Haredim are currently primarily located in Israel, North America and Western Europe. The population is growing very rapidly, due to high birth rate, and doubles every 12 to 20 years. Estimates of the number of Haredim globally are difficult to measure, due to its imprecise definition, lack of data collection and rapid change over time. One newspaper article estimated there were approximately 1.3 million Haredi Jews as of 2011. The Haredi community has gained growing media interest, in particular on the issue of sex segregation in Israel and New York.
For several centuries before the emancipation of European Jewry, most of Europe's Jews were forced to live in closed communities, where both the culture and their religious observances were preserved. This occurred both because of internal pressure within the communities and because of the outside world's refusal to accept them otherwise. In the overwhelmingly Christian society of the time, the only way for Jews to gain social acceptance was to convert, thereby abandoning all ties with their own families and community. Few avenues existed, especially in the ghetto, for individuals to negotiate between the dominant culture and the community, because this was handled by the larger community as a whole.
This situation began to change with the Age of Enlightenment and calls by some European liberals to include the Jewish population in the emerging empires and nation states, as well as with Jewry's own Haskalah. These adherents held that acceptance by the non-Jewish world necessitated the reformation of Jews themselves, and the modification of those practices deemed inconsistent with this goal. In the words of a popular aphorism coined by Yehuda Leib Gordon, a person should be "a Jew in the home, and a mentsh in the street." For some Jews, the meticulous and rigorous Judaism practiced in the ghetto interfered with these new outside opportunities. This group argued that Judaism itself had to "reform" in keeping with the social changes taking place around them. They were the forerunners of the Reform movement in Judaism. This group overwhelmingly assimilated into the surrounding culture.
Other Jews argued that the division between Jew and gentile had actually protected the Jews' religious and social culture; abandoning such divisions, they argued, would lead to the eventual abandonment of Jewish religion through assimilation. This latter group insisted that the appropriate response to the Enlightenment was to maintain strict adherence to traditional Jewish law and custom to prevent the dissolution of authentic Judaism and ensure the survival of the Jewish people.
Even as the debate raged, the rate of integration and assimilation grew proportionately to the degree of acceptance of the Jewish population by the host societies. In other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, acceptance (and integration) was much slower in coming. This was especially true in the Pale of Settlement, a region along the Russian Empire's western border including most of modern Belarus and Ukraine, to which Jewish settlement in the empire was confined. Although Jews here did not win the same official acceptance as they did in Western and Central Europe, the same enlightened spirit of change pervaded the air, albeit in a local variant. Since it was impossible to gain acceptance by the dominant culture, many Jews either emigrated or turned to a number of different movements that they expected would offer hope for a better future. Some Jews, particularly secularized young people, embraced various versions of social radicalism, particularly Social Democracy in its Bundist, Polish nationalist-socialist (PPS), and Menshevik forms; some later became Communists as well, particularly in the Soviet Union. A much larger number of East European Jews chose a less radical 'politics of exit': they embraced or grew more sympathetic to some version of Jewish nationalism, particularly Zionism (which they often combined with some form of liberal politics vis-a-vis citizenship rights in Eastern European states). Beginning as a popular but insurgent movement in Russia in the 1880s, Zionism attained something like communal dominance by the close of the First World War (except in the Soviet Union, where the Communist regime suppressed it beginning in 1918). In the context of the general shift toward ethnonationalist politics across Eastern Europe during World War I and the devastating effects of the war on traditional Jewish society and its certainties, Jewish nationalist parties (particularly Zionists of various stripes) consistently won a plurality or even a majority of Jewish votes in the various local-communal and national elections that took place in Russia and Ukraine in the brief interim period after the fall of the Tsarist regime and in newly emergent nation-states with large East European Jewish minorities like Poland and Lithuania. Concomitantly, by the period between the world wars, the leading (i.e. most popular and widely sold) Yiddish daily newspapers in Poland and Lithania were broadly identified with Zionism. Both the socialist and the Jewish nationalist movements were not neutral on the topic of the Jewish religion: by and large, they entailed a complete, not infrequently contemptuous, rejection of traditional religious and cultural norms.
