Clothes-shredding and Mezuzah-kissing: Israelis Urged to Go Religious to Stop Violence

Religious leaders and even politicians are trying to convince Israelis that greater religious observance will help end the violence

Michal Fattal

We all know that in hard times, religious rituals offer comfort and community. And as Israelis feel increasingly fearful and alone as the wave of terror shows no signs of abating, it should come as no surprise that there is an uptick in those turning to Jewish practice to give them the strength to get through scary times.

And yet -- some of the recent phenomena linking personal levels of religiosity with keeping the nation safer have been crossing the line into the realm of downright bizarre.

A subculture of young women are destroying their clothing  - taking scissors and cutting up their wardrobe - because they are being taught that getting rid of flashy trashy outfits will not only make them holier women, but may help protect the nation.

Rabbis, the extremist brand who blamed pork-eating for suicide bombings and homosexuality for missile strikes, also often link “immodest” and provocative clothing on women and girls for bad fortune. 

If you buy this line of thinking, then, the logic presumably goes, the converse must be true - the more modest the women the safer the nation. And so, over the past week, girls and young women have been cutting up sequined tank tops and their tight jeans videotaping the act and passing it on to a  Facebook page that collects and posts them garnering “likes” and encouragement.

Some of the videos show them doing it on their own, others in organized settings. “Prayer is all well and good, but you have to take action,” counsels an older woman as she supervises a girl slicing up her miniskirts.

As another young woman cuts up her clothes in the privacy of her home, some with the price tags still on, she confesses that what is happening in Israel “isn’t easy to watch” and hopes that if “all the young women of Israel” follow her lead, God will ease up on the trials being visited upon his chosen people.

When it comes to the clothes-shredding trend, we are talking about young, impressionable, and often uneducated young women.  

From Israel’s political leaders, one expects to hear more level-headed solutions for keeping us safe.  And yet, in a new video, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev promotes mezuzahs as one of the ways to keep people safe. In the  video, Regev is shown sitting in her Knesset office, her trademark huge Israeli flag in the background and a photo of the Baba Sali, the late Moroccan Sephardic rabbi and kabbalist believed to have been capable of performing miracles. Regev sings the praises of the mezuzah - the piece of parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses that Jews put on the doors of their homes.

“To me, a mezuzah means protection, preservation, that it is a Jewish home that the Lord is watching over,” says Regev.

היה לי הכבוד להשתתף בקמפיין המזוזות של איגוד רבני הקהילות. כשנשאלתי מהי מזוזה עבורי עניתי שמזוזה היא הגנה על הבית, מקום שהקב"ה שומר עליו. בשורות טובות, מירי

For political balance, Regev is paired in the video with Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Union, also sitting in his office, also enthusing over what it means to have a mezuzah on the door. Cabel says that a mezuzah “supplies the spirit of the home, it doesn’t just guard it physically, but spiritually.”

The video in which the two politicians appear is part of a campaign by the “Organization of Community Rabbis” promoting a new smartphone application that allows Israelis to get the scrolls on their mezuzot officially checked out by a rabbi without leaving the house - you take a photo of your parchment, and send it in. Rabbi Amichai Eliahu told the Hebrew website Ynet that the project reflects “a desire of the People of Israel to do mitzvot that will help guard their personal security.” The post promoting the project on the group’s Facebook page declares explicitly that the push for the project comes “in the aftermath of our difficult times.”

Linkage between religious practice and personal safety may not be an official theme of the Shabbos Project, an international effort to convince Jews worldwide to observe a traditional Orthodox Shabbat scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

But informally, in Israel, the appeal to participate in the project, which involves community prayers, Shabbat meals, and challah bakes, has been accompanied by the subtext that more Jews keeping the Sabbath will move things along when it comes to redemption.  One of my Facebook friends posted: “Frankly the Messiah coming seems more likely than anyone solving the problems in the Middle East. So in hope of a solution, how about Jews all over the world keep this Shabbat to bring that miracle we desperately need!”

Nobody wants to be a spoilsport when it comes to hoping for miracles. The urge to do something - anything - to keep themselves and their loved one safe is utterly human.

And still, these trends feel unsettling. Furthermore, linkage between Orthodox belief and practice and safety is insulting to the Jews who continue to be murdered and injured in the latest rounds of violence. There is likely nowhere in the world with a greater proportion of Jews devotedly observing their religion’s religious rituals in Jerusalem and West Bank settlements than anywhere else in the country. If keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath and dressing modestly, was, in fact, any kind of form protection against pain and suffering, wouldn’t it be the “sinful” Sodom and Gomorrah of Tel Aviv that would be under attack?

Religious observance can be comforting, but neither kissing a mezuzah, celebrating Shabbat by the book, or cutting up our bikinis will ultimately help protect any of us. Only level-headed leaders with vision and determination - on both sides of this intractable conflict - can do that.

That kind of leadership, sorely lacking these days, is something worth praying for.