Hasidic boys’ school warns parents that collarless shirts invite predators

“Going with such a shirt that doesn’t cover the body appropriately unwittingly causes difficult temptations in other people,” a letter says

Left: Letter from school quoting Satmar Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelmbaum. Right: Collarless shirt. Credit: Egoitz Bengoetxea Iguaran (iStockPhoto)

Sep 26, 2023 10:20 AM


A Hasidic boys’ school in Kiryas Joel sent a letter warning parents that collarless shirts put their children in danger of being harmed by predators. The school, Mosdos Satmar V’Yoel Moshe, serves boys aged 3 to 16 in the Zalmanite faction of the Satmar community.

Hasidic schools have long required students and their parents to sign agreements to follow certain rules in order to attend – such as not using the unfiltered internet, or, for girls, dressing according to Hasidic modesty expectations. This year, yeshiva V’Yoel Moshe sent a letter warning parents that collarless shirts invite abuse. The letter was a response to parents’ questioning of a new dress code requiring collared shirts for boys.

The letter says school leadership has “clearly proven that a child that goes with such a shirt is much more likely to be a target of unwanted elements,” adding, “the danger is just as much for little kids as for older kids.”

The letter suggests collarless shirts in school children cause temptation in predators. “Going with such a shirt that doesn’t cover the body appropriately unwittingly causes difficult temptations in other people, which they wouldn’t have had if kids went [to school] dressed as they’re supposed to,” the letter says.

The three-page letter asserts that the school leadership didn't make this decision on whim and that it weighed it thoroughly. The letter does not say who poses a risk to the children, and whether they are adults or children, part of the school’s community, or not.

The letter explicitly appealed to parents to join the school in helping to enforce the dress code.

“Parents need to know and remember that we live today, unfortunately, in a very rotten world,” the letter says. “Nobody even wants to know what the leadership of the yeshiva knows.”

A parent whose sons attend the Zalmanite school – who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against their family – said they believe the letter misplaces the blame for abuse.

“They’re explaining that if a child doesn’t wear this [collared] shirt, he’s causing pedophiles, he’s causing older people to get horny on him, he’s grooming older adults, which is totally ridiculous,” the parent said. If the school employs anyone who is sexually excited by children, the parent said, “They should not be keeping such adults in their school at all.”

The other Satmar faction in Kiryas Joel is also ramping up its rules about boys’ dress, including on the fit of the crotch of boys’ pants. According to parents, UTA of Kiryas Joel, which serves boys in the Aaronite faction of the Satmar Hasidic sect, began sending home report cards specifically on the children’s attire. They grade students’ shirts, pants, yarmulkes, and shoes on criteria such as color and size, according to a report card shared with Shtetl. The “width of the crotch” of a student’s pants might be “good,” “acceptable,” or “fitted,” while the “depth” might be “good,” “acceptable,” or “becomes uncovered when you raise your hand or bend over.”

Neither UTA of Kiryas Joel, nor Mosdos Satmar V’Yoel Moshe, responded to voicemail messages left by Shtetl on Thursday evening.

In June, Shtetl reported on new restrictions regarding boys’ clothing in Monsey. At that time, a new group called The Committee for Proper Clothing announced itself, claiming to be endorsed by a number of Haredi schools. The group asserted it was concerned about, “fashions and styles that have infiltrated among boys’ clothing, which come from the non-Jewish street and which are inappropriate for our students according to Jewish law and our religious beliefs.”

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.