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The heavyweights of the haredi Lithuanian yeshiva world gathered Saturday night in Jerusalem to warn an audience of thousands of male, married yeshiva students that haredi women's dresses are too short, their wigs are too long, and their sweaters, shirts and blouses are too tight.
"Each and every father and husband has an obligation to vigilantly ensure that his wife's and daughters' dress is in accordance with the laws of modesty," read a declaration that was distributed after the meeting.
None of the speakers explained in detail the limits of modest dress. However, certain fashion specifics, such as making sure that blouses were "10 centimeters longer than the edge of the skirt along the waist so as to cover [the midriff] during all movements" were singled out in italics in the declaration. Single men and women were not invited to attend.
Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leading halachic authority for haredi Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Steinmen, a major spiritual leader, Rabbi Michal Yehuda Lefkovitz of Ponevezh Yeshiva, and Rabbi Natan Tzvi Finkel, head of the Mir Yeshiva, were just some of the important rabbis who attended.
Organizers said afterwards that concrete steps to harness haredi buying power would block the "wanton influences" of foreign clothing styles, which are seen as a danger to the haredi community's traditional lifestyle.
In Bnei Brak, a group calling itself "The Guardians of Holiness and Education" has already met with clothes merchants to convince them to start selling more modest merchandise.
"One of the ideas is to provide 'modesty certificates' to those clothing stores that meet our demands," said one of the activists who helped organize the conference in Jerusalem. "Stores without the certificates would be boycotted."
The activist admitted that checking all the apparel stores in Bnei Brak was labor intensive but added that he knew several fellow activists who expressed their willingness to help out.
The Guardians of Holiness and Education already review literature sold in Bnei Brak and all social events that take place in the town and provide kosher authorization only to those books and events that meet rabbinic standards.
In Jerusalem, a slightly different tactic is being discussed. A female "modesty tailor" would be posted in each of the large clothing stores serving the haredi community. These women could advise female customers on issues of modesty.
A principal of a haredi high school for girls in Jerusalem who is active in the modesty campaign said that "modesty certificates" are impractical.
"Unlike kosher food, which is governed by clear-cut criteria, modest clothing depends on how it is worn and who wears it," said the principal. "There is an interaction between the body and the piece of clothing."
The principal added that economic factors were fueling the trend of immodest clothing.
"In the past, most of the clothing came from Europe, where designers tended to have more puritanical sensibilities. But today China and Third World countries are manufacturing cheaper merchandise which is also immodest.
"But Saturday night's conference sent a clear message to store owners that we are willing to boycott if need be until more modest merchandise is sold."
Not since the concerted effort two years ago to outlaw cellular phones among yeshiva students have so many important haredi rabbis and yeshiva heads gathered to provide spiritual guidance for their flock.
The anti-cellular phone campaign forced all the major cellular phone operators to provide the haredi community with special kosher phones that blocked access to Internet and erotic phone calls.
But unlike the anti-cellphone campaign, which was a joint effort encompassing Lithuanians, Hassidim and Sephardim, Saturday night's modesty rally was attended almost exclusively by Lithuanians. Organizers said there were different approaches to dress among the various haredi groups, which made complete cooperation impossible.
For instance, Sephardi haredi women do not usually wear wigs, while Hassidim often add a hat to the wig.
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