Those who opposed these changes reacted in a variety of ways.
In Germany, the usual approach was to accept the tools of modern scholarship and apply them in defence of Orthodoxy, so as to defeat the Reformers at their own game. One proponent of this approach was Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who coined the slogan Torah Im Derech Eretz (Torah with civilization) and led a secession from German Jewish communal organizations to form a strictly Orthodox movement with its own network of synagogues and schools, known as Adath Israel. His movement still has followers, and their standard of observance is very strict, but because of their acceptance of secular learning they are not normally classified as Haredim. Some Galician scholars, such as Zvi Hirsch Chayes, followed a somewhat similar approach. In Eastern Europe there was little in the way of organised Reform Judaism, but the advocates of modernity came under the umbrella either of the Haskalah or of political movements such as Bundism or Zionism. The traditionalist opposition was generally associated either with the various Hasidic groups or with the growing network of yeshivas among the Lithuanian Jews, some of which (e.g. the Volozhin yeshiva) even closed rather than comply with the Russian Government's demand for secular studies to be incorporated into the curriculum.
In Germany the opponents of Reform rallied to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and his Adath Israel. In Poland Jews true to traditional values gathered under the banner of Agudas Shlumei Emunei Yisroel. The decisive event came in 1912 with the foundation of the Agudas Israel movement, which became a potent political force and even obtained seats in the Polish sejm (parliament). This movement contained representatives of several of the streams of traditionalism already mentioned. The traditionalists of Eastern Europe, who fought against the new movements emerging in the Jewish community, were the forebears of the contemporary Haredim.
The formation of the Haredi stream of Orthodox Judaism is widely attributed to Rabbi Moses Sofer ("the Chasam Sofer"), Rabbi Elija Kramer (Vilna Gaon), Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and their disciples. Sofer, Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox community in Pressburg (Bratislava) was a pupil of Rabbi Nathan Adler of Frankfurt who was a Master of Kabbalah as well as a pupil of Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz of Frankfurt, a renowned Talmudist. Thus Sofer was respected by the Hasidim and Misnagdim alike.
Sofer applied a pun to the Talmudic term chodosh asur min ha-Torah, "'new' is forbidden by the Torah" (referring literally to eating chodosh, "new grain", before the Omer offering is given) as a slogan heralding his opposition to any philosophical, social or practical change to customary Orthodox practice. Thus, he did not allow any secular studies to be added to the curriculum of his Pressburg Yeshiva. Sofer's most notable student Rabbi Moshe Shic together with Sofer's sons Rabbis Shimon and Samuel Benjamin took an active role in arguing the Reform movement but showed relative tolerance for heterogeneity within the Orthodox camp. Others, such as the more zealous Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein based a more stringent position to orthodoxy.
Starting in 1830, about twenty disciples of Sofer settled in the Holy Land, almost all of them in Jerusalem. They joined the Old Yishuv, which comprised the Musta'arabim, Sephardim and Ashkenazim. They settled in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron. Together with the Perushim and Hassidim they formed a similar approach to Judaism reflecting those of their European counterparts
A major historic event that facilitated the redefinition of Judaism was the meltdown after the Universal Israelite Congress of 1868–69 in Pest. In an attempt to unify all streams of Judaism under one constitution, the Orthodox offered the Shulchan Aruch as the ruling Code of law and observance. This notation was dismissed by the reformists, leading many Orthodox Rabbis to resign from the Congress and form their own Social and Political groups. Hungarian Jewry split into two major institutionally sectarian groups, Orthodox and Neolog. However, some communities refused to join either of the groups calling themselves Status Quo.
In 1871 Shimon Sofer, Chief Rabbi of Kraków, founded the Machzikei Hadas organisation with the Hasidic Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach of Belz. This was the first effort of Haredi Jews in Europe to create a political party and may be seen as a part of the developing rebranding of the traditional Orthodoxy into a self defined group. Rabbi Shimon was nominated as a candidate to the Polish Regional Parliament under the Austraian emperor Franz Joseph. He found favor over his modern counterparts and was elected to the "The Polish Club" in which he took active part until his death.
