Muslim and Jewish Women: Sisters in Tzniut?
03/29/2012 - 11:33
Helen Chernikoff

Muslim And Jewish Women: Sisters In Tzniut?

At first blush, religious Muslim and Jewish women may not seem to have
much in common given the power of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to
dominate conversation and sour relations between the two groups.

But an article in today’s New York Times about a new Turkish magazine
— dubbed the “Vogue of the veiled” there — casts a different light.

The magazine, Ala, which means “the most beautiful of the most
beautiful,” is coming up on its first birthday and has 30,000
subscribers already. It features beautiful women in gorgeous fashions
that adhere to the conventions of Islamic tzniut. Arms, heads and
ankles must be covered; tight pants are forbidden. But at the same
time, it opens a public space in which women can celebrate both their
femininity and their piety.

Some Orthodox women are doing the same thing on the web. Check out
Lady Mama, the work of Chabadnik Mimi Hecht, which revels in the
sensual pleasures of clothing and design. Hecht is loving the color
coral for spring. She not only comments on Gucci’s 2011 catwalk
collection, but says its colors evoke Persia, and Purim.

It seems that both the religious Turkish bourgeoisie and Chabad are
actively creating an important middle ground for women that curtails
Judaism and Islam’s potential to severely limit female freedom. This
middle ground insists on the value of modesty and faith, but also
encourages women to be take a public role. My colleague Julie Wiener
wrote about this in her piece about Chabad’s Kinus conference.

“You can be elegant and sophisticated,” one of Ala’s founders told The
Times. “Female beauty is OK as long as it’s not seductive.”

The nagging question, of course, is who gets to decide what’s
beautiful, and what’s seductive.

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