Kiryas Joel posts new signs for visitors
But message raises issues for some folks
By Chris Mckenna • Times Herald-Record
KIRYAS JOEL — A large new sign greets visitors as they cross over Route 17 on Forest Avenue and enter a world where the skirts and shirt sleeves are always long, regardless of the season.
"Welcome to Kiryas Joel," it reads. "In keeping with our traditions and religious customs, we kindly ask that you dress and behave in a modest way while visiting our community."
The main congregation in this community of 22,000 Satmar Hasidim recently posted identical notices near two village entrances to ask outsiders to respect their ways while visiting, which includes "covered necklines," "appropriate language" and "gender separation in all public areas."
The wording is polite, and there is no threat of enforcement.
But even so, passers-by who have spotted the sign near County Route 105 and Bakertown Road in Monroe have taken umbrage at what they see as an expectation to conform to one group's religious beliefs and dress codes in a public place.
"I know it's a request, and it certainly was a polite request," said James Murphy of Highland Mills. "But it puts me in an uncomfortable position. Why should it bother you what I'm wearing?"
David Ekstein, president of Congregation Yetev Lev, says the signs were meant to guide outsiders so they don't offend village residents, especially during the summer. No single incident or spate of visitors with objectionable clothing triggered them, he said.
"If our standards of modesty are not what is practiced in the surrounding communities, then it is even more incumbent to provide this polite reminder," he said.
Modest dress is strictly observed in Hasidic communities for the same reason that unmarried men and women stay apart and risque images are shunned: to block sexual impulses.
Women can't wear provocative clothing. And men aren't supposed to see anything that may inspire inappropriate thoughts. In New York City, where cultures mix more freely than in self-contained Kiryas Joel, some Hasidic men avoid temptation by removing their glasses while in public or turning away from women.
[Hat Tip: Burich.]