The Growing Influence of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel [View all]
By Juliane von Mittelstaedt
Outside is the Judean Wilderness, the Dead Sea shimmers in the distance. Naomi Machfud is sitting inside the self-built house, dreaming about making the world disappear. She wants to cover up her face with a veil, she says, her mouth, her nose and her eyes. A black veil, without even a vision slit, one that swallows every glance and submerges the world in darkness. The veil is the pinnacle of zniut, or modesty, the closest a person can get to God. But, she says with a sigh, "unfortunately I'm not that far yet."
But Machfud, a 30-year-old woman with six children, has already created an insulating layer of material between herself and the outside world. She is wearing a wool robe, an apron, a blouse, three floor-length corduroy skirts, a black skirt and trousers. She has a piece of black wool material wrapped loosely around her head. Underneath it is a tight, black veil, and underneath that is a pale pink veil. Not a single hair is visible. She is wearing a pair of earrings, but she takes them off when she leaves the house.
Machfud is a Jewish woman married to a Jewish man. They live in a settlement in the West Bank, but she dresses as if she lived in Afghanistan. In Israel, the veiled women are referred to as the "Taliban," while they refer to themselves as women of the shawl. Machfud claims that there are thousands of women like her, but it is more likely that they number in the hundreds. They are usually seen in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox Me'ah She'arim neighborhood, black, shapeless figures, holding the hands of their daughters, who look like miniature versions of their mothers.
One could call these women crazy. Or one could see them as the product of a religious community that is becoming more and more extremist.