Rabbanit Bruria Keren, Anorexia, Alternative Therapy and Women’s Religion

People in power like to believe that power means control. In the Haredi world the absolute supremacy of male leadership and the contempt for women has created the illusion that men are in charge. But when you oppress people, they just find alternate ways of expressing themselves.

Alternative Therapy has become the focal point for “women’s religion” in Haredi Judaism. Women can’t become Rabbis or Sofers or hold any position of religious authority but Alternative Therapy has been a back door to that and allowed women in the Haredi world to function as a cross between spiritual healers and therapists, incorporating Kabbalah, different energy healing programs and alternative therapies.

It’s absolutely no surprise then that one Alternative Therapist in Israel has created her own cult, Rabbanit Bruria Keren of the so-called Women of the Veil

Rabbanit Bruria Keren is functioning as a sort of early female Chassidic Rabbi with ascetic rather than joyful leanings, combining her alternative therapy and organic foods with the one legitimate outlet for Haredi Women and what’s been repeatedly described as a woman’s most important Mitzvah, Tznius. Her followers seem to cover converts and Baal Tesuvahs, many connected to Breslov. (A claim in the comments section says that Bruria Keren is herself a BT but the article states that she is from a Haredi family) Breslov’s splintered factions are spinning off a lot of crazy behavior and converts and BT’s often lack the ability to tell right from wrong in Judaism and embrace extremism as right.

All the bloggers who talk about being rendered speechless by Rabbanit Bruria Keren and her followers are missing the point. The obsessive focus on Tznius in the Haredi world has created a culture of insecurity for women. The followers of Rabbanit Bruria Keren have taken control of Tznius from men by imposing extreme versions of it on themselves. Their security in the righteousness of the Burka comes from the relief that they don’t have to worry that their Tznius is inadequate anymore and the Tznius paranoia was instilled in them by Haredi men in the first place. Converts and BT’s who would have the most boundary issues when adapting to Haredi ideas of Tznius in the first place were the most vulnerable.

Think of what’s going on with the Women of the Veil and Rabbanit Bruria Keren as “Clothing Anorexia”. Anorexics try to attain a perfect standard of thinness that they begin to engage in self-destructive eating behavior. These women are aiming for an impossibly perfect standard of Tznius and are engaging in self-destructive dressing behavior. Only when dressed in a tent can they feel secure in their holiness because they’ve been made to feel that their femininity is something shameful and dirty.

“At first I wore only three skirts and a cape. Then I read that Rabbanit Kanievsky, a well-known figure in the haredi community, covered the upper part of her hand (shoresh kaf hayad) with cloth. I looked at the place my fingers began, and saw that it was indeed very feminine. So I cut off the ends of some socks and wore them on my hand, to cover the part up to my fingers. At first I wore them only outside, because they bothered me at home. Gradually I also began to wear them at home, and now I sleep in them as well as in a high neckline. When one receives light, one receives holiness.”

It’s not too hard to see what’s going on here. The irrational pursuit of Chumras Ad Infinitum, the Tznius obsession and the embrace of mysticism and superstition along with dubious alternative therapies and the subjugation of women has created a tinderbox. Rabbanit Bruria Keren, who is undoubtedly completely sincere, is a symptom rather than the problem.

When you teach women to hate themselves, whether you do it with impossibly thin stick figure models or by obsessively telling women that their body is a vehicle for sin and it’s their fault if they don’t adopt the latest chumra, you are opening the door to the same problem. If you teach people to hate themselves, they will. Promiscuity and the Burka are two sides of the same ugly coin and two extremes meet in the middle for a poisonous kiss.

Women are particularly sensitive to body image. Haredi Judaism has spent too long driving out the female body as if they were exorcising some evil demon. Women’s bodies are wrapped up and women’s faces are banished from magazine covers and ads. So what is the logic in not covering women’s faces outright?

Haredi Judaism has spent so much time trying to force its followers into models of virtue, that like Victorian England, they’ve forgotten the inherent imperfections of people and instead taught them to hate each other and themselves. The Torah accepted human frailty far more than the Haredi world does today. The Torah is full of flawed people, the Gedolim biographies are full of saints.

Now Haredi Judaism has spawned or respawned a Catholic mania of self-mortification through clothing. And calling Rabbanit Bruria Keren names won’t help. Accepting women will. Tznius has its place but modesty and virtue have to exist within a human framework rather than an inhuman one because the Women of the Veil are the end result of the inhuman framework.

Right now Rabbanit Bruira Keren is catering to the fringe, Breslov, converts, BT’s. But this isn’t going away and things on the fringe can become mainstream. There are two kinds of rebellion, one is against the rules and one is an extreme adoption of the rules. Both are destructive and unhealthy but the Haredi world has cherished the latter while smearing the former as Godless. It’s time to return to the good and pleasant ways of the Torah and the ways of Hashem, to love each other rather than hate each other and to go neither to the right nor to the left, not to one extreme and not to another.

Give women a place in religious life beyond lecturing on Tznius, because Rabbanit Bruria Keren is the end result of that.

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20 thoughts on “Rabbanit Bruria Keren, Anorexia, Alternative Therapy and Women’s Religion

  1. Rafi says:

    Very cick and very evil things are going on. These women need psychiatric intervention.
    The men should be flogged for pushing this on them.

