Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Chassidish, Heimish, Amish!

Today was a particularly fascinating day at the Biblical Museum of Natural History. Over the course of the day, we had 120 impeccably behaved chassidishe kids, some heimishe families... and an Amish family!

I did a double-take when I saw them. My first thought was, How did they get to Israel? On a horse-drawn airplane? But then I realized that this was a naive question. There are all kinds of Amish people, just as there all kinds of Orthodox Jews. There are Jews who consider themselves Orthodox but disregard Torah principles regarding sexual behavior, and there are Jews who consider themselves Orthodox but disregard Torah principles regarding the ideal of self-sufficiency.

This lovely Amish family, from Iowa, was clearly Modern Orthodox Amish (or perhaps even Open Orthodox). They had a Nikon SLR camera, although I couldn't tell if it was digital or film. The husband was indistinguishable from any other American, except that he was speaking Pennsylvania Dutch to his family. The wife and daughters, though, had the "look" - bonnets and long-sleeved long dresses of a single color. It occurred to me that Amish tzniyus makes much more sense than contemporary Orthodox Jewish tzniyus.


It was a real pleasure to meet this family (and it was a treat for the other people on the tour, too). However, I am not posting a photo of them; I wouldn't want any Cross-Currents writers to start a heresy-hunt against them!

27 comments:

  1. I saw ultra orthodox Amish in Jerusalem. They are allowed to fly in planes and cars - just not own them.

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  2. There are quite a lot of different Amish and Mennonite communities, with many variations in the approach to technology. In very broad terms, Old Order communities will avoid many forms of technology that New Order communities permit. These people weren't heretics or "Amish lite," they just didn't fit into your preconceptions.

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  3. http://amishamerica.com/whats-the-difference-between-new-order-and-old-order-amish/ on different practices among the Amish

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  4. http://groups.etown.edu/amishstudies/social-organization/diversity/ Another website.

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  5. A few gentle criticisms of terminology:

    Modern Orthodox Jews don't violate any Torah principles, at least not by definition. There are some who do and many who don't, just like any other part of the Orthodox world.

    Same for the Amish. The group you saw wasn't violating any Amish principles; there are just many different Amish (and Mennonite) groups with many different standards.

    As to tzniut, there are Orthodox Jews and there are Orthodox Jews. I recall the story of some charedi rav who visited one of the shtachim and was struck by how much more tzenuah the women there were than the typical charedi women. It's about more than how much skin is covered, of course.

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  6. Did they say they were Amish? If not, they might have been members of some slightly more moderate group such as the Mennonites. In any case, there is a good children's novel, "Gideon' People," about an Orthodox Jewish peddler's son who is injured in an accident near an Amish farm in 1911. The father leaves him in the care of the farm family, with the whispered reminder, "Remember who you are." Similarities between Yiddish and "Pennsylvania Dutch" (actually a German dialect) allow the boy and the family to communicate and get to know each other while the boy recuperates. The parallels and differences between the cultures make for interesting reading.

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  7. Why must an interesting post about visitors to the museum contain so many digs at haredim?

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    1. There was one "dig" at haredim (and one positive comment), one at Open Orthodox, one at all Orthodox (including me), and one at Cross-Currents.

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    2. Are you kidding? Have you ever read this blog?

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  8. Obligatory Frisco Kid reference. (With bonus Hebrew and Arabic subtitles).

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    1. At the risk of playing the role of party pooper to a brilliant scene, it bothers me that in this portrayal of Amish they weren't able to understand Gene Wilder's Yiddish at all. I'm guessing that there would exist enough cross breeding between Pennsylvania 'Dutch' (German) and Yiddish that they would have been able to communicate.

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    2. They kind of make that joke towards then end where one asks "Does he speak German?" and the other answers "That's not German".

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    3. I was thinking that too. But then he starts talking about how the robbers almost killed him, using the Hebrew word "harag," and I definitely can see how they wouldn't understand him.

      Remember also that German speakers don't always understand each other. Someone from Hamburg, say, is going to have a very hard time understanding a Swiss German speaker. (This is called a linguistic continuum. Flemish speakers understand Dutch, Dutch speakers understand Low German, etc. etc. all the way to German northern Italy, but there's no way an Afrikaner will be able to understand someone from Austria.) Yiddish and Pennsylvania German are both derived from High German, but all sorts of things happened along the way.

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  9. Is it safe to assume that the terms "Amish" and "heimish" have the same Old German root? That makes it even closer than you would think!

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    1. I too thought this might be the case. But in fact the sect is named for its founding preacher, Jakob Ammann.

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    2. Apparently the name derives from their movement's founder (Ammann).

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    3. In other words, Amish mean B'nei Yisrael! (Jakob)

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  10. I'm not inclined to think that Amish tnius women's clothing is any more sensible than ours. In fact, it seems to have many of the same drawbacks -- it's impractical to much of the hard work that women do, it's not suited to warm weather, and it's apparently stressed to the same ridiculous extreme that women's attire is in our community, if this "modernische" family had the man in secular clothing and the women still in traditional.

    The Amish are exotic to us, but that doesn't make their fundamentalism any cuter or more sensible than our own.

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    1. I don't think they dress that way on the farm.

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    2. Johanna,

      Rabbi Slifkin wasn't passing judgement on G-d's laws (as you seem to be doing). He was passing judgement on our interpretation of them. He was pointing out that many Orthodox women may be keeping the letter of the law (by covering what G-d requires to be covered) but not its spirit considering that they wear dresses with all sorts of eye-catching colors and color combinations etc. The Amish women he saw, in contrast, wear one color.

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  11. LOL. I was thinking of that reference also.

    I think some haraidim consider the long skirt immodest.

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    1. I think that my daughter told me that there was a length limit on the skirts that they would accept in her school.

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    2. R. Moshe Heinneman (of Baltimore) once illustrated the point nicely: If a woman walks into a wedding reception with a regular knee length skirt and a regular everything else, and another woman walks in covered from head to toe with a medieval suit of armor, who is more in keeping with the concept of tznius?

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    3. Like many aspects of tzniyut, it depends on the community. In many parts of the Dati Leumi world in Israel, long skirts are the norm.

      In any event, I don't see a comparison to a suit of armor, even if everyone else is wearing shorter skirts.

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    4. Of course not, a suit of armor has "pants" and not a "skirt" :).

      More seriously, that view of Tznius slides down into an anti-woman stance very quickly ("why should their want their pictures be visible anyhow; it's attention grabbing?" and "please move to the back of the bus"). I think that we should stick to basic "don't go out partially naked" (by some standard of partially naked) and leave the rest to the Midos of both women and men. The absurd book "Oz VeHadar Levushah" tries to go with the "attention" theory and ends up in a horrible place, IMO.

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  12. Yes, wigs for example are not appropriate:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78rzu-jdo80

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  13. While many people idealize the Amish because their way of life hearkens back to simpler times, unfortunately they are amongst the cruelest of cruel when it comes to animals. They are THE major force in the US for puppy mills, where dogs are kept under the most horrific conditions possible throughout Pennsylvania (and other states as well). I won't go into the gory details here, you can google Amish Puppy Mills or check youtube and see for yourself. This is not just a few wayward Amish families responsible; the dog breeding industry is a huge money maker for many Amish families and the conditions are truly appalling.

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