A few weeks ago we were treated to another example, that of a dog which was supposedly ordered stoned by a religious court after the Chareidi judges declared it to be the reincarnation of a notorious anti-religious lawyer. The story spread quickly and was the source of much mirth at the expense of the Chareidi community, only it also turns out to never have happened. Closest to what I can tell, it seems someone commented on the dog which had wandered into the court building that it was like the animal was a reincarnation of that lawyer and someone said jokingly "Yeah, we should stone it or something". In other words, routine trash talking no different than what happens everywhere all the time only in this case it morphed into a story about those crazy religious and their whacky legal decisions.
Now comes this story from Ynet:
Three weeks ago, Rabbi Zilberstein, the the son-in-law of prominent Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, received an inquiry from a women's college coordinator about a student who is growing increasingly religious. The student said she wanted to dress modestly but her parents were preventing her from doing so, because they were not religious.
"The young woman is facing a difficult challenges from her family members, who forbid her to dress modestly," the college coordinator wrote in the inquiry.
"The young woman thought that if she inflicted wounds on her legs she could tell her parents that she is wearing a long skirt to cover the wounds," the letter said.
Rabbi Zilberstein's reply came shortly after, with an unequivocal answer: "She is allowed to inflict wounds on her legs in order to dress modestly and evade sin."
In his reply, the rabbi commended the student's initiative, saying "the blood from the self-inflicted wound will atone for the people of Israel," adding that the coordinator should allow the student to commit the act.
What are the problems with this story? Well let's start at the top. Here we have a woman at the college level and we are expected to believe that her parents still control how she dresses. What's more, we are to believe that her parents want her to dress in an immodest fashion and are offended by the idea of her covering more of her body. Right, because there are responsible parents out there telling their daughters "Hey cutie, change the outfit. You don't look enough like a whore for us." Am I the only person thinking "Huh?" right now.
Then there is the manner of the remedy. In most parts of the world, self-inflicting wounds on one's body is a sign of mental illness, not a coping method for overcoming the desires of controlling parents. In addition, inflicting damage on oneself without it being for an important purpose like maintaining health or treating illness is generally frowned upon. Rav Zilberstein would certainly be aware of this.
Like many other stories that come out of the Chareidi community, I am reasonably certain this one is either false or a very twisted version of the true occurrence. While I have noted before that there is lots that can be criticized about Chareidim it is too easy to stereotype them into a dysfunctional caricature of themselves and then condemn them for behaviour, usually imagined, that one disagrees with.
When dealing with stories like this, a shaker full of salt, not just a grain, is what is needed.