“Wearing revealing garb when visiting holy sites or observant neighborhoods can be considered disrespectful, and immodestly dressed visitors may be refused entry…tourists may choose to visit ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods…Dress codes here are stricter, and you may see large signs…requesting visitors be suitably dressed. For women this means long skirts (trousers are considered to be immodest), long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting clothing. Married women are also expected to cover their hair. Residents of these neighborhoods are sensitive to this matter and take it seriously, so to avoid unwanted attention and [to] respect the local customs it’s recommended you cover up.”
Ha’aretz publishes an occasional column of tips for tourists visiting Israel.
Today’s column by Yasmin Kaye discusses visiting holy sites and religious neighborhoods.
Israel, it says, is chock-full of holy sites of various religions, and some areas also have large populations of adherents of these religions that follow their own customs and traditions.
“When visiting holy sites or predominately religious areas, it’s important to keep the local way of life in mind to avoid offending anyone,” Ha’aretz solemnly notes.
And how should a tourist “keep the local way of life in mind”?
By ignoring Israeli law that protects them from religious coercion, it seems.
“Wearing revealing garb when visiting holy sites or observant neighborhoods can be considered disrespectful, and immodestly dressed visitors may be refused entry,” Ha'aretz writes.
You “may be refused entry,” not just to holy sites (which may or may not be administered by the state), but also to haredi or other religious neighborhoods because you're wearing shorts or your top lacks sleeves of the proper length.
That a haredi neighborhood is not a “holy site,” that no special state modesty rules govern people who go there, that it is in fact illegal to refuse you entry, that if you are refused entry or otherwise harassed a crime (or several crimes) have been committed against you, all that Ha’aretz – which is increasingly styling its English language content to try to appeal to Orthodox Jews outside of Israel (and the advertising dollars that come with them) – does not tell you.
The Ha’aretz writer continues with her advice.
“As a general rule, men are expected to wear long pants, while women are advised to wear clothing that is at least knee length or below, such as long skirts or pants. Women should also refrain from wearing vests or shirts with low necklines.
“In many places of worship, for example, women are also required to cover their shoulders, so it's handy to carry a lightweight scarf or shawl just in case. At the Western Wall, women can borrow shawls from a basket at the women’s entrance, while men – who are expected to wear yarmulkes – are provided with skullcaps at the men’s entrance.”
But that “general rule” isn’t enough for haredi neighborhoods, Ha’aretz tells its readers.
“More intrepid tourists may choose to visit ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, such as Jerusalem’s Mea She’arim, one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the city. Dress codes here are stricter, and you may see large signs at the entrances to the neighborhood requesting visitors be suitably dressed. For women this means long skirts (trousers are considered to be immodest), long-sleeved shirts and loose-fitting clothing. Married women are also expected to cover their hair.
Residents of these neighborhoods are sensitive to this matter and take it seriously, so to avoid unwanted attention and [to] respect the local customs it’s recommended you cover up.”
I don’t recommend that women walk through Mea Shearim in tank tops and short shorts, or that they visit the Western Wall dressed that way.
But the plaza behind the prayer area at the Western Wall has the status of a public street. And so do the streets and alleyways of Mea Shearim.
Israeli law allows a woman to wear shorts and t-shirt or tank top while shopping on Dizengoff Street or eating at a café on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.
And it also allows a woman to walk through Mea Shearim or to visit the non-sanctified area near the Western Wall dressed exactly the same way.
If haredim don’t like this, if Muslim clerics or Eastern Orthodox priests don’t like it, and they choose to act on their dislike by barring a woman’s passage or spitting on her or assaulting her, they need to be arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned.
It’s a good thing to be culturally sensitive to a degree.
But it is not a good thing to give in to religious extremism and the violence and degradation that often comes with it.
If you travel to Israel and are harassed by haredim or anyone else because of how you’re dressed, call the police and report it. Take pictures of yourself showing how you were dressed when you were harassed (and if you can do it safely, take pictures of your harassers, too) and post them online.
The more people who do this, the more people who fight back in this way, the harder it is for Israel’s woefully inept police and its craven right wing government to keep shoving this misogyny under the rug.