Haredim is a conventional name for ultra-Orthodox Jewish religious communities and their members who live in Israel and beyond.
The word “haredi” means “trembling” before God. The Haredi community lives according to Jewish customs formed in the 20th century and the traditional canons of Judaism. Members of the community strive to live according to the commandments and follow Jewish rules and customs. They learn the Torah throughout their lives.
Ultra-religious parties advocating the observance of the Torah laws at the state level represent the political interests of the Haredim in the Israeli parliament and local authorities. Usually, Haredi members of parliament do not hold ministerial posts, but they can be deputy ministers.
In Israel, approximately 1 million people (19% of Israel’s Jews aged 20 years and older) are Haredim.
Haredim are divided into groups based on different criteria. For example, according to customs and origin, there are two groups:
There are also different currents of Haredim in Judaism:
This is a movement which was founded by the Baal Shem-Tov in the middle of the 18th century. For the Hasidim, it is not knowledge that plays the most important role in religion, but feelings and emotions. They have many communities (courts) that are headed by a rebbe—a spiritual mentor. The Hasidim differ from the rest in their clothes and traditions.
This is a conservative community of traditional Judaism formed in Eastern Europe in the eighteenth century. They hold views opposite to the Hasidim, focusing on rationalism rather than on the emotional aspect when studying the Torah. The Lithuanian direction is also called “Misnagdim”, which means “opponents”, that is, direct opponents of the Hasidim. Vilna Gaon, Chazon Ish and Chofetz Chaim were the most influential rabbis of this movement.
This movement of the Haredim of Israel also includes the Sephardic Orthodox Jews. Their number is about 300 thousand people.
These are conservative followers of religious Zionism, close to the ultra-Orthodox Haredim in their lifestyle.
All these movements are divided conditionally and there are no clear boundaries between followers.
Features of Haredi life
At the time of the formation of the state, Haredi youths who studied at yeshivas (higher religious educational institutions) were not drafted into the army. Initially, there were several hundred such conscripts, but over time this number increased. In July 2002, the Tal Law was signed, according to which those young men who studied in a yeshiva received a deferment from service until the age of 22. Further, if the study continued, the deferment was extended. Those who did not study anywhere could choose between 16 months of military service or annual alternative service. During the training, they couldn’t work.
This law was temporary, and it was extended for 5 years, but in February 2012, the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, and in August it expired. Currently, according to the current legislation, the Haredi who has received the call-up must necessarily arrive at the conscription point, otherwise, face arrest. Usually, according to the order of the Minister of Defense, the call is postponed as devoid of expediency.
In 2002, the 97th Netzah Yehuda Battalion as part of the Kfir Brigade was created for Haredim who want to serve in the army and, at the same time, strictly observe traditions. For example, girls do not serve on military bases, the study of the Talmud is included in the daily routine, and the kosher nature of products is controlled, just as in the Haredi community. During military service, young men also receive a civil specialty. However, most of the Haredim of the battalion are young men who have been expelled or dropped out of the yeshiva before conscription, or who are not Haredi in origin, but who want to serve together with them. A large number of employees from Zionist families prefer the service under the Hesder program. Within the program, all five years of study in the yeshiva are combined with military service. The army time takes between 16 and 24 months.
Educational institutions are autonomous non-state systems.
Boys begin their studies in the сheder (basic elementary school in the traditional Jewish Ashkenazi education system) from the age of 3. They study separately from girls. In the cheder, boys study the Chumash (the first five books of the Tanakh and the Old Testament): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This is the first part of the Tanakh, also called the Torah, with commentaries on it. Then they go to the yeshiva. After marrying, they study in the kollel—a small higher educational institution of the yeshiva type for the study of the Talmud. Unlike regular yeshivas, kollels are created for married students. They study the Babylonian Talmud and Halakha carefully. The study of secular subjects is given a minimum amount of time, or no time at all.
The clothes of the Haredi men look like uniforms. They wear a black suit, a white shirt, a black cap (kippah) and a black hat. Many wear a shirt on a talit-katan (a prayer clothing in Judaism, a specially made rectangular veil).
Women wear modest clothes: a long skirt, and long sleeves. Married women wear a wig and a hat, or a headscarf, or only a wig. Sometimes they wear burqas on the head, which cover the face and body completely. Red is considered immodest, so it is not worn. But recently, Haredi women have begun to introduce more colors to their wardrobe.
The Haredim have many children. On average, each family has 7 or 8 children. Parents look for a bride or groom for their children with the help of shadhan (matchmaker, mediator in marriage in Judaism). Relationships before marriage are strictly prohibited.
Most Haredi men in Israel do not officially work. The number of working ultra-Orthodox men in Israel is 47%, but Haredi women—81%. State payments and, often, the wife’s salary are the basis of the family budget. Like the vast majority of Israeli citizens, the Haredim enjoy benefits such as health insurance, etc. However, some generally oppose the state and categorically do not use any of its benefits and services, including even electricity for their neighborhoods, which they produce with their own generators.
In Israel, there are cities in which the population is mostly Haredi (Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh, Rehasim, etc.). In Jerusalem, as in many big cities, they also have their own neighborhoods, for example, Mea Shearim.
Also in the United States and Canada, Haredi areas exist, for example, in Brooklyn, Toronto and Montreal. In several small towns in the states of New York and New Jersey the Haredim comprise the main population.
The life of the Haredim is very closely connected with the Torah, the commandments, traditions and customs. The purpose of their lives is to serve God and fulfil His will.