Miraim Shaviv, who for a time blogged on the iconic Protocols blog, and then at Bloghead, has been for quite some time the comments editor at the Diaspora's iconic Jewish newspaper, the venerable London Jewish Chronicle.
So how did we reach a situation where a group of women believes that this sick behaviour is actually a Jewish ideal? … No rabbis publicly condone it. Several [burka-wearing haredi] women quoted by Ha’aretz complained they were harassed and rejected by their peers.
And yet, the “frumka” is the logical extension of two clear trends in the frum world.
Firstly, standards of modesty are becoming increasingly stringent and require increasing effort to follow. A CD recording by a top rabbi from Lakewood, New Jersey, for example, reportedly asks women not to swing their arms while they walk and not to allow their daughters to wear colourful banana-clips in their hair. Women know that if they wear skin-coloured stockings, they must include a seam so it is clear they are not bare-legged. Schoolgirls do not wear shiny shoes that could “reflect their underwear”.…
Secondly, tznius, or modesty, has long moved from being about modest clothing to being about keeping women, and images of women, away from men.
Open a Charedi newspaper, and there are either no images of women, or they are blacked out.…a top rabbi in Bnai Brak asked women to leave before the end of shul so they did not mingle with men following davening; that same town has a street with separate sides for men and women…
Just last week, a sheitel shop in New York was boycotted for refusing to remove headshots of women wearing wigs from its window.
But since when is looking at women’s faces forbidden? It’s not.
The fact is that, in the Orthodox world today, women are already being pushed out of the public sphere. The rabbis may not understand the Pandora’s Box they have opened, but the jump from the Brooklyn sheitel store to the burka-wearers in Israel is not that great.
I think the answer is simpler than what Miriam proposes. What she writes is true, but I think the essence of the problem is really this – extremists run today's haredi society.
From its leading rabbis – Elyashiv, Shteinman and Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe) – to the curriculum in its yeshivot and seminaries, moderation is nowhere to be found.
The Chafetz Chaim ran a store and was a town rabbi.
Rabbi Shteinman is glorified as a man who has no idea how a credit card or modern banking works. He is not the rabbi of a town or city.
Rabbi Elyashiv has not yet met a moderate Orthodox rabbi he would not like to ban or a Modern Orthodox institution he would not like to take over or destroy. He, too, is not a town or city rabbi and has no practical knowledge of the day-to-day lives of non-haredi Jews.
50 years ago, following the majority halakhic opinion (unless your rabbi specifically held differently) was the gold standard of Orthodox observance.
Today, yeshivot compete with each other over the number and type of humrot, stringencies, they follow and teach, as much as over the quality of student they produce. And the gold standard for observance is not following the majority opinion – it is following the majority opinion along with as many minority opinions as possible, no matter the extra trouble or cost.
Yes, Jewish burkas are a direct outgrowth of haredi misogyny. In that, Miriam Shavivv is correct.
But that misogyny itself is a direct outgrowth of the rabid, regressive, self-indulgent fundamentalism that now rules haredism.
That fundamentalism is the haredi Volvo, the haredi $1500 custom tailored suit, the haredi status symbol par excellence.
It is this generation's curse. It may very well be its downfall, as well.
UPDATE: A Mother in Israel has posted three pictures of Jewish women in burkas at a haredi wedding in Israel. The women do not look as if they are being ostracized.