- Shouldering the Burden of Redemption: How the "Fashion" of Wearing Capes Developed in Ultra-Orthodox Society
- Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
- Indiana University Press
- Number 22, Fall 5772/2011
- pp. 32-55
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Most of the research on modesty and covering one's body considers the stringent modesty norms as reflecting the patriarchal oppression of women. One of the multiple manifestations of "modesty" that have become prevalent in ultra-Orthodox society in recent years is that of women wearing dark-colored capes when they are out in public. This paper discusses how this "fashion" came about, and its religious, social and gender-related implications. The findings show that women play a central role in the institutionalization of stringent modesty rules—in this case, wearing capes—and that they attribute to themselves spiritual powers and abilities in this regard, believing that their behavior can bring about redemption not only for the individual but also for the Jewish people as a whole. Moreover, wearing a cape is a way for women to display their "higher spiritual level," thus upgrading their social status. At the same time, voices in the ultra-Orthodox community have come out against this new "fashion," because it seems to imply that women who do not wear capes are on a lower religious and spiritual level. Either way, wearing capes, like other stringent modesty norms, reflects the collective identity of ultra-Orthodox women and their separation from the general society.