Jews at the Western Wall
in Jerusalem during Sukkot Conservative Jews in Israel include the strict Orthodox Jews and the even stricter ultra-Orthodox Jews. Comprising only 10 to 15 percent of the Jewish population in Israel, they make a substantial portion of the population of Jerusalem and are well represented in the Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. Many are Sephardim.
Haredim (“Those who tremble”) are Jewish fundamentalists who strictly observe Jewish laws and customs and follow the dictates of their rabbis. They live apart as much as possible from the secular world, which they regard as intrinsically corrupt. Yeshivas is a term sometimes used to describe born-again Jews. A Yeshiva is a religious school.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have been described as “right-wing, xenophobic and anti-intellectual.” Their society has been called obsessed with appearances, lacking in compassion or kindness and deeply hypocritical and cruel in its rigid interpretations.” The ultra-Orthodox value adherence to religious doctrine more than hard work. They believe they have the right to violate the laws of the state because they follow higher laws.
Book: Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist by Yossi Klein Halevi (Little, Brown and Co., 1995)
Websites and Resources: Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Judaism and Jewish Resources shamash.org/trb/judaism ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah’org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; Judaism.com judaism.com ; ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article on Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Origin of Judaism adath-shalom.ca ;Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish Culture and History Resources ddickerson.igc.org/judaica ;
Books: A Short History of Judaism by I. And D. Cohn-Sherlok (1994); The Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill; Ancient Biblical History Books: Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times by Donald Redford; Oxford Companion to the Bible ; Palestine Bible as History by Werner Keller; The Bible Unearthed by I. Finkelstein & N. Asher Silberman ; Historical Atlas of the Holy Lands by K. Farrington
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Lifestyle
The ultra-Orthodox lifestyle is rigidly organized to the point that individuals have to make few decisions. Faithful are given instructions on when to wake up and wash, what to eat, and how to pray. Religious communities are hierarchal with rabbis and family leaders making decisions. There is little contact between males and females. Weddings are arranged and freedom and equality are given a low priority.
One ultra-Orthodox Jew told the Los Angeles Times with “the haradi education, you internalize, minimize your physical presence. You learn to be closed and withdrawn. If you walk the street with a friend, you may speak normally, but you lower your voice whenever you enter a store...I had an invisible wall around me.” For many ultra-Orthodox Jews their greatest joy is isolating themselves in small room and studying the Talmud.
Many ultra-Orthodox cloister themselves in their communities to protect themselves from exposure to the profane. Their ultra-Orthodox communities meet their needs and take care of them. Those that decide to leave the community often have great difficultly dealing with an independent life and making decision in secular society. Special organizations in Israel have been set up to help them.
Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Rules
Orthodox dress code The ultra-Orthodox view televison as a vehicle of profanity. Many ultra-Orthodox households don’t even have a television. Secular newspapers, novels, works by people like Freud and Darwin and pop music are regarded as corrupting influences and prohibited.
Some boys are so worried about the consequences of masturbating that they tie their hands to keep themselves from touching themselves.
Orthodox Judaism forbids men and women from praying together. In synagogues, men and women congregate in separate areas. In large gathering and men and women—segregated by sex—pray, dance and sing.
Ultra-Orthodox Views on Women
One Ultra-Orthodox rabbi compared walking between two women with walking between two donkeys and advised men not to talk to women lest they take on the qualities of these inferior beings.
Women are treated by ultra-Orthodox Jews almost the same way women are treated by Muslim extremists. They are excluded from religious and non-religious activities, and required to remain sequestered inside the home and cover themselves when the go outside. The primary duty is raising children.
Orthodox couple on Shabbat in Jerusalem Women have been viciously insulted, spat upon and attacked on the streets by ultra-Orthodox for wearing trousers and exposing their arms. The confrontations become particularly common in the summer when they wear more revealing clothing in the hot weather.
Women are restricted and segregated in Judaism according to Jewish law and the traditional “division of roles.” Women have traditionally been segregated from men in synagogues during prayers by partitions and prevented from reading the Torah aloud at the Western Wall (which men can do). Orthodox rabbis have ruled that its inappropriate for women to wear skullcaps and prayer shawls and sing during worship or even pray aloud. Their voices are considered to be “provocative and rude.”
According the Talmud the segregation of the sexes is based on a precedent established at the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, where most religious duties were carried out by men and women were regarded as a distraction. Unlike men, women are not obligated to attend daily prayers and their presence, except among Reformed Jews, does not count toward a minyan (congregation)
Jewish Ultra-Orthodox Rules and Women
Sign pertaining to the segregation
of women on buses Married women are required to conceal their hair. Some women shave their heads and then wrap their heads in plain scarves. Modesty squads patrol ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, posting signs that read: "Passage Permitted Only to Women Dressed Modestly: Long Dress (longer than knee length), Long Sleeves (Beyond Elbow Length), Close Neckline.
