Rabbis to Williamsburg women: Don’t wear that tank top!

The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Williamsburg has a new voice for women’s fashion — Hasidic rabbis.

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.

And the women are heeding the admonishion.

“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.”

The tank top ban is the latest edict from the Central Rabbinical Congress, a council of rabbis known for enforcing strict moral codes on Hasidic women.

Last month, members of a neighborhood modesty group stapled posters to lampposts warning women against talking on cellphones in public and urging them to move to the other side of the street when a man is walking on the sidewalk. These campaigns were first noted by the Orthodox watchdog blog, Failed Messiah.

And three years ago, community leaders succeeded in taking down a racy billboard for the TV show, “90210” that featured swimsuit-clad actors.

The Council’s edicts appear to be having an effect.

Several Williamsburg residents said that the posters’ message primarily detours young women from buying revealing blouses, shirts, and tops available in Manhattan department stores.

“A very small percentage of women wear this kind of clothing and even if they are they’re wearing them over long-sleeve shirts,” said a proprietor of Englander Dry Goods on Lee Avenue.

The neighborhood’s strict Orthodox women typically wear below-the-knee skirts, shirts whose sleeves go well past the elbow, and blouses that cover up the neck. No, it’s not exactly a burka, but put it this way: There is very little risk of sunburn on even the brightest summer days.

Stern said that the traditional dress is part of a thousand-year tradition of modesty among the Hasidic people — though there are a few “bad apples,” who flock to the latest trends.

But Williamsburg bicycle maven Baruch Herzfeld argues that modesty groups are intimidating Hasidic women throughout the neighborhood.

“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.”

The clothing warning is just the latest example of the ongoing clash between Hasidic traditions and modern American culture. Last month, for example, an Orthodox newspaper erased Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the iconic White House “situation room” photo from the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing.

The newspaper said it had to remove the woman from the historic shot because it would have been immodest to publish a picture of a woman.

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

resident says:
i feel so bad for these people, there is no way they are all happy w,.ith this lifestyle even if they retend to do so. some might like it but im sure the majority dont
June 8, 2011, 12:38 am
Cynthia from Clinton Hill says:
There you go. Its like Jews this isn't Israel!! Its frigging America!!
June 8, 2011, 2:21 am
gimme from around says:
whatevs, tank top away, topless away even, Amerikuh!
June 8, 2011, 8:11 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
I hope a tank-wearing protest is held. This is New York, not a place where religion rules over all.
June 8, 2011, 8:19 am
manhatposeur from manhat says:
Well looks we have our own version of the Taliban in Williamsburg.
June 8, 2011, 8:22 am
Mazz Eddie from Williamsburg says:
The flier is mostly in Yiddish thus, It's Null and Void! And I'm all for a Tank Top Protest!! Lady's Show off your Guns!!
June 8, 2011, 8:28 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
Celebrate diversity!
June 8, 2011, 8:51 am
Rob from Greenpoint says:
The mullahs have spoken !
June 8, 2011, 8:58 am
Soured from Red Hook says:
June 8, 2011, 9:09 am
eliot from brooklyn heights says:
June 8, 2011, 9:23 am
Zara from BK says:
That's the thing with liberals: they can be quite hypocritical! Consider the following:

- Everyone has the right to believe what they will.

- If everyone has the right to dress according to their whims and seasonal preferences (how much is free choice proper, and how much advertising efficiency is anyone's guess), then everyone certainly has the right to dress according to their religious beliefs.

- A community has the right to an internal dialog. There is nothing that states that admonition and persuasion cannot be a part of this dialog. No one is forcing any of the women, they are trying to verbally convince them.

- Modesty is an important value. Just like "freedom" and "justice" and "higher education" and "tolerance", the idea is that modesty plays an integral role in preserving the life of a community's members. And no, contrary to the liberal criticism of religion, which states that religious communities unfairly make women's bodies into repositories of embodied virtue and honor, women are not exclusively held to standards of modest dress. I believe Hassidic Jewish men and children are also expected to dress in accordance with certain standards of religiously defined modesty.

