Sometime in the late '70's, there was a riot in Williamsburg (NYC). Satmar Hassidim, ran riot in the local Police Station on Shabbat (I don't remember why). I do recall that when one of the rampaging Satmarer was asked why he and his cohorts were rioting (and on Shabbos, yet), he replied: 'If the Blacks can do it, so can we!' (Of course, he used the Yiddish word...). Anyway, the next day, after Kollel Seder at YU, I happened to discuss this episode with one of the Roshe Yeshiva. I will never forget his comment (as he's one of the smartest, most perceptive people I know). He noted that here are Satmar Hassidim, who pride themselves on their absolute detachment from anything Western or American, self-consciously modelling themselves on Black militants. They are, he concluded, more assimilated than they wish to admit.I thought about this episode, when I received this article from Thursday's Haaretz (courtesy of Aviad Stollman). It describes the new fashion in Haredi circles, wearing a chador-like covering for reasons of modesty. It appears that even Haredi rabbis are most disturbed by it. Personally, I don't know why they're surprised. Tzni'us for women (not, G-d forbid for men) has long been a, no the, central concern of rabbis, educators and parents. Every social evil in the Orthodox community (and beyond) has been attributed to the failure of religious women to cover up 'properly'. For example, about ten years ago, there was a serious drug problem in a Haredi neighborhood. What was the rabbinic response? They started a campaign to get married women to cover more hair. Their moral lassitude, it was declared, was responsible for the drug problem.
Now, I firmly believe in modest attire ('according to Orthodox tradition' as the wedding invitations say) for both men and women. I am also very much aware of the fact that the more secular society tramples sexual and social boundaries, there is a natural (and totally understandable) reaction to compensate and dig in.
There is, however, a limit. My wife's great-grandfather, a Lubavitcher Hassid, was wont to say: דער גרעסטער מצווה איז ניט צו זיין קיין נער. Roughly translated: 'The biggest mitzva is not to be an idiot,' and this is insane. It also, as the Haredi Bes Din in the article noted, comes perilously close to active imitation of non-Jewish RELIGIOUS behavior (חוקות הגוי), about which I happen to know something. In fact, when I was reading my friend Judy Miller's book, God Has Ninety Nine Names, I was struck by the fact that the the first thing the Taliban (and all other jihadis) do when they take power is to throw a shmatte on the women. Evidently, as with the Satmar Hassidim, Haredi society is becoming more assimilated than it realizes (or is willing to admit).