the revelation of two troubling testimonies about their society. In the first incident, one of the women gave birth at home rather than in a hospital for "modesty reasons". She wouldn't change her mind even when the baby's life was in danger following complications during the delivery.
Eventually, a paramedic called in to attend to the newborn rushed the baby to a hospital against her will – and the hospital got the welfare services and rabbis involved.
In another incident, two of the group leaders decided to pair their children – a 16-year-old boy and 23-year-old girl – without informing the couple or their fathers. The women held the wedding ceremony against the minor groom's will, and as a result he asked to divorce his wife shortly afterwards.
When the wife refused to accept a divorce, the husband decided to marry another young woman in an act of bigamy which is illegal and considered controversial by the Halacha.
Protests in Mea Shearim
One of the figures involved in the affair is Rabbi Aharon Rompler, who has been accused on the haredi street of providing spiritual support to the extreme women.
Rompler has been required several times to declare that he opposes the phenomenon, so as not to give the public a reason to suspect that the Badatz was referring to him in its condemnation of "anyone who had a part in this" – but failed to do so, even after incriminating evidence was exposed about his relations with some of the women.
The rabbi's associates explained that he would not deny that the rabbis' proclamation referred to him, as there is no such implication, and if he would do so people would say he was guilty.
According to the associates, the fact that his wife and daughters do not cover their bodies with cloaks proves that he is not affiliated or identifies with the "Taliban sect".
The explanations did not satisfy the struggle's activists, who staged a protest outside his home and house of study. According to report, Rompler has even received death threats.
In the meantime the issue continues to engage haredi media, which are reporting of every development and every statement made by a rabbi on the matter. The big question remains: Will it end with an all-out war or modestly?