Volume 14, 2009 : Women in Israeli Judaism

Dress and Appearance among Women in Israel’s National Religious Community

Sima Zalcberg and Oz Almog
The Department of Land of Israel Studies
University of Haifa, Israel


Women and girls of Israel’s national religious (Modern Orthodox) community, who are located at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, must balance their religion’s strictures with today’s fashions. The religious world demands that they dress modestly and demurely—in clothing that conceals their sexuality and feminine contours thus keeping men’s desire in check. Western culture, on the other hand, encourages them to be unashamed of their bodies and choose clothes that accentuate their figures and show their skin. To explain how they style their personal appearance, we have mapped and analyzed the characteristics of their dress. Our visual anthropology database includes 2,000 photographs taken in locations where the subgroups within the national religious population congregate, mainly in Jerusalem. Our study shows that the uniform dress code that for years characterized this community has dissolved. The dress, hair style, and other elements of external appearance are manifestations of a dialog taking place between the national religious community and the rest of the Israeli public, as well as in-group negotiations of identity and boundaries. This discourse is indicative of the dynamic state of the national religious community, in which there are many ideas, currents and identities without a central consolidated set of rules.

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