- What exactly is wrong with Mullahs? And with burkas? Check your Islamophobia people.
June 8, 2011, 9:38 am
Rivka from Schlesser says:
I love wearing my tank-tops and my bikinis...Baruch HaShem!!
June 8, 2011, 10:16 am
Job Provider from Tea Party Nation says:
After we take back our country from the communist from Kenya next year, this type of thinking is going to take hold in the heartland. The Hasids are right to embrace modest and traditional values, and Christian American Women are ready for a return to a modest lifestyle.

Walk around naked to your hearts desire for the next year, because it's not going to be tolerated in 2013 when America has a much needed spiritual reawakening and cleansing.
June 8, 2011, 10:28 am
BustedHaloinBklyn from Park Slope says:
The New Testament clearly states that rituals and traditions have no value, do not give you a free pass to salvation. The Hasidic community is known historically for their tenacious nature; on this latest, having convinced themselves that they are above all others because of their ridiculous beliefs and customs. What a waste... it's not what you wear, it's what you live.
June 8, 2011, 10:34 am
Sarah from Seoul, Korea says:
The world would be better of without all of these misogynistic, theocrat scum--whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. The vermin in this story sound only slightly better than the Taliban. Pathetic.
June 8, 2011, 10:39 am
Liz from Park Slope says:
I live in a free country and I intend to keep wearing my tank tops, bikinis and daisy dukes!

Cover your eyes if you don't like it.
June 8, 2011, 10:53 am
M. Ken Platzen from Chelm says:
I think the guys in the three-piece black suits and wool hats should have to cross the street if a woman approaches, not the other way around.
June 8, 2011, 11:42 am
O2 from Wburg says:
zara - pls explain the need for hasdic women to walk on the other side of the street fm men plus not use cells?
June 8, 2011, 11:45 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
If they want to belong to a religion that promotes covering up, that's up to them. It's not like someone will burn down their houses if they try to leave.
June 8, 2011, 11:46 am
PattyCake from Bay Ridge says:
If the signs are for the women of the sect, it has nothing to do with us. They have been cloaked in the heat for as long as I can remember. But; why do they need to be reminded of their own rules? I am sure they know.
June 8, 2011, 11:49 am
SE from williamsburg says:
i find this article to be rather annoying. the signs do not apply to non-hasidic women but there is a lot of double talk in the article trying to rile up non-hasidic residents.

i for one think its insane to dress like that in this weather. modesty is one thing, but it's 90 degrees out there... yikes.
June 8, 2011, 12:40 pm
Hopper from Los S-S says:
In the 13 years I've lived in the abovementioned neighborhood I have NEVER seen a Satmar woman in a tank top. I have never seen a female elbow nor even a knee! I wish I could read the other 99% of that poster, the article is obviously misleading
June 8, 2011, 1:27 pm
Council of Hipster Rabbis from Williamsburg says:
We ask that all Hasidic men wear jeggings and get appropriate tattoos. Otherwise it will be a shonda for the goyim!
June 8, 2011, 4:57 pm
Nygdan says:
Bit of an health issue no? Heatstroke much?
June 8, 2011, 5:39 pm
fatimah from cobble hill says:
"Everyone in Williamsburg hates them?" Hipster tolerance. Women display as much of their body parts as possible these days. I started covering up when I converted to Islam. It was a gradual process, first headscarf, later long sleeves and longer looser clothing. The cotton clothing actually protects me from the sun, and I sweat less. I feel much more confident in myself and much happier.
June 9, 2011, 5:05 am
Publius from Bklyn USA says:
How can Hasidim be a 1,000 year movement as stated in this article when the founder of Hasidim, Israel ben Eliezer, lived in the 18th century? At most it's a 300-year old movement, and only represents a portion of Jews world wide.

