The Lord and the lycra

And there I stood: eyes downcast, in all my crimson shame. As my eyes welled with the pools of my disgrace, and the tips of my (well-covered) ears burned, I felt myself transported to the cobbled streets of … Salem, Massachussets—and I could almost get a whiff of the smoke as the tinders licked at my (hosed) feet. My crime was read out: guilty of immodest dress unbefitting a woman of The Faith.

Turns out tongues were a-wag across the “ummah” that I had the temerity to show myself recently in “shockingly immodest dress” at a somber gathering to commemorate the death of a religious figure. The epitomy of such wanton behaviour of a Muslim woman summarised by a single term: “be-hayaa” (without modesty).

As the litany of violated religious injunctions were rattled off, I wondered exactly how being enveloped top to toe in the tablecloth-like garment favoured by Iranian women and known as a chador, my feet in Arctic winter socks, and a host of under-veils qualified as immodest dress. Then my tormentor pulled the clincher. “It has been said,” he said, pointing a finger for extra emphasis, that seen peeping out insolently from beneath my voluminous wrappings, for all to see (and, gasp, at my wantonness and sheer cheek) was an orange-coloured Adidas rucksack—a colour and style unbefitting both the occassion and observant Muslim women, whose shade of choice should always, always be black.

Such tales (unfortunately not tall) on the sometimes absurdity of dress regulations laid down by the faithful men upon the heads of the faithful women, sprang to mind this week as the faithful in my ‘hood, Jerusalem, publicly announced the latest salvo in their holy war to keep the city pure: lycra.

The satanic stretchy stuff, together with other similarly undesirable fabrics, is on a list compiled by the head honchos of the ultra-orthodox Jewish crowd—all in a bid to “safeguard modesty”.

Fresh from their holy war against the filthy gays who had the cheek to protest freedom of sexual choice in the city earlier this month, the ultra-orthodox, also known as the haredim, this week held a 20 000-strong men-only “Safeguarding Modesty Rally” in the city, where phalanxes of black-suited gentlemen sat in rows listening earnestly to their rabbis warn of the grave dangers posed to the world by “the infiltration of fashion”.

According to the haredim, the actions of a few women in the community who are flouting dress codes by dressing “promiscuously”, are having a detrimental effect on morals. Of the men, that is.

According to flyers distributed in the ultra-orthodox suburb of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem this week: “Tight outfits destroy sanctity in our community.” An ominous end-note was added: “You have been warned.”

With the battle of the morals reaching­ fever pitch a few weeks ago as an international and local coterie of homosexuals squared off against religious Muslims and Jews determined to defend Jerusalem’s sanctity as “The Holy Land, not the Homo Land”, new battle lines have been drawn.

Last week a local newspaper reported on a woman clothing vendor in an ultra-orthodox neighbourhood near Tel Aviv being sprayed with a bleach solvent as she walked down the street.

The “bleaching for bitches” tactic is just one innovation designed to keep women in the city out of lycra.

Also last week, a group of students from a religious seminary in Jerusalem went on the rampage in a women’s store—liberally dosing the entire store’s merchandise with bleach and staining dye.

Baying for the blood of the store-owners is not all. Women students at religious seminaries now have to sign what has been termed by the online newspaper Y-Net as “modesty regulations”.

These include, but are not limited to, “extra thick stockings; a shirt long enough that even bending down will not rise above the skirt, a skirt that would completely cover the knees”.

All lycra shirts would be prohibited. It is unclear whether testing will be undertaken by the rabbinate to check whether it is in fact lycra, and not spandex or another devilishly malleable fabric that is hidden in the seams of the forbidden shirts.

At the “Modesty Rally” one of the rabbis spoke authoritatively and with first-hand knowledge of how “many girls can be seen on the streets with the shape of their bras and breasts showing”.

Clearly his methods of observation were highly descriptive and noted with pinpoint precision.

One then wonders. Isn’t it Judaism as well as Islam that not just asks for modest dress of its followers, but orders both sexes to “lower their gaze” when beholding a non-related member of the opposite sex.

Which raises the question: Why don’t they just look down?

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