If you live in certain areas of Brooklyn and have a mannequin in your store window, use an iPad, or occasionally venture into your front yard in a housecoat, watch out: the Modesty Mafia is onto you. The New York Times reports:
The Brooklyn shopkeeper was already home for the night when her phone rang: a man who said he was from a neighborhood "modesty committee" was concerned that the mannequins in her store's window, used to display women's clothing, might inadvertently arouse passing men and boys.
"The man said, ‘Do the neighborhood a favor and take it out of the window,' " the store's manager recalled. " ‘We're trying to safeguard our community.'
Some local stores (American Apparel comes to mind) wouldn't feel intimidated. But this manager makes her living in Hasidic Williamsburg; if she didn't comply, her store would be shunned and she could expect further harassment. She took the mannequin down.
Of course, Satmar Hasidic Jews are far from the only insular religious sect to fixate on the myriad ways women should prevent themselves from inadvertently tempting men into sin. But they've been receiving a lot of attention lately, thanks to the high-profile trial of Nechemya Weberman, the beloved member of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn who was sentenced to 103 years in prison last week after being convicted of sexually assaulting a young girl who came to him for sketchy unlicensed "therapy" sessions.
Ironically, during the trial Weberman disclosed that lots of neighborhood kids, both boys and girls, had come to him for advice on inappropriate behavior and attire. Therein lies the problem with targeting the assaulted instead of the assaulter, dontcha think?
Not everyone agrees. Apparently modesty committees — who one Hasidic journalist described as men who consider themselves "God's police" — don't stop at mannequins:
The details were startling: a witness for Mr. Weberman's defense, Baila Gluck, testified that masked men representing a modesty committee in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., 50 miles northwest of New York City, broke into her bedroom about seven years ago and confiscated her cellphone.
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, who prosecuted the Weberman case, has now received allegations that members of a modesty committee forced their way into a home in the borough, confiscating an iPad and computer equipment deemed inappropriate for Orthodox children, officials say. Allegations have also surfaced that a modesty committee threatened to publicly shame a married man who was having an affair unless he paid the members money for what they described as therapy.
While many of the rules of conduct are announced on Yiddish broadsides posted on trees, lampposts and walls, residents of Hasidic neighborhoods say some store owners have received rough verbal warnings from a modesty committee to stop selling magazines that carry photographs considered too revealing, or articles that dispute the Satmar Hasidim's belief that Israel should not have existed until the Messiah's arrival.
How do you contact the modesty mafia? Funny question! You can't. They don't have addresses or business cards. They contact you when they feel like intimidating you — by telling you it would be "a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele" or by telling the father of a girl who wears short skirts that he'll never succeed in business unless he talks to her about covering up. Who's being protected here, exactly?
Image via Maestriadiz/Shutterstock.