Thursday, April 08, 2010

Israeli 'Taliban mothers': still with us

A couple of years back, the Orthodox world was roiled by the story of the 'Taliban mother' - a Charedi woman living in Beit Shemesh, who had taken to dressing head-to-toe in a cloak, and covering her face in a veil, burka-style. She had amassed, it emerged, more than 100 followers, who adopted a similar mode of dress, frightening a good number of Charedi women who became afraid that this chmurah, or stringency, would soon be demanded of them too. Many Charedi leaders were, indeed, appalled and denounced her as 'crazy'.

Then it turned out that the 'Taliban mother' was abusive to her own children, and she was convicted of aggrevated assault on six of them. It seemed clear that there was much more to this woman's dress code than mere 'modesty' - as she had claimed - and the issue of burka-clad Charedim seemed to disappear from the public agenda. Who, after all, would continue to dress this way, when the cult leader was exposed as disturbed?

Well, here is one case. On Tuesday, police shot at a woman dressed in a veil who was attempting to board a bus. They thought she was a terrorist. She turned out to be a religious woman dressing this way for reasons of 'modesty'. The picture, from YNet, shows her being driven away by the police.

The Taliban mother might be rotting in jail; but this trend she has unleashed, in which Charedi women voluntarily clad their bodies in bags and cover their faces, is apparently far harder to contain. Even as her personal credibility crumbled, the concept of hyper-tzniut took on a life of its own. And - here I'm guessing - her followers probably never really accepted that the woman they had revered as saintly was really guilty of the things of which she was convicted, anyway.

The fact is that the Charedi trends which were a catalyst for the original Taliban Mother - the ever-increasing emphasis on women's modesty and the moves to eradicate women from public space - have not gone away. Is it any wonder that the burkas are still with us too?

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