Religious Zionist schools adopt stricter modesty rules

Regulations set a more stringent dress code for six-year-old girls in some state-run schools

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Ultra-Orthodox school girls (illustrative photo; credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox school girls (illustrative photo; credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Numerous religious Zionist public schools across the country have imposed stricter modesty regulations for incoming first- and second-grade girls and their parents.

Religious Zionist schools are non-ultra-Orthodox, state-run institutions akin to the North American modern Orthodox movement in their outlook. Despite their relative progressiveness, parents sending their girls to the schools have been asked to enforce a dress code closer resembling that of the ultra-Orthodox.

According to a Maariv report on Monday, six-year-old girls must wear shirts that cover their elbows “even when raising their hands” and skirts that cover their knees “even when sitting.” The little girls must also wear long and loose pants during physical education classes.

Girls with long hair must tie it back, while their fathers’ haircuts must abide by the “spirit of the school.”

Boys and girls, who are ordinarily learn in gender-segregated classes starting in elementary school, are reportedly now required to remain segregated during recess and after school.

Parents applying to have their children enroll in several religious Zionist schools in Israel have reportedly been asked to fill out questionnaires concerning their personal level of religious observance, the level of religious observance in the home, and the presence of a television or Internet connection in the home.

The trend, while still a minority, was called “an obsessive preoccupation with modesty demands for girls” that “causes an internalization of a difficult message by the students that they must cover any hint of temptation,” in Maariv by Ne’emani Torah Va’Avodah. The latter describes itself as a religious Zionist organization that promotes “tolerance, equality, and justice in religious society.”

Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria denounced the growing trend as “a gradual ultra-Orthodox radicalization of the religious Zionist education system, including an invasion of children’s homes.”

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