  2. This story is fascinating but I suspect this cult will not catch on.

  3. Rudy says:

    These are sick women who are mutilating themselves just as Goths mutilate the image of God.
    No different. This is self hatred in extreme.

  4. Ben-Yehudah says:

    B”H As you know I don’t always agree with your content. But you write very well, and are very descriptive. Someone submitted this post for inclusion in this coming Sunday’s edition of Haveil Havalim Blog Carnival. Since I don’t have your e-mail address, and don’t have time to leave comments on all of those blogs without public e-mail addresses, I’ll take the opportunity to tell you that the URL will be http://esseragaroth.blogspot.com/2008/02/haveil-havalim-154.html, and will be up by Sunday afternoon Israel time. Contributors are asked to post about the edition. This is optional but appreciated.

    I am very opinionated, but HH is relatively pluralistic (ie. no missionaries, no calls for the destruction of Israel, and stuff like that).

  5. This Bruria Keren is a baalas tshuva, formerely a leftist intellectual. After doing tshuva she seized on the relatively large group of uneducated Breslever baalei tshuva who have a fetish for extreme tznius.

    The burka fashion is regarded by all as complete madness, and a dayan even took a woman’s children out of her custody b/c she was doing this crap against her husband’s wishes.

    FYI within the hardcore charedi groups not only kulahs are frowned upon but anything -chumras included- that are out of step with that group’s norms & meshigassen.

  6. samuraimohel says:

    interesting if true on the first

    but it’s only regarded as madness because it’s too far out of continuity and initiated by a woman, key word there “b/c she was doing this crap against her husband’s wishes”.

  7. No. That’s only the reason for divorce/custody.

    Everyone, except that specific group, thinks this si insane, including Toldos Aharon, the most Tznius-oriented group. The day you show me a yeshivish woman accepted as “normal” wearing those rags, you get a truckload of Czeh beer – how ’bout that?

  8. samuraimohel says:

    It’s the reason for the opposition. If it had come from a Rav with a name behind him, we’d hear shouts of “Who are you to criticize him” and it come down to infighting

    The only reason it’s thought of as insane is because

    1. it comes from women

    2. it’s too abrupt a step, if the tznius chumras keep going, Bnei brak will end up there in a 100 years too

  9. Gila says:

    Well written analysis….

  10. Yossi–

    Where do you get that she’s a bt and a former leftist? The article claims that she is from a haredi family..

  11. samuraimohel says:

    thank you gila,

    mother in israel, updated post again to reflect that

  12. benny says:

    She sounds like a nut. I don’t know where you get these websites.

  13. Ruth Radberg says:

    Ruth,

    I was brought up not to practice laws that are ‘hukat hagoy’ – copying the goyim, – This is suggesting that I copy the Muslims?? I think not!!
    Hag Sameach

  14. Shalom says:

    So now, the “Rabbinit” has been arrested for abusing her 12 children, she wil be shown for the masochistic, sick woman she is. The Hareidi world has no place for such stupidity. A woman is supposed to look attactive without being attracting.

  15. tznius-lady says:

    I take pride in operating the http://www.simchawear.com website with the utmost of tznius (modesty). When people post a dress for sale or rent, I will remove the hands and face. Call me crazy, but this is a crazy world and you’ve got to fit in.

  16. Chaim says:

    Tznious lady why the hands and face? Would you also like to blot women off the face of the earth completely? Are they so dirty and disgusting that they must hide behind things so as not to offend.

    It is nuts to say you want to fit in with a crazy world.

  17. tznius-lady says:

    I have to make sure that people of all beliefs can come to the site to find what they are looking for, without the fear of being blackmailed for browsing indecent websites. I want my site to be the highest on the list of “kosher’ sites to visit. What I feel personally regarding the tznius rules cannot be applied when you are running a site that serves a public with such a variety of opinions

  18. Chaim says:

    Ok Tznious lady, sounds good.

  19. adam says:

    It sounds very disturbing. To be honest with you the biggest issue in all Orthodox Judaism is that Rabbi’s have (and it makes no sense) claimed that woman are exempt from having children and getting married. G-d created a woman’s body to be able to carry children and nurse them give birth to them.

    Yet the Rabbi’ s have made it the man’s responsibility which by all standards makes no sense as it is an area that the women plays a larger role in and her health and age and taking care of herself is a much bigger factor then the man.

    To replace this the Rabbi’s have made the only obligation of a woman is this focus on modesty to the point that a woman would feel that somehow her body is evil.

    The only think the torah says is a woman shouldn’t be a harlot. To dress in a feminine way and to understand the purpose of being a female which is to be the helpmate of a man and to be able to carry children and nurse children women wouldn’t be obsessed with modesty because they really have been told that a woman’s body is somehow evil and the Rabbi’s have taken away thier obligations that they play a much larger role. A woman can dress a certain way and act very immodest while a woman who isn’t obsessed with this can act in a more more decent way (which applies to men as well). This whole obsessive focus on modesty in the Orthodox world in general can only give the message to women that is bad for both them and men that they are somehow bad for having a female figure but also that men are just sex manaic and they themselves can’t understand the higher purpose of sexuality which is to bring life into the world and why there is a spiritual impurity for both men and women when they aren’t using what G-d gave them and are either wasting their sperm or a woman is wasting her childbearing years.

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