In the wake of Nechemya Weberman’s high-profile sex abuse trial, Hasidic Brooklyn’s modesty committees–self-appointed, loosely organized groups of men who take it upon themselves to enforce the community’s explicit and implicit rules for appropriate dress and conduct–have received increased attention from non-Hasidic residents of New York. The Times published a fascinating report highlighting some of the squads’ more nefarious behavior.
According to Rabbi Allan Nadler, who testified in the Weberman case, the committees operate without an official address or any de jure authority. “They walk into a store and say it would be a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele,” he said. “They might tell the father of a girl who wears a skirt that’s too short and he’s, say, a store owner: ‘If you ever want to sell a pair of shoes, speak to your daughter.’”
Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes has seen allegations that a modesty squad broke into the home of one community member, confiscating an iPad and other electronics that they believed were inappropriate for children. One family said it had been harassed after the wife stepped outside wearing her housecoat.
But community leaders maintain that the modesty police do not operate with any real authority. “These are individual people who decide to take on this crusade,” said Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg. “You see posters telling people do this and do that. It does not represent an authorized body.”
(Photo: Bitch Cakes/Flickr)