Via the New York Post:
Brooklyn has lost its right to bare arms. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, trying to ban sleeveless tops and plunging necklines from their aisles. It’s only the latest example of the Hasidic community trying to enforce their strict religious laws for everyone who lives near their New York enclave.
“No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” declare the English/Spanish signs that appear in stores throughout the Hasidic section of the hipster haven. The retailers do not just serve Jews — they include stores for hardware, clothes and electronics. Hebrew speakers are also put on notice: “Entry here in modest dress only,” the signs read. When a Post reporter visited Lee Avenue in a sleeveless dress, some store owners stared at her shoulders, while others refused to look her in the face. The policy, an outgrowth of the sect’s 200-year tradition of dressing modestly, is rankling non-Hasidic residents.
“Religious freedom is one thing, but we do not have the right to enforce our beliefs on someone else,” charged Bob Kim, 39, comfy in tight jeans and a T-shirt.
“Why should they be able to say that on their signs? It’s not OK,” added Hana Dagostin, 32, wearing a sleeveless top.
“People should be able to wear what . . . makes them comfortable,” said Fabian Vega, 34, also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Store owners and managers defended the dress code.
“We have our way of life, and this is the way we want everyone to respect that,” said Shalom Cooper, a manager at Glauber’s Cuisine on Division Avenue.
Orthodox men typically wear suits and black hats in public, while women dress in long-sleeved blouses and below-the-knee skirts.
“We’re not concerned about the way women dress in Manhattan — but we are concerned with bringing 42nd Street to this neighborhood,” said Mark Halpern, who is Orthodox and lives in Williamsburg.
Some called the policy un-American.
“It’s further evidence of this era’s move toward Balkanization in the United States,” said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo School of Law. “It’s no longer sufficient that they have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”
The dress code appears to be the latest effort by the Hasidic community to separate itself from the greater population. There’s an Orthodox ambulance service and a private police force called the Shomrim. On the B110, a privately operated public bus line that runs through Orthodox Williamsburg and Borough Park, women are told to sit in back, also in accordance with Orthodox customs. The neighborhood embarked on a successful 2009 crusade to remove bike lanes from a 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue — fearful of the scantily clad gals who would pedal through. Even Hillary Clinton was caught up in the mix last year — her image in the situation room the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing was scrubbed from a Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper because readers might have been offended by a woman’s presence in a sea of men.
“There’s a movement toward insularity among religious groups. It’s dangerous for tolerance, and it’s also dangerous for peace,” Hamilton said.
City lawyer Gabriel Taussig said the signs appeared kosher, provided they don’t “impermissibly discriminate based upon gender, religion or some other protected class.”
But the dress code covers up a bigger problem, according to Shulem Deen, a former Hasid who now lives in Bensonhurst.
“It goes to the basic human value of empathizing with others that are not like you, and I think the Hasidim have no awareness of such a concept,” he said
It’s up to those who own the stores to set the dress code for their customers, but it’s difficult not to feel a little depressed by this tale. E Pluribus Unum and all that…