In the large and growing Orthodox Jewish communities around New York and elsewhere, rabbinic leaders are sounding an alarm about an unexpected problem: a wave of anorexia and other eating disorders among teenage girls.
While no one knows whether such disorders are more prevalent among Orthodox Jews than in society at large, they may be more baffling to outsiders. Orthodox women are famously expected to dress modestly, yet matchmakers feel no qualms in asking about a prospective bride’s dress size — and her mother’s — and the preferred answer is 0 to 4, extra small.
Rabbis say the problem is especially hard to treat because of the shame that has long surrounded mental illness among Orthodox Jews.
“There is an amazing stigma attached to eating disorders — this is the real problem,” said Rabbi Saul Zucker, educational director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, or O.U., the organization that issues the all-important kashrut stamp for food. “But hiding it is not going to make it go away. If we don’t confront it, it’s going to get worse.”