In the Ultra-Orthodox world women can not become rabbis, serve as witnesses in rabbinical courts, nor obtain a religious divorce without permission from their husbands. There is no Hebrew word for a female rabbi because Orthodox Jews insist there is no such thing.
Ultra-Orthodox believe it is unclean for men to come in contact with women when they are having their period. In some ultra-Orthodox societies menstruating women are not allowed to leave their room or touch anyone or anything lest they make it unclean. For their entire period the women stay in their rooms. Food and drink are brought to them in specials dishes on special trays. Before their period they are required to take a ritual premenstrual bath.
Work and the Jewish Sabbath
Sabbath elevator on-off switch Orthodox Jews are not allowed to do anything on the Sabbath that can be construed as work. Jewish law, or Halakha, outlines 30 categories of work that can not be performed on the Holy Day, including driving a car, using a telephone, listening to radio, watching television, lighting fires, turning on lights,, writing, operating machinery. To satisfy fundamentalists Israel's national airline El Al does not fly on the Sabbath.*
Figuring out what is acceptable on the Sabbath and what isn’t has been described “one of the greatest complexities of Judaism. Even pushing the button of an elevator can be construed as work. Hotels in Israel have special elevators for the Sabbath which stop at every floor so no one does any work by pushing a button. The Institute of Science and Halacha has extended great effort into making even submarines Sabbath-compliant.
Completing an electrical circuit is considered work and ultra-Orthodox engineers have gone through great lengths to devise milking machines, metal detectors, motorized wheelchairs, medical machines, computers and alarms that work using circuits that remained closed all the time and thus can be used on the Sabbath. To get around the restriction on writing it engineers have developed pens whose ink disappears after a few days (writing is defined as leaving a permanent mark).
There are laws on the books in Israel that prohibit teenagers from working on the Sabbath. Ultra-Orthodox Jews want to see similar rules that prevent people from going to beach, visiting shopping malls and talking on their cell phones on the Sabbath. One ultra-Orthodox rabbis went as far as saying that Sabbath violators “will be killed,”
Jews in Khorostkiv in western Ukraine in 1917 Hasidic Jews are extremely pious and mystical ultra-Orthodox Jews known for their unusual clothing styles and preservation of 18th century customs and rituals. They are also known for their strong devotion to individual leaders, their ascetic lifestyles, ecstatic religion experiences, devotion to prayer and study and their emphasis on the traditional Jewish concept of simple delight in the service of God.
Hasidic Jews usually speak Yiddish as their first language or their only language. They often live in isolated communities and rigidly follow strict rules but also lose themselves in mystical, ecstatic experiences with God that are not unlike those experienced by evangelical Christians.
The Hasidic movement was founded in central Europe in the 18th century by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tob (Boav Shem Toyva), a mystic who lived in Medshibish Ukraine, now regarded as a great center of Hasidism. The Hasidic communities in central Europe were largely wiped out during the Holocaust. Most Hasidic Jews are found in Israel and the United States.
Hasidic groups often are like cults led by a particular, charismatic rabbi. Among the more well known ones are Ba’al Shem Tov, Dov Baer and Jacob Joseph.
Hasidic Clothing and Hairstyles
Grand Rabbis Covered from head to toe in black, Hasidic men wear ankle-length frock coats ( rekel ) and broad, round-rimmed Fedora-style hats. On the Sabbath and holidays they wear sombrero-style fur hats ( streimel ). Ziziths are ritual fringes that hang below the hems of suits that remind ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Lord’s commandments.
Like conservative Muslim women, Hasidic women are mostly hidden away in the houses. When they do come out their arms, necks. legs and heads have to be covered, usually in black. Some married women shave their heads and wear wigs when they go out. Men and women wear their traditional clothes even during the hottest months of the summer.
The identity of Hasidic sects, the origin of the ancestors, their piety and income level can be determined by those with sharp eyes and the correct knowledge by examining the brim width, crown height and fur-type of streimel . [Source: David Remnick, The New Yorker]
Payot on young Hasidic man The long strands of braided or unbranded hair that hangs down in front of the ears of Hasidic Jewish men are called payees (singular payot ), or earlocks, which sometimes are tightly curled and other times are thick and straight. When a Hasidic boy is about eight he receives his first ceremonial haircut: his entire head is shaved except a four inch square in front of his ears with a dangling earlock. The ritual is performed during an annual festival of Zefat and is done in accordance with the Biblical command, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads..."♣
Hasidic Jews often beards and long hair like the prophets in the Bible. One famous rabbi never got a haircut because it would have meant removing his yarmulke, which would have obligated him to stop learning.
