A radical group, calling themselves the “modesty committee,” is terrorizing a Brooklyn neighborhood. Shopkeepers and residents in Williamsburg are experiencing increased pressure to comply with Ultra-Orthadox Jewish modestly laws.
The modesty laws are understood and tolerated by most members of the Williamsburg community. Historically, social pressure and unwritten rules have been effective in reminding residents and shopkeepers to comply the modesty laws. Recently those reminders have reportedly turned into threats.
As reported by the New York Post, controversy due to modesty laws in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community has escalated. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners have posted signs preventing women who are wearing “revealing clothing” from entering their shops. Revealing clothing is defined by the shopkeepers as clothing that does not cover the feet, neckline, arms, and legs.
Additionally, women wishing to ride on a public bus line, that passes through the community, have reportedly been forced to sit in the back of the bus “in accordance with Orthodox customs.”
Bike lanes have been removed from the neighborhood in an attempt to prevent women, who may wear revealing clothing, from cycling through the town. Fourteen blocks of bicycle lanes were removed.
Most recently, shopkeepers have reportedly been receiving threats from a group that has referred to themselves as the neighborhood “modesty committee.” As reported by the New York Times, one local shopkeeper received a call from a man who identified himself as a member of the committee. The man was unhappy about a mannequin displayed in her store window. He was reportedly concerned that the mannequin might “inadvertently arouse passing men and boys.” The woman was warned to remove the mannequin.
Details about secret groups seeking to control the modesty of the community with threats emerged during the trial of Nechemya Weberman. The Orthodox Jewish counselor was convicted of sexual abuse and sentenced to 103 years.
During the Weberman’s trial, evidence was revealed that the “modesty committee” was responsible for several threats throughout the community.
Testimony revealed that they had broken into the bedroom of one woman, and taken her cellphone away. Others have had iPads and computers confiscated. “The modesty committee” has been described by Rabbi Allan Nadler, of Drew University, as operating “like the mafia.”
Most residents and business owners choose to comply with the threats to avoid retaliation. The shopkeeper who was told to remove the mannequin did in fact remove the mannequin from her store.
Hasidic leaders in Williamsburg deny involvement with the secret “modesty committee” group. Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg states:
“These are individual people who decide to take on this crusade. You see posters telling people do this and do that. It does not represent an authorized body.”
Leaders point out that the laws or rules are only proclaimed and posted, those who choose not to follow them will not be punished. They stress that the few that use threats to enforce the rules are no endorsed by Ultra-Orthadox Jewish leaders.