I realize this is just the Brooklyn Paper, and a Murdoch publication to boot, but how about some basic fact checking?
June 9, 2011, 9:54 am
manhatposeur from manhat says:
Fatimah I could careless if you walked around in a sauna suit or trash bags from head to toe. And its fine if the Hassid's want to impose it on their women- if the women of thier community accept it.
What bother's me if I here then attacking tank top wearing, nasal peirce, tattoo girl in her daisy duke shorts riding her bicycle minding her own business then its war with them.
Everyone has the right to go about their business wear whatthey want as long as they are committing acts of violence just based on intolerance.
It is equally dishearting when urban ghetto kids gang up on lone Hassidic guy & dont take his money- They just beat them.
War on them too & their projects.
June 9, 2011, 9:59 am
Catherine from Florida says:
It seems like men are the ones with the problem here. Let them solve it by staying home and wearing paper bags over their heads.
June 9, 2011, 1:37 pm
Gk from Washington dc says:
Really?? These women need the guidelines of a man to tell them how to conform to tradition? Wouldn't these women already embrace the idea. Sounds more like a religious zealot trying to legitimize his own need to be a control freak. Oh and by the way....exactly what is the difference between a rabbi dictating modesty and a Wahabi Muslim Mullah doing the same...."ornis it the old ignorant hypocritical comment..."well thats different"
June 9, 2011, 10:12 pm
James from Brooklyn says:
As crazy as the Hasidics are, I think everyone actually hates you "bicycle maven" Baruch Herzfeld....yuppie
June 9, 2011, 11:21 pm
dmh from Bushwick says:
This article is a tad misleading.

This "latest edict", as described by the author of the article, has been the stance of every single Orthodox community for hundreds of years. Some of these Orthodox communities have more tolerance than others if members of their own community dress immodestly. The Satmars of Williamsburg are on the less tolerance side of the scale, hence the need to remind members of their own community to dress modestly. But there is absolutely nothing new here. I promise you that every single person who this "edict" was directed towards, walked by this without batting an eye. And, most importantly, this was directed towards members of their own community, and no one else.

There are definitely areas for concern with regards to certain aspects of these communities, but this beyond a non-issue. The author is either woefully unfamiliar with Orthodox history, culture, and community, or is just plain trying to start trouble. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest he research the histories of the various Orthodox and Hasidic communities before he writes any further on the subject.
June 10, 2011, 12:33 am
M. Ken Platzen from Chelm says:
re: your photo of the Hasidic ideal

No Hasid from Williamsburg would have gone to the Salute To Israel Parade
June 10, 2011, 9:03 am
Ben from Greenpoint says:
Aaron short the king of crap news....
June 10, 2011, 12:08 pm
Ben from Greenpoint says:
since when is bike maven Baruch Herzfeld the spokesman of the community? he is a total drop out student of yeshiva university of flatbush....
June 10, 2011, 12:14 pm
Daniel from Brooklyn says:
No big deal here. As others said the 'modesty' posters were aimed at those within the Hasidic community. You have to admire the Hasids devotion to the study of their religion whether you are a believer or not. They live in theor own world and like it that way. I see nothing wrong with that.
June 12, 2011, 3:21 pm
Mike says:
The only thing about this that makes no sense to me is that Orthodox women never wear tanktops or clingy clothes in the first place. So why the need for the posters?
June 12, 2011, 3:28 pm
jorge from sunset park says:
At yhe same time, the hasids are agressively seeking prostitues in sunset park, day and day out
July 7, 2011, 4:14 pm
Joe from Kensington says:
"Stern said that the traditional dress is part of a thousand-year tradition of modesty among the Hasidic people"
Not true! 1. Hassidism first appeared in mid-18th century in Podolia (the now Ukraine).
2. On photographs of Jewish women, even rabbis' wives, taken some 100 - 110 years ago, they look way less "modest" than how the modern ultraorthodox Jewish women tend to dress.
As a matter of fact, very few (in that community) are looking for real history. Traditional thinking it is.
Oct. 7, 2011, 11:04 am
polo express from greenpoint says:
"- A community has the right to an internal dialog. There is nothing that states that admonition and persuasion cannot be a part of this dialog."