Shik demonstrated support in 1877 for the separatist policies of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Germany. Schick's own son was enrolled in the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary that taught secular studies and was headed by Azriel Hildesheimer. Hirsch, however, did not reciprocate and expressed astonishment at Schick's halakhic contortions in condemning even those Status Quo communities that clearly adhered to halakhah. Lichtenstein opposed Hildesheimer and his son Hirsh as they made use of the German language in sermons from the pulpit and seemed to sway to the direction of Modern Zionism.
Shimon Sofer was somewhat more lenient than Lichtenstein on the use of German in sermons allowing so only if it was a medium for keeping cordial relations with the various governments. Likewise, he allowed extra-curricular studies of the gymnasium for students whose rabbinical positions would be recognized by the governments, stipulating the necessity to prove the strict adherence to the God-fearing (Haredi) standards per individual case.
In 1912, the World Agudath Israel was founded to differentiate itself from the Torah Nationalists Mizrachi and Secular Zionist organisations. It was dominated by the Hasidic Rebbes and Lithuainian rosh yeshivas. Agudah nominated Rabbis who were elected as representatives in the Polish government Sejm, such as Rabbi Meir Shapiro and Rabbi Yitzhak-Meir Levin. Notably, not all Hasidic factions joined the Agudath Israel, remaining independent such as Machzikei Hadat of Galicia. In 1924 Agudath Israel obtained 75 percent of the votes in the Kehillah elections.
In 1919, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (student of Ksav Sofer) and Rabbi Yitzchok Yerucham Diskin (son of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, from Brisk, Lithuania) founded the Edah HaChareidis as part of Agudath Israel in then Mandate Palestine.
The Edah HaChareidis was actively anti-Zionist and opposed to the armed struggle of the Hagana. They attempted to gain political recognition and peacefully attain autonomic authority over parts of the Holy Land. Their ambassador Dr Jacob Israël de Haan met with Hashemite leader Hussein bin Ali on this issue. Hussein granted him a handwritten letter outlining a draft understanding between the Orthodox Jews and their Arab neighbors, which would require them to denounce the Balfour Declaration in return for autonomy over parts of Transjordan. This letter was presented to the first Agudath Israel Convention in Vienna in 1923 by Rabbi Moshe Blau.
The Orthodox community polled some 16,000 of a total 90,000 at the Knesseth Israel in 1929. But Sonnenfeld lobbied Sir John Chancellor, the High Commissioner for separate representation in the Palestine Communities Ordinance than that of the Knesseth Israel explaining that the Agudas Israel community would cooperate with the Vaad Leumi and the National Jewish Council in matters pertaining to the municipality, but seeks to protect is its religious convictions independently. The community petitioned the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations on this issue. The one community principle was victorious despite their opposition., but this is seen as the creation of the Haredi community in Israel separate from the other modern Orthodox and Zionist movements.
In 1932 Sonnefeld was succeeded by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky (I) a disciple of the Shevet Sofer, one of the grandchildren of Moses Sofer. Dushinsky promised to build up a strong Jewish Orthodoxy at peace with the other Jewish communities and the non-Jews.
In 1945, the Edah HaChareidis parted ways with Agudat Yisrael. In 1948 Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864–1953) succeeded Dushinski and with his passing the Chief Rabbinate was passed onto Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum of Satmar (1887–1979). Satmar chassidism was founded by Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (Ujhel) a hasid who paid homage to Moses Sofer.
Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum was a passionate opponent of Modern Zionism and had great influence on the Edah HaCharedit but soon emigrated to the United States, still holding his title of Chief Rabbi of the Edah HaChareidis. In the U.S. he attracted many new followers and influenced many leaders of the Orthodox Hassidic Rabbis and established a large community in the densely Orthodox neighborhood of Williamsburg, located in northern Brooklyn in New York City. Today's Satmar community in New York numbers close to 130,000 adherents (including men, women and children).
