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Wrestling With Burqa Babes
A while ago, Mishpacha magazine ran a lead story wrestled with the topic of the women commonly known as "burqa ladies" or "burqa babes" - the increasing number of Orthodox Jewish women who wear burqas (and sometimes even gloves). The article presents interviews with several such women. It's fascinating to read about how these people think.
But the article is also fascinating for another reason. Usually, the charedi media reflects a very clear set of values. Torah = good. Evolution = bad. UTJ = good. Bayit Yehudi/ Yesh Atid = bad. Gadol = effectively infallible. And so on. But it's very hard to tell whether this article is siding with the Burqa ladies or with their critics - or perhaps with neither, which would be remarkable. The vast majority of the article is sympathetic to their approach, and so are all the pull quotes (the sentences that are printed in huge letters alongside the article). On the other hand, the very last column of the article is critical of them, stating that they are effectively drawing attention to themselves, and being ostentatious in their religious approach. I find it amazing that a charedi publication is so ambiguous about such an issue.
In an old post, Photoshopping Females and Knee-Jerk Reactions, I grappled with the question of how one can condemn "extreme" modesty measures while simultaneously maintaining a standard of modesty that would itself appear bizarre to most people in the countries where we live. I'm still very unsure about it, but I suggested that the problem is as follows: There are lots of things that can potentially lead to hirhurim - and yet Chazal did not prohibit them. This can lead to difficult judgments on a subjective case-by-case basis - but Chazal held that those judgments should indeed be made on such a basis, rather than simply broadly prohibiting everything. Now, individuals, and even communities, can legitimately have pious practices which are not halachah-based. But the problem is not that such people are maintaining a certain standard. It is that they are not maintaining a certain standard! They have abandoned the standard of their parents, and they have replaced it with a process, and a problematic one at that. It is a process of ever-increasing stricture, with each new pious innovation starting as a personal preference, and developing into an obligatory halachah and imposed upon others. The article quotes a burqa lady as saying that "desperate times call for desperate measures," and giving the message that the ultimate ideal is for a woman to never leave the house at all.
Also of interest is that the Mishpacha article does not show any pictures of these women, instead showing numerous pictures of a doll draped in a burqa. Somebody sent me a letter that they wrote to Mishpacha regarding this:
Thank you for reporting about women who misguidedly wear burka-type garments to cover over their form. They mistakenly believe that they can only be seen by others if they are totally covered. However it is interesting that Mishpocha Magazine goes further and feels that even fully covered they cannot be seen and hence no pictures of them in the article about them.
As I wrote in my original blog post, in a society in which it is forbidden to show pictures of women, it is hardly surprising that women start to wear burqas. And if it's forbidden to show pictures of women even if they wear burquas, then the natural end result is that women will eventually see it as an ideal (and then an imposed standard) not to leave the house at all.
I will sign off with two ads for the maternity ward of Laniado hospital that appeared in the same week - one in Makor Rishon, and one in Mishpacha. See if you can spot the differences. (Thanks to reader Avraham Poupko's daughter Roni for noticing it.)
(A re-post from two years ago)