Put That Tube Top Down, Woman |:| Hasids in the Heat |:| Religious Sanctioned Clothing as Spiritual Practice

Photo by Aaron Short

If it wasn’t true before, it’s defs true today: The news media only reports on Muslims when they’re trying to blow something up, santeros when they’re supposedly leaving decapitated animals all over the place, vodou practitioners when they’re burning things, and Jews when they freak out over the way women dress or appear in public.

Such is the news being reported in Brooklyn’s answer to the NY Post, The Brooklyn Paper, who discuss the Hasidic happenings in happy friendly never any problems Williamsburg:

“A spate of Yiddish posters calling on Orthodox Jewish women to avoid wearing “tank tops,” T-shirts and “clingy dresses” were papered all over South Williamsburg this week as temperatures climbed into the 90s.”

According to Baruch Herzfeld, bike enthusiast, provocateur, chametz app builder, and unofficial physical “buffer” between hipsters and Satmar Hasidim (his tiny bike shop sits more or less in between the two communities) this is just another example of men flexing their tiny man-ness:

“They don’t want women smiling on the street and they want women to be uncomfortable,” said Herzfeld. “These men think they are doing God’s work, but they are fanatics — everyone in Williamsburg hates them.”

Photo by Bess Adler

Of course, intimidation of any kind, and especially with regards to religious observances, is about as low as you can go. I hate it and wish to smite it out so that it need not be smoted any longer. So sayeth al-Qur’an:

“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error” (Qur’an 2:256).

I would, however, like to say something about what might look insane with regards to religious practitioners and their adherence to seemingly rigid dress codes even in conditions that warrant the shedding of said clothes.

I’m not so quick to buy into the idea that religious edicts defining modesty are inherently and by their very nature oppressive. For anyone who’s actually participated in a spiritual or religious discipline, one knows that prescriptions of acceptable clothing often tie in with the practice. Whether it’s the way zen Buddhists meticulously fold their robes, the way a Hare Krishna ties his saffron dhoti, or the fact that Hasids wear some intense summer fashions in 90+ degree NYC heat, all can be read as attempts to cut through socially defined norms that might be contrary to the religion in question. That is to say, if the actions are voluntary. Assuming that a Muslim woman in hijab is ruled over by an intolerant baby-decapitating Muslim husband just because she dons a scarf is not only ridiculous, but also wildly misinformed.

Problems occur, however, when there is coercion, intimidation, and threats. But, at least according to one woman quoted in The Brooklyn Paper article,

“It could be 105 degrees out — you’ll never see any of my body,” said a Williamsburg woman, Sara Stern. “Our way of life is beautiful — very discreet.”

Well, there you have it.

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