The news media will have you believe that the Muslim world is the only place where religious police (muttawa) roam the streets looking for sin. And lately, we have been seeing a lot of news pieces about men in Afghanistan throwing acid in the faces of women and girls.
The media suggests that this type of religious fanaticism is exclusive to Islam.
But do you know that there is an equivalent to the muttawa in the Jewish world?
They are called "vaad tznius" or the "modesty patrol."
They are mainly active in the ultra-orthodox areas of Jerusalem. However, if you follow the link to the poster above, you will be shocked to learn that the poster is part of a tznius campaign in New York City Jewish neighborhoods. Will we be seeing "modesty patrols" in New York City?
Notice how similar the Hebrew word "tznius" is to the Arabic word "zinna."
Tznius are the Jewish religious laws that govern the dress of women, and the conduct between the sexes.
Enforcement of the tznius laws go in this order:
The rabbi can elect another man or a group of men to enforce tznius if he chooses.
Any father or husband who fails to enforce tznius laws is accused of permitting his women to be promiscuous, or encouraging them to commit adultry.
The "modesty patrol" has been known to attack both Jewish women and Jewish female children for being "off the derech," meaning off the path of the religious way of living. This is similar what Muslims call being "off the deen."
The tznius patrol has been accused of throwing acid on a teenage girl in Jerusalem. One Jewish woman was beaten by the tznius patrol for refusing to sit in the back seat of a bus.
Worse yet, even Jewish women have gotten into the act although they technically are not responsible for enforcing tznius laws. One woman reports walking out of a store in Israel wearing a dress she had just purchased. Another Jewish woman approached her and threw paint on her dress.
In the Spring 2009 issue of Lilith magazine, one woman describes her encounter with the "modesty patrol."
"When Michal, 28, opened her apartment door one Saturday night in June, she was expecting to find a client for her hair design business. Instead the Israeli divorcee, who left the Orthodox fold some three years earlier, found several ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. They threw her on the floor, gagged her, kicked her all over her body and questioned her relations with men, according to official accounts. After they beat her for at least 10 minutes, they warned her that this was 'just the beginning' and that if she continued to live there she would be killed."
Charges were filed in the attack, but Michal is still trying to deal with her ordeal according to the Lilith article:
"If I was doing something that was not OK, God has enough ways to punish me. They don't have to take the law into their own hands. Who made himself God's policeman? Who has God given the right to come and beat someone in His name?"