One of the most stringent hareidi-religious rabbinic councils in the State of Israel is preparing to ban the burka, or full-body covering and face veil. The garment is being worn by a tiny group of approximately 100 Jewish women who live in the Jerusalem-area city of Beit Shemesh.
Similar bans against the burka have been issued in countries across Europe, where millions of Muslims reside. There, the practice has become a point of contention around the issue of a woman’s right to choose her own attire, and the issue of public safety -- society’s right to know who is entering its public spaces.
But public security is not the issue being discussed by the rabbinical scholars of Israel’s Eida Chareidis rabbinic organization.
The Eida Chareidis is considered to be the “final authority” by some of the most extreme Orthodox sects in Israel, including the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta. A recent report in The Jewish Chronicle quoted Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, a senior member of the council, as saying the organization would soon issue a formal statement banning Jewish women from wearing the garment. Pappenheim told the publication that “these things were never allowed or demanded [by Jewish Law].”
The French National Assembly voted last month to approve a bill that prohibits anyone from wearing an item of clothing that would hide his or her face in open spaces – defined to include essentially any public place. The bill passed by a near-unanimous vote, 335 to 1. Belgium recently passed a similar measure, and Italy is said to be considering a ban on the burka as well.
Even Arab nations in the Middle East are beginning to reconsider their blanket support for Islamic standards: Syria has refused to allow women to wear the burka on university campuses.
In Israel, meanwhile, MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) has also proposed a ban on the burka, citing security concerns. Solodkin said last month in an interview with the Ma’ariv daily that would-be terrorists are more easily able to hide their identity behind the black cloth of the veil. She added that the idea of having to cover one’s face also harms the ethics of "progressive, modern society."