Monday, July 26, 2010


I'd seen the ads. I probably shook my head and thought, This will never take off. Crazy...

I was wrong.

I spent Shabbos in an ultra chassidish neighborhood. It was very hot and humid, and I was sitting outside, seeking some respite from the frigid air inside, and watching people walk by - the men in their shtreimels, bekeshes and knickers, the women in dark suits and sensible shoes, some with hats over their wigs, but most with heads completely swathed.

A woman passed, wheeling a double stroller, several children clinging to the handlebar. She was wearing a coat. I blinked, unsure if my eyes were playing tricks. No, it was definitely a coat. Odd, I thought. Maybe she didn't feel like getting dressed, and figured it would be easier to just throw a coat over her robe. Odd...

I saw it again a few minutes later. And then again. And my brain finally registered a connection between what I was seeing and the ads I saw months ago.

These were summer coats. An oxymoron, seemingly.

The purpose, according to the ad, was tznius. Women walking to Shul on Shabbos, or to a wedding, dressed in clothing that might attract the attention of men. Ideally, those clothing should be covered by something simple and loose. In the winter, this is not an issue. In the summer, it is. Hence, "summer" coats.

I couldn't understand it when I saw the ad, and I understood it even less now, in the 98° heat. Whose idea was this? I wanted to know. Was it a man who decided to add another restriction, or a woman who wanted to take tznius to another level? Is this what tznius really means? After all, there's nothing attracting about whatever they were wearing under their coats. Black suits, mostly. And not very form fitting, I assumed.

My boys came out of the house then, on their way to Shul, in their bekeshes and hats. Not very different than the summer coats, really. But, somehow, this didn't bother me in the same way. Maybe because I am used to this. Maybe because this is something that's been done for generations. Maybe because wherever I am in frumkeit is "normal", while anything more is fanatic and anything less is "modern". Surely, there are plenty of people who are aghast at the sight of a fur hat in the summer, or even just stockings and long sleeves.

Maybe I was just seeing this all wrong.

Maybe these women were taking the concept of tznius further than I ever could. In their way, they are keeping private what should be kept private, thus enhancing the special intimacy between husband and wife. It's their way of maintaining respect for the body. Beautiful, really.

Another coat clad woman walked by, interrupting my thoughts. My daughter, sitting with me, seemed upset.

"There's nothing feminine about her," she said. "Long, shapeless coat concealing any hint of a figure, no hair...just a face. With no makeup.

"Is this what Hashem wants?"

I had no answer. I don't know the answer.

Is it? 


  1. Try this: picture a woman in a burqa. (Not a niqab that covers the face, but a burqa with a hijab or headscarf). Divorce yourself from the cultural associations the burqa has with the Muslim religion. Does it seem like a beautiful, modest practice? Or does it seem over the top?

    I don't know the answer.

  2. I've seen them around my city too and I have a very hard time not being disgusted by it. I cannot imagine that this is what Hashem wants. This is extremism as its worst IMO. I've never been one to judge or have negative opinions about people that are different than me (I should say that I really try not to) but this is something that I cannot wrap my head around. There's nothing revealing about shapeless, black dresses.

  3. Also, we are daughters of the King and I can't imagine that this is how the King wants us to dress. We are always told that we should dress respectably and put together (and modestly of course) because of Who we represent. Looking like that is not a very beautiful representation of what a King's daughter should look like.

  4. tesyaa...

    I thought about that. I just don't know...


    I'm really trying very hard to see it from their point of see the beauty in it. I'm having a hard time with it, but do we really know what the King wants? And then there's still my hypocrisy. How is this different than the bekeshes my boys wear?

  5. The difference is in the Mesorah. There is a Mesorah that is being carried on when your sons wear their Bekeshe. What's the Mesorah here? Who made up that women need to cover themselves in these coats?
    Look at all the Rebbitzens, Chassidish or not, and tell me when you last saw one dressed like that?

  6. This disturbs me.
    On many levels.
    It almost frightens me.
    I'm afraid that, well intentioned as we the Jewish people may be, we are getting farther and farther away from what Hashem wants of us...
    (But you have presented this very fairly and none of us really know)

  7. Growing up, my quasi Bais Yaakov teachers constantly extolled the virtues of Judaism over Christianity and Islam. In Christianity, they said, sexuality is frowned upon and considered to be a barrier between us and spirituality. In Islam, rather than encouraging women to look their best while maintaining dignity, bodies are altogether shunned and thereby overly sexualized and objectified.
    I ask: Can either of these claims still be made?

  8. I've never seen these coats..
    But being thats it's 100 degrees out..I'll assume that these people are naked underneath their thin coats..laughing at the rest of us sweating under layers of clothes...

  9. SIR...

    You're right. Thank you for putting it that way.


    That's just it. Do we really know?


    They can - for most people. I hope this stuff never becomes widespread.


    That's not a visual I want.


    Here's your answer.

  11. This has nothing to do with Hashem. This has to do with men who have no life, and instead of dealing with their own frumkeit, and focusing on their own behavior, they want to be frum by controlling women. It's nothing more than misogynistic in my view. Just like the burka, it removes the woman's identity and self worth. Which renders them putty in the hands of their husbands. Yes, there is a concept of tzneyos, but that is clearly defined in "halacha", yes there are various views in how much to cover, hair, sheitel, etc. I get that, and respect even the most stringent viewpoints. As long as it's based in halacha and mesorah. Not a constant evolution of craziness, getting more and more ridiculous with time.

    My son called me from camp. They went to a water park. Many camps were there as they rented it out. My son was laughing, as this one chasidishe camp had the boys wear robes on top of their bathing suits. IN THE WATER, swimming with robes. When the first boy drowns because it's nearly impossible to tread water in a wet robe, will anyone feel pangs of guilt? I doubt it, because it's all for Hashem! (But these same people have no issue taking 7 year old boys to the Mikvah on Friday.... go figure!)

  12. Ahh...Bernie...there you are!
    I knew I can always count on you for a passionate response.

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