We’ve heard about attacks on women in Israel due to their dress, which normally just includes a woman wearing shorts or a t-shirt and being verbally harassed or having things thrown at her. So needless to say, recent promotions of “modesty” in Crown Heights, a neighborhood close to my own, start to scare me.
Though modesty has always been a focus of the Ultra-Orthodox, as well as Orthodox and Conservative movements to a lesser degree, this “value” has started to move from modesty of women in the community towards non-Hasidim who come into contact, or more correctly, the line of vision, of Hasidim. Earlier this week, an article surfaced telling of “modesty prizes” given to girls of a Lubavitcher camp who covered their necklines, elbows, and knees. If they came to camp in modest attire for a week they would receive a gift certificate for free ice cream. Though this modesty campaign was primarily focused on covering up the **obvious sexual characteristics** of LITTLE GIRLS AT CAMP DURING A HOT SUMMER, the campaign also managed to combine the struggles of the totally blameless Jews in Israel with skirt length by telling these young girls that by covering up they would strengthen the Jewish nation. Because those Palestinian women sure are slutty, amirite? Though this campaign is a upsetting to many outside the Hasidic community, the translation of this modesty campaign from members of the community to outsiders is a bit more terrifying.
Recently in Crown Heights, Hasidim have been putting up signs which ask people in Crown Heights to pop a sweater over their slutty bits and continue to enjoy the neighborhood. More specifically, the signs state “Love and Respect. Dear Resident, Guest, Visitor, PLEASE DRESS MODESTLY. THIS IS A JEWISH NEIGHBORHOOD.” There are obviously some disagreements I have with these sign-makers, and not all stem from my liberal Reform-Jew upbringing. The first one comes from the fact that there are no real “guests” to the neighborhood, because the streets and sidewalks are all public property. I would never enter a Hasidic home or synagogue in shorts and a tank top, but I have every right to dress in seasonal clothing on public property. My second disagreement comes from the statement that Crown Heights is a Jewish neighborhood. Crown Heights is known for its large African-American population, as well as people from all different ethnicities and religions. With the prices of housing in New York, I know many art school buddies who are moving to the area. So Crown Heights may have a large Hasidic population, but it is certainly no longer a strictly “Jewish neighborhood”. (Furthermore, I have complaints that the Hasidic population has adopted the term Jewish to refer exclusively to them, but I can save that for another article.)
Despite the fact that these signs infuriated me, there are two positive things to think about if you see a sign. The first one is: “What will they do if I don’t wear modest clothes?” And the second one is: “I don’t have to even read that!” I’ve seen that first question answered personally to me once when I lived in South Williamsburg. I was walking down the street wearing shorts and a t-shirt because it was summer and I watched a father cover his son’s eyes while I walked past. I had never once felt uncomfortable with my own body, but this father’s action, which probably resulted in more attention brought to me than actually necessary, made me frightened to live in a community where I could not be treated as a fellow human being. I’m curious to see how long these signs stay up and what the response will be from the non-Hasidim in the neighborhood, but until then, keep dressing like you normally do ya sluts!