Headgear is very important in defining one’s identity. Moroccan Sephardim wear multicolored embroidered caps. Modern Orthodox Zionist favor small knitted kipa , or scullcaps. The followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson sport felt fedoras. The identity of Hasidic sects, the origin of their ancestors, their piety and income level can be determined by those with sharp eyes and the correct knowledge by examining the brim width, crown height and fur-type of shtreimel , the sombrero-style hats worn by Hasidic men on the Sabbath and holidays. [Source: David Remnick, The New Yorker]
Customs of Hasidic Jews
Payesuman Hasidic Jews have a belief that has been described as passionate superstition. The painter Marc Chagall once said that Hasidic Jews in his home town used to believed "behind every blade of grass stands an angel urging it on: Grow! Grow!”
Describing a group prayer session, the sister of a Hasidic Jew wrote in Newsweek, The rebbe “began to slice the air feebly with karate-chop waves of the right hand, turning toward each member of his flock standing before him. The Hasidm leaned from the benches and chopped back feverishly, eager to catch the rebbe’s glance and receive his blessing...All around me, Hasidm began to chant with joy. The sound rolled over me like the blast from a great church organ...We began to swayback and forth...It was impossible not to feel stirred by such emotion.”
Sabbath meals among Hasidic Jews are ritualist events with multiple layers of meaning, often incorporating re-enactments of ritual sacrifice and deep love for other Jews. A meal sometimes ends with a rugby-scrum-like surge towards an esteemed rabbi to grab food that has been touched and blessed by him.
Hasidic girls During a Yom-Kippur-eve ritual Hasidic Jews wave a chicken over themselves and their families in the belief that their sins will be transferred to the chicken. After the bird is killed and plucked it is made into a soup.
Hasidic Men and Women
In some Hasidic sects, males over the age of nine can not touch members of the opposite sex other than their wives and they are not allowed to touch them in public. Some married couples sleep with a bed sheet between them that has a hole to allow sexual relations.
Marriage and wedding customs vary from sect to sect. In some sects, men dance with other men in line dances and after a wedding the bride shaves her hair and covers her head so as not to temp other men.
Hasidic Jews, Ecstasy and the Diamond Business
ecstacy Much of the trade in large carat diamonds in the United States is controlled by Hasidic Jews. Andrew Cockburn wrote in National Geographic, The diamond businesses "revolves around personal contacts and connections, thrives on rumor and gossip and cherishes secrecy. Multimillion -dollar deals are clinched with a handshakes and the word mazal , Hebrew for "good luck." Van Bockstael told National Geographic, "Nothing is what it seems in the diamond business, and half the time you don't even know if that is true."
The diamond business is regarded as a tough nut to crack. A Tel Aviv diamond merchant told the New York Times magazine, “The diamond company is usually a family company. People accumulate wealth slowly, over generations.” Many diamond businesses have tight security. Some have systems in their offices that photograph and fingerprint every person who enters.
Ecstasy Couriers to the United States have included Hasidic Jews, middle-class Texas families and Los Angeles strippers. Young Hasidic Jews, recruited because they were believed to arouse little suspicion by customs inspectors, reportedly have been given $1,500 each for carrying 30,000 to 45,000 pills in their suitcases.
Lubavitchers and Rabbi Schneerson
Rabbi Schneerson Chabad-Lubavitch is a Hasidic Branch of Judaism with Kabbalist roots. Founded in Belarus in the 18th century and is now based in Brooklyn, it has 3,000 organizations in 75 countries whose goal is to prepare their host cities for the coming of the Messiah. In the meantime Chabad Houses provide religious support and community services for Jewish expats. Members of sect are active in the former Soviet Union, setting up Jewish schools, community centers and orphanages.
Lubavitchers are named after Lubavichy, a town near Smolensk, Russia, where the movement was based from 1813 to 1915. Many of its followers believe that Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in Brooklyn in 1994 and was the seventh and last leader of the group, was the Messiah or kind of pre-Messiah. Among other things Schneerson encouraged parents to put blessings such as psalms in the cribs of newborn infants.
A number of miracles have been attributed to Schneerson. In July 1992, for example, the daughter of a woman diagnosed with stomach cancer asked Schneerson for a blessing and was told to put mezuzas through her house, light Shabbis candles and perform good deeds. The mother did all things. Three days later when a biopsy was performed no cancer was found. Her doctor said, “Someone’s prayers were answered.” Schneerson’s office receives more than 1,000 letters day requesting blessings.
United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth Chabad-Lubavitch stresses an inclusive approach to religion. A Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi in Tokyo told the Japanese Times, “Chabad is for Jews, but for non-Jews as well. We don’t open solely for Jews, because God created everyone. Most of our friends are Japanese . We’re not trying to covert people. God created many different nations, and they don’t need to bother to change or become kosher.
Chabad-Lubavitch followers are called Chabadnicks, They are regarded as fundamentalists and are much more involved in missionary work, even proselyting, than has traditionally been the norm, among Jewish sects. Chabadnicks have many similar views as fundamentalist Christian and Muslims. They regard homosexuality as a sexual perversion and are anti-abortion. In Israel they support the right-wing Greater Israel party. One of its leaders Rabbi Eliiezer Shach has described Chabad-Lubavitch as the sect closest to true Judaism.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011