Zara, that's true. But there is also nothing that states if you make a point of trying to promote your religious values to others, you won't have those religious values critiqued, criticized or condemned.

"You have to admire the Hasids devotion to the study of their religion whether you are a believer or not."

No, you really don't!
Oct. 10, 2011, 1:17 am
Emma from California says:
I think that we should stop judging other people's traditions and mind our own business. I am a Jew and although I don't follow these laws I still respect the people who do. As Americans we sometimes believe that we are always wrong and that anyone who is different than us must be crazy not to want to be like us. The reality is that people are what keep traditions alive and who are we to judge the character of people we don't know. These women have a choice to wear these garments and, more often than not, they enjoy it.
We should respect others and not make outlandish judgements before we really know what's going on.
Oct. 17, 2011, 7:51 pm
Jorge from New Mexico says:
Sexism is a tradition that is alive and well Emma from California. We have no obligation to respect anyone who continues to treat women like second class citizens. Stating that these women have a choice to wear these garments is a very naive statement akin to stating that oppressed women in Muslim countries "choose" to be subservient.
Oct. 22, 2011, 8:37 pm
Sarah from Williamsburg says:
This article is a red herring. The largest-font words, at the top of the posted flyer, read "DEAR JEWISH DAUGHTERS" and clearly address the women of the community. Hipsters, don't get your knickers in a twist. Although the community may frown upon your tank tops, it can't and wouldn't try to do a damn thing about it.

Why does the poster address the issue of tank tops if the women in the community are fully dressed all the time? Because a couple of zealots in the community go ballistic every time women's fashions change and they run to put up posters chiding women to remain old-fashioned and not adopt the newer fashions. As it happens, tank tops and sleeveless shirts and blouses, were the newest trend among Hasidic women lately. Worn over a thin t-shirt or "shell", to make for a modest, yet somewhat fashionable, look. The zealots prefer women to remain in frumpy shapeless blouses. So pretty much everyone in the community sneezes and moves on, but this paper finds this an earth-shattering newsworthy revelation. Ha!
Oct. 24, 2011, 8:14 pm
Frank from Bayridge says:
Wake up you fools, these Hasids basically think all Goyim (Not a complimentary term Look it up) are beneath them. The truth is they are for the most part lying scheming dirtbags hiding behind their supposed religous piety. So much for the diversity the Jewish community is always trying to force down everyones elses throat, anyone ever notice how they segregate themselves ie Williamsburg, Boro park, Great Neck, Five Towns etc.
Dec. 17, 2011, 5:36 pm
Greg from Williamsburg says:
I just wonder what the reaction to a sign reading:

No hats
no side curls
no black suits

would be.
Sept. 26, 2012, 6:41 pm
Anonymous from Golders Green, London says:
This is the most ridiculous article & attached comment thread I have ever seen.

Speaking as an orthodox NON HASIDIC Jew, I can tell you that modest clothing is an accepted by any orthodox jew regardless of their position on the Jewish spectrum.
This article supposedly highlights a poster from the most right wing members of one of the most right wing communities in the Jewish world (one which is slightly OTT), but all it is is a front for an all out attack on Jewish values in general.
Your facts are misinformed, your spokespeople are irrelevant and biased, and if you could read a word of that poster your entire article would cease to exist.

It's also nice to see hypocritial liberals adding their names to the list of anti semites giving their input where it's not wanted.
Aug. 20, 2018, 1:24 pm
Anonymous from Golders Green, London says:
Frank from Bayridge,

I appreciate your insult and would like to respond in kind.

You are an ignorant disgusting piece of work with nothing better to do than sit and slag off people you think are 'beneath' you.

I don't know how you people dare accuse the hasidim of being 'stuck in the past' when your attitude towards Jews is the only thing here that is.

I'll just go and enjoy the delicious blood of a christian child baked into my Passover bread shall I...
Aug. 20, 2018, 1:32 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: