Ban Jewish burka, say Israeli rabbis

By Nathan Jeffay, July 29, 2010

Israeli rabbis are set to ban the burka for a small group of radical Jewish women who have taken to wearing it.

Two years ago, it emerged that around 100 women in the city of Beit Shemesh had begun to cover their faces with a veil and wear numerous layers of clothing to obscure their body shape. When many rabbis criticised the trend, the women took no notice because they considered the rabbis too moderate.

But now, the religious body admired by the most religiously hard-line elements in Israel - even the Neturei Karta anti-Zionist sect - is about to apply its clout and try to quash the trend.

The Eda Charedit rabbinic organisation will soon release a statement condemning the practice of the Beit Shemesh women, Shlomo Pappenheim, a senior member of the management committees, said.

The move was prompted by the husbands of some of the burka-wearing women, who last week urged the Eda to take a stand against their wives.

The Eda's decision coincides with a raging debate about banning the burka in Europe. Politicians in Belgium and France have voted in favour of bills to ban it, and other countries, including Italy, are considering similar legislation. In Britain Conservative MP Philip Hollobone has said that he would refuse to hold meetings with constituents if they attended in burkas.

There is also some interest in bans in the Arab world - Syria has just declared its universities burka-free zones. In Israel, Kadima MP Marina Solodkin is to introduce a proposal for a ban to Knesset.

Rabbi Pappenheim described the Jewish adoption of the burka as part of an "obsession" with extreme modesty that is also manifest in the wearing of many layers of clothing.

"We have got a Torah and we have got a tradition and these things were never allowed or demanded," he said. "Cover the body, fine, but you would think them a sack of potatoes."

The Eda is worried about the sexual dynamics that result from face-covering and multiple-layering, added Rabbi Pappenheim.

"The Eda Charedit is very against it and sees in it a real danger that by exaggerating you are doing the opposite of what is intended - severe transgressions in sexual matters."

Last updated: 12:46pm, July 29 2010