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US Helps Mea Shearim to Stay Modest

Posters for visitors to Jerusalem’s hareidi religious neighborhoods ask them to dress modestly. The US State Dept. spreads the message.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 2/8/2012, 10:30 AM

Hareidi religious man
Hareidi religious man
Flash 90

The U.S. State Department has changed its travel advisory for  tourists in Israel suggesting they avoid immodest dress not out of respect for the residents, but in order to avoid "assaults on secular visitors.”

A travel advisory for visitors to Saudi Arabia warns tourists to respect Islam, but only states that not conforming to the dress code could cause them to be “confronted” by offended Muslims.

The advisory for Jerusalem, where Mea Shearim is the most widely-known but far from the only hareidi religious neighborhood, does not define what areas are “ultra-orthodox” ands also does not define what “modest’ means. It notes, “In Jerusalem, travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and dress appropriately when visiting the Old City and ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

“Assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being immodestly dressed,’ have occurred in these neighborhoods. Isolated street protests and demonstrations can occur in the predominantly Arab commercial districts of East Jerusalem during periods of unrest.”

The State Dept. advisory for travelers to Saudi Arabia states, “Islam is the official religion of the country and pervades all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. Public display of non-Islamic religious articles such as crosses and Bibles is not permitted…. The Commission on Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the religious police (Mutawwa or Al-Hay’ah colloquially), are charged with enforcing these standards on behalf of the CPVPV.

“The Saudi Embassy in Washington advises women traveling to Saudi Arabia to dress in a conservative fashion in public, wearing ankle-length dresses with long sleeves and not pants.  However, in most areas of Saudi Arabia, and particularly in Riyadh and the central part of the Kingdom, women wear a full-length black covering known as an Abaya, and cover their heads. Women who choose not to conform to this dress code face a greater risk of being confronted by Mutawwa. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt.”

The advisory adds, “To ensure that conservative standards of conduct are observed, the Saudi religious police have accosted or arrested foreigners, including U.S. citizens, for improper dress or other alleged infractions, such as consumption of alcohol or association by a female with a male to whom she is not related.”