The Shmooze

For Women in Ultra-Orthodox Williamsburg, No Cell Phones in Public

By Renee Ghert-Zand

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First it was an “out of sight-out of mind” approach as Haredi Jews in Israel relegated women to the back of the bus and restricted them to walking on only one side of the street in certain Jerusalem neighborhoods. Now, the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn appear to prefer that women be seen, but not heard.

Failed Messiah reports that posters have recently been spotted on walls and in synagogues forbidding women from speaking on cell phones in public. The hard-to-miss red and white signs include a picture of a cell phone with a slash through it, and a letter signed by rabbis from Meah She’arim and B’nei Brak in Israel. Women are berated and warned in large Yiddish type:

Can you imagine your grandmother with a cell phone on the streets or on a bus? Where did our ingrained shame and modesty of the Jewish daughter disappear to? On the behest of the Jewish leaders it is forbidden for a Jewish daughter to talk on a cell phone on the streets or on a bus!

As a matter of fact, many of us couldn’t imagine our grandmothers talking on cell phones, because mobiles weren’t around until relatively recently. But that’s beside the point. The real issue is that while it is not at all unseemly for bearded and black-clad yeshiva bochers to be talking loudly in public into their ever-present handsets and Bluetooth ear pieces, it is completely unreasonable for women who either work or manage very large families — or both — to keep in touch with their children, relatives, friends and neighbors as needed.

It seems that kol ishah, the prohibition against men’s hearing women’s voices in public, has moved beyond singing to talking on cell phones. What’s next? Will the Haredim try to silence women all together?


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