At her tiny clothing store in downtown Jerusalem, Joanne Ginsberg, a transplanted New Yorker, sells clothing with a message.
The baby onesies she designs bear Hebrew inscriptions like “Sweet as Honey,” and she sells an apron that proclaims it is “Kosher for Passover.”
But the T-shirt that appears to be taking off now has more of a subversive than sweet message.
A couple of years ago Ginsberg, an Orthodox mother of seven, quietly added another item to her collection: A tank top bearing the Hebrew words, “Daughter of Israel, Do Not Dress Provocatively.”
That message appears on placards in many ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where women who are dressed in a way considered immodest are sometimes upbraided and occasionally physically attacked.
“This shirt was created after I was harassed in Jerusalem by some women about the way I was dressed,” Ginsberg said on her Facebook page. “I forgot to wear socks.”
Fearful her store would be attacked by religious extremists if she displayed the shirts prominently, Ginsberg kept them tucked in a bag.
“I showed them to progressive Jewish women. I just wanted other Jewish women to love them as much as I did,” she told The Jewish Week. “Slowly and secretly I sold all 20 from my store and then printed more.”
Since then, Ginsberg has sold several more of the shirts, mostly on Etsy, an e-commerce website. At the end of September, Etsy administrators informed Ginsberg that her online shop had suddenly received 1,000 visits.
She has no idea who alerted others to the shirts, “but I’m grateful that orders are coming in,” she said.
Ginsberg got her inspiration after three haredi women cornered her on a hot summer day, when she was dressed in a long skirt and her hair was covered.
“They surrounded me and said they could help me become a better Jewish woman. They could help me reach new levels of modesty.”
The women handed Ginsberg some pamphlets about modesty. Then she had an anxiety attack.
As she rushed to leave the neighborhood she saw posters instructing women to dress modestly.
“I suddenly felt like a slut or a whore. I was running for my life,” she said.
Later that same day Ginsberg saw an old newspaper on the floor with a photograph of a poster with the same declaration.
“I picked up the newspaper and knew I had to make a T-shirt.” That week she created 20 shirts with the modesty warning.
“This is kind of like a ‘burn your bra’ statement put on the breasts of Jewish women. We should be free to choose our own clothing and dress modestly in our own personal style. This shirt is made in Israel,” Ginsberg said.
“There are many Jewesses that need to wear this shirt,” Ginsberg continued. “Each with their own [message.] “There are so many Jewish women living authentic Jewish lives that aren’t suffocating in wool blankets in the heat of the summer to prove how holy they are.”