[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 07:11 GMT 08:11 UK
Israeli shop opens only to women
By Caroline Hawley
BBC Middle East correspondent, Tel Aviv

Orthodox women browse through the makeup counter
Orthodox women can shop without worrying about being seen by men

You might expect to find one in Saudi Arabia or in other parts of the conservative Middle East, but freewheeling Tel Aviv has just got Israel's first women-only department store.

At first glance it looks like any other department store. Women browse busily through counters of make-up, household goods, clothes and underwear.

But look again, and you'll spot the difference.

There are no bored-looking husbands or boyfriends waiting around. In fact, there's not a single man in sight. Welcome to Israel's first women-only shopping experience.

Sometimes I have to yell at them, sometimes I push them, but I keep them [men] out
Wana Borka,
security guard

No men are allowed up the escalators into this new mall in Tel Aviv's ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Bnei Brak. Any male over the age of 10 who does inadvertently stray upstairs is swiftly removed.

"I chase them out," says 29-year old Wana Borka, the shop's security guard, an immigrant from Romania who once worked undercover for the Taiwanese police.

She bridles at the dress code imposed on her - a long, loose skirt in keeping with the style of the area - but relishes the task of ensuring the store remains a women-only zone.

"Sometimes I have to yell at them, sometimes I push them, but I keep them out," she says.

Orthodox man waiting for his wife
No men are allowed to go up the escalator

And the customers appreciate the unique environment of a modern department store specifically designed for traditional, religious women.

"I feel much more comfortable here because you don't have to worry about who is looking at you, " says Adina Slavin, an immigrant from Australia. "And the other modern malls are all full of clothes that aren't suitable for religious women like me."

The new store is owned by a 33-year old businessman, Yehuda Amar, who has previously been involved in building apartments.

You can try on hats without worrying men will look at you and your uncovered hair
Mariam Mashiach,

"Business is good, and it's better because it's women-only," he says. "It's what the people in this area want. They can look at the lingerie and make-up without worrying about men lurking behind them."

Mariam Mashiach, out shopping with her 16-year old daughter for a new hat, plans to return. "I'd definitely recommend it to my friends," she says.

"Hats are a sign of modesty for married women, and here you can try them on in peace without worrying that men will look at you and your uncovered hair."

Lucrative market

Manager Pnina Greenberg says the mall provides an important social service in an area where the men spend most of their day in prayer and the women have little opportunity to spoil themselves.

"I see the satisfaction on their faces and the light in their eyes," she says. "Women are women wherever they are. It's in their nature to shop."

Israel's million-strong ultra-Orthodox community, with its centuries-old traditions, is proving to be a lucrative market for businesses selling 21st Century services and appliances tailored to meet their religious strictures.

Already, there is a "kosher" mobile phone, approved by the country's rabbinical authorities, which blocks telephone numbers for sex and dating sites.

And those behind Israel's first women-only store believe that "shopping Bnei Brak" may well set a trend in the country.

Rabbis clean up spicy soap advert
24 Nov 04 |  Middle East
Rabbis spark wig burning rumpus
17 May 04 |  Middle East
Jerusalem gets ultra-Orthodox mayor
18 Feb 03 |  Middle East


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific