Taliban women are in vogue among extremists. What are Taliban women? Women – they are Jewish, yes – who cover themselves in black entirely, including their heads. There is a sizeable movement of Taliban women in Israel, and some in America (and lots in Saudi Arabia, but they haven’t converted yet).
Apparently, women covering from head to toe is not new to Judaism. According to the Seforim Blog http://seforim.blogspot.com/2012/06/taliban-women-and-more.html there is tradition in Judaism for women to cover themselves completely, even their faces, in some instances one or both eyes! Since in Shir Hashirim the one eye caused the author to declare “Thou has ravished my heart with one of thine eyes” both eyes were then covered up (nevermind that Shir Hashirim is NOT a love poem). Why not cover eyes, those sleazy things that cause men to sin? And I’m sure there was also the halachic advantage that if both eyes were shut off, there wasn’t the serious shayla of which eye to bestow with the honor of blindness.
On an Israeli forum, the Taliban movement is described as a lifestyle, not a dress. http://www.bhol.co.il/Article.aspx?id=41345 The Taliban families allegedly brought a mechitza in between the bride and groom at a wedding. They are coming up with other, less noticeable new expressions of extremism. Clearly, they are falling over themselves in their desire to be holy.
My thoughts of these women is not that they are driven by spirituality and a desire to connect with Judaism. From my experience and understanding, these women are driven by need to be in control, to feel empowered and to be innovative. They want to do all this within the realm of their narrow world of orthodoxy. By dressing outrageously different, they go against the grain, they stand up for themselves and their lifestyle, even while they are limiting themselves more. Like women on weight-loss diets, they too restrict themselves of their free will for the reward of feeling good about themselves. These restrictions give them the feelings that they are “better” than others, a black belt (and frock and shawl) in modesty. They feel like ‘someone’, not just another Hareidi face. For these reasons, women resort to extreme measures in order to make their religiosity stand out to themselves, to people and (thereby they feel) to their God.
I feel the need to add that most mainstream religious Hasidic women I know would be upset and frustrated by these extremists. The only time I have heard criticism on increased religious measures among Hasidim was when these “extremists” appeared on the scene. Mainstream Hasidim see them as a threat to the normal family life, and are probably more frustrated about it than any one of us, for several reasons. Hasidim are more likely to be impacted and even more radicalized by this movement than any other branch of Judaism. Hasidim can also not afford to be so outspokenly disenfranchised with these extremists as can others. They must watch the circus and bite their tongues.