Monday, February 4, 2008

Checking out "Bubby's Burkha"

When I spoke previously about tzniut, (referring to the Orthodox Jewish dress code) I mentioned that I didn't find the dress code degrading or chauvinistic because I believe that it comes from G-d directly and I don't question G-d (it's the community attitudes, instead, that I tend to question.) You can see that post here.

Now, however, we've got Jewish women in Israel wearing burkhas, and that's definitely not coming from G-d. (For the full article, click here.)

Apparently some woman named "Bruria Keren," who considers herself a "Rabbanit," has decided to tell a bunch of Jewish women who look to her for guidance that they should wear burkhas whenever they leave their homes for reasons of modesty. That way, men won't look at them.

I'm convinced that this "Bruria" must not "have all the lights on upstairs." No sane Jewish woman would turn to Islam for fashion tips or, more specifically in this case, religion tips. We've got 613 commandments in the Torah, which break down into much more than 613 laws in halacha (Jewish law) and these women are looking for more?

Just off the top of my head I can think of two of the 613 commandments that this new trend of "Bruria's" violates:

1) "Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes." (Leviticus, 18:3)

2) "Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it." (Deuteronomy, 13:1)

#1 commands us not to follow any of the practices of non-Jewish nations, such as wearing burkhas.

#2 commands us to follow G-d's commandments as He tells us to, and we're not supposed to add or subtract from His commandments according to what we feel is better. You can't one-up G-d; once you start being more strict than G-d, you've stopped serving Him. He never asked us to be more strict than Him; in fact, He specifically tells us not to be. If He wanted us to wear burkhas, He would have told us about it.

These women have got a bee in their burkhas about something though I'm not quite sure what that is. Why are these women so desperate to hide from men? I think that there's something more disturbing than just Jewish women wearing burkhas going on here...

Thanks to Seraphic Secret for bringing this article to my attention.


  1. Your points are correct, but misapplied.

    Point 1 regarding adopting the customs of the nations applies to illogical practices of idolatrous nations which have no basis in Torah. Many Eastern Orthodox Christian women cover their hair EXACTLY as most religious Jewish women today do. They also give charity, etc... Should we stop these things practices just because they also do them? The fact is that Jewish women HISTORICALLY kept these levels of modesty which you are unfamiliar with, but the practice lessened over time due to the IMMODEST dress of Christian women. Since Islam ADOPTED the traditional JEWISH practice of modesty, these high levels of modesty continued among Jews in Islamic lands up until they came in contact with modern culture... usually upon arrival to the secular state of Israel. There are many such references in Jewish religious writings and in old pictures and paintings. Not everything non-Jews do is forbidden. Why don't you apply this commandment to the traditionally Christian clothing adopted by Charedi men?

    Point 2:
    This is a very important point you make, which is violated in many ways in ourd ay.. but the issue of burqa is NOT one of them. Wearing of a face-covering is referred to in Talmudic texts and in Jewish law, and it is the way Jewish women outside of Europe traditionally dressed up until recent times, dating back even to BEFORE Islam.

    Mishneh Torah in Sefer Nashim in Hilkhoth Ishuth 24:12

    "...What is meant by 'the Jewish faith?' It is the practice of modesty that the 'Daughters of Israel' are accustomed to. And these are the things that if she does one of them, she transgresses the 'dath yehudith:'

    She goes out to the marketplace or to a passage way with openings at each end while her head is uncovered and without a reh'dheedh [long descending veil] on her as all the women, EVEN THOUGH her hair is covered in a scarf / handkerchief,..."

    A covered head is defined in Hilkhoth Avel as having one's head covered AT LEAST up to one's lips. Indeed,we find several references in Midrash that women cover themselves in a way similar to how a Jewish mourner is to cover himself--up to his lips. Now as for point 2 in your article--why do we no longer see most men upholding the decree of Hazal regarding covering his head up to his lips when mourning?

    In short, this is NOT a new practice among Jewish women, but rather it is a revival of traditional modesty among Jewish women which has roots going back to Eve, according to Midrash (Pirqe R. El. xiv).

  2. Are you talking, perhaps, about Sefardi women having historically covered themselves with burkha-like coverings? Because I don't have any historical references to Ashkenazi women doing it.

    Wearing a burkha is most certainly NOT a revival of traditional modesty among Jewish women. There are halachos of tznius and covering your face isn't one of them. It's that simple. If there were once Jewish women who did cover their faces, it had to have been cultural, not halachic. And "adding" to halachos by being stricter than them is exactly what we're not supposed to do when the Torah says not to add or subtract from the mitzvos.

    As for not going b'darchei ha'goyim... The burkha is ABSOLUTELY NOT a Jewish headdress and ABSOLUTELY IS a traditionally Muslim headdress. I'm not a Rav, of course, but I'm pretty sure that wearing a burkha can be categorized as going b'derech ha'goyim.

    Lastly, I still want to know why these women are so eager to hide their faces from men. Tznius is one thing. It's halacha. It's what Hashem wants from us, and that's why - and it's the ONLY reason why - we keep it. Wanting to keep hidden from men? That sounds vaguely disturbing, as if these women are afraid of men. Why is that?