Dozens of Sderot businesses, include the retail SuperPharm and Optica Halperin retail chains, signed a modesty agreement over the past few months under which they guarantee that their workers will make sure to dress modestly. The agreement is the initiative of the Mimaamakim organization, which is supported by the Torah-oriented garin (core group ) there. A business owner who signs the agreement receives a modesty certificate asserting that the premises is "kosher."

So far some 20 stores and businesses in Sderot have signed the agreement, which states that employees will take care to dress modestly, as a form of identification with the "we are all in favor of dignified dress" campaign. The dress code applies also to ads and notices for the business and displaying obscenities. The Mimaamakim organization blesses the business owner "that he merits with God's help all blessings."

Mimaamakim representatives say they are not threatening to boycott businesses that refuse to sign the agreement. However, because considerable buying power is involved, some business owners fear losing customers and are accepting the agreement. An article on the issue appeared last week in the newspaper of Sapir College's media department.

A local clothing store owner who agreed to sign the modesty pact says, "they came to me and asked that the girls who work in the store dress modestly so that we would receive the certificate. You have to realize this organization is influential and I was afraid of losing customers."

According to him, "the girls who work for me have a problem with this; it's simply religious coercion."

Bat Ami Weiselberg has been the manager of the Steimatzky book store branch in Sderot for two years. She says that she recently refused to sign the agreement: "Three weeks ago, a respectable woman came in and told me that she is from Mimaamakim and they grant modesty certification to businesses if they are willing to sign an agreement in which they guarantee that women will come to work in modest dress."

In response to her question of what is modest dress, the woman said "the shirt sleeves should cover the elbows." The agreement she said also covered not displaying things considered obscene.

One Mimaamakim activist said Sunday that "our organization took upon itself the task of strengthening tradition in Sderot. We run a variety of activities in the city, including Torah classes. At one meeting, women approached us and related that there are businesses where they are afraid to send men and children because of the vulgar advertisements. We decided to talk to the owners in a pleasant manner and explain the problem to them."

He said there is no boycott or black list involved, and this was merely a request made of the storeowner.

Mimaamakim said in response that "the project is part of a campaign to spread Jewish spirit. The campaign referred to is a voluntarily effort based on understanding and full cooperation. The decision of business owners to refrain from joining is also welcomed. We hope to continue with all our efforts and benefit from them based on love for our fellows and respect for all, for the welfare of society and the individual in Sderot and the surrounding areas."

SuperPharm did not provide any comment.