Strictly Orthodox women in London have been told not to wear clothes that are red or yellow as “hot colours solicit attention.”
In a letter commissioned by the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and sent to 5,000 homes in and around Stamford Hill, a rabbi advises women that their skirts or dresses must be “at least 4 inches” below the knees and that blouses must hide body shape so the “hips and thighs are camouflaged”.
The edict, written in Yiddish, Hebrew and English by Gateshead-based Rabbi Eliyahu Falk, was published in The Heimishe Newsheet, a local newsletter, as part of Jewish law in the month of Elul, which leads up to Rosh Hashanah.
As well as addressing the appropriate length and width of women’s clothing, it also warns girls and women not to wear anything “eye-catching or “see through”.
Falk’s edict elicited an angry reaction from Orthodox women’s groups, including Dina Brawer, founder of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who said women’s clothing was becoming an obsession for Orthodox men.
“Modesty is indeed a very important Jewish value which applies equally to both women and men,” said Brawer, speaking to The Times.
“It is about a mindset that values dignity and discretion. Tasteful clothing is only one manifestation of this value. Obsessing over women’s hemlines paradoxically undermines this value and smacks of male control.”
By Thursday, the letter had triggered a debate across London, which spilled over into the airwaves, with an Orthodox woman calling LBC to explain that Orthodox men had also been told not to wear red.
Presenter James O’Brien questioned the justification. “Why?” he asked. “Wouldn’t women be able to control themselves if they see a man in red? Well, they’d better not watch Kidderminster Harriers or Manchester United.”