It’s typical for people in Orthodox Jewish communities to dress conservatively; you’ll often see women in long-sleeved tops and full skirts or men in pants and high-collared shirts strolling through southern Brooklyn.
What’s unusual is the lengths some will go to make sure their neighbors follow the dress code.
The Times reports that so-called “modesty committees” have taken to enforcing modest dress using whatever creepy means they deem necessary. The groups have made a habit of threatening local businesses and families who aren’t following the rules. “They operate like the Mafia,” Rabbi Allan Nadler told the Times, “They walk into a store and say it would be a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele.”
Unfortunately, the demands for dowdy apparel are nothing new. In 2009, the Hasidic community of Williamsburg clashed with their secular neighbors over bike lanes, claiming the influx of female cyclists showing skin was distracting to men. At the time, a member of Community Board 1 told the Post, “I have to admit, it’s a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code.” Eventually, the Hasids won out and the effort to create a bike lane down Kent Avenue was abandoned.
Even without that particular bike lane, female cyclists are still having trouble with their commutes. One former Flatbush resident, who was uncomfortable with us using her name, described the heckling she regularly received on her rides through southern Brooklyn: “A typical outfit would be jeans and a short sleeve shirt, but I would get hassled. People would holler at me and dads would cover their kids eyes.”
The Times also cataloged a number of disturbing incidents, in which modesty committees forced their way into offenders’ homes and confiscated phones, iPads, and computer equipment that were thought to provide access to inappropriate material.
We get that religious and community values are important, but so is protecting the viewpoint — and fashion sense — of people who don’t ascribe to the same beliefs. For now, all we can say is oy vey.