Haredi life is very family-centered. Depending on various factors, boys and girls attend separate schools and proceed to higher Torah study, in a yeshiva or seminary respectively, starting anywhere between the ages of 13 and 18. A significant proportion of young men remain in yeshiva until their shidduch, introduction to a woman for the purpose of seeing if the couple wishes to marry. Many also continue study in kollel (a Torah study institute for married men) for many years after marriage. In many Haredi communities, studying in secular institutions is discouraged, although some have educational facilities for vocational training or run professional programs for men and women. Most men, even those not in kollel, will make certain to study Jewish texts (collectively referred to as Torah) daily. Families tend to be large, reflecting adherence to the Torah commandment "be fruitful and multiply" (Book of Genesis 1:28, 9:1,7).
Haredi rabbis generally recommend very strongly against watching television and films, reading secular newspapers, and using the Internet without filters that block pornography and the like. Because of this, some Haredim also use mobile phones that are programmed to disable internet and other functions that could influence their users in undesired ways, and most companies in Israel now offer basic cell phones with limited capabilities to accommodate Haredim. However, it appears that many Haredi people use the Internet, as evidenced by the large number of participants in "Haredi chat rooms". In May 2012, 40,000 Haredim gathered at Citi Field Stadium in New York to discuss the dangers of the Internet.
Some Haredi publications have a policy of not publishing photographs of women; the newspaper Yated Ne'eman in April 2009 digitally altered photographs of the newly installed Israeli cabinet to replace two female ministers with pictures of men, while another newspaper blacked the women out of their published photograph.
The Haredi community in Israel has adopted a policy of cultural dissociation, but at the same time, it has struggled to remain politically active, perceiving itself as the true protector of the country's Jewish nature.
The issues date to the late nineteenth-early twentieth century, with the rise of Zionism. The vast majority of Haredi Jews rejected Zionism for a number of reasons. Chief among these was the claim that Jewish political independence could only be obtained through Divine intervention, with the coming of the Messiah. Any attempt to force history was seen as an open rebellion against Judaism (for a more complete exposition of this ideology see Three Oaths; Vayoel Moshe; Neturei Karta).
More important was the dislike that the political and cultural Zionism of the time felt toward any manifestation of religion. Influenced by socialism, secular Zionists looked on religion as an outdated relic, which should disappear (or, according to some extreme views, even be eradicated) in favor of Jewish nationalism. As with the nineteenth century Reform Judaism movement in Germany, the result was mutual recriminations, rejection, and harsh verbal attacks. To Zionists, Haredi Jews were either "primitives" or "parasites"; to Haredi Jews, Zionists were tyrannizing heretics. This kulturkampf still plagues Israeli society today, where animosity between the two groups has even pervaded both their educational systems.
Despite the animosity, it was necessary for the two groups to work out some modus vivendi in the face of a more dangerous enemy, the Nazis. This was achieved by a division of powers and authority, based on the division that existed during the British Mandate in the country. Known as the "status quo", it granted political authority (such as control over public institutions, the army, etc.) to the Zionists and religious authority (such as control over marriage, divorce, conversions, etc.) to the Orthodox. A compromise worked out by Labor Zionist leader Berl Katznelson even before statehood ensured that public institutions accommodate the Orthodox by observing the Sabbath and providing kosher food.
Notwithstanding these compromises, many Haredi groups maintained their previous apolitical stance. The community had split into two parts: Agudat Israel, which cooperated with the state, and the Edah HaChareidis, which fiercely opposed it. Both groups still exist today, with the same attitudes. The Edah HaChareidis includes numerous Hasidic groups, such as Satmar, Dushinsky and Toldos Aharon, as well as several non-Hasidic groups of Lithuanian and Hungarian background.
A small minority of Jews, who claim to have been descended from communities who had lived peacefully with their Arab neighbors during the 18th and early 19th centuries, took a different stance. In 1935 they formed a new grouping called the Neturei Karta out of a coalition of several previous anti-Zionist Jewish groups in the Holy Land, and aligned themselves politically with the Arabs out of a dislike for Zionist policies.
The Agudat Yisrael party, supported by much of the Haredi population, was invited to participate in the governing coalition shortly after the Israeli Declaration of Independence. It agreed, but did not appoint any ministers since that would have implied participation in non-religious actions taken by the government.
Haredim proved to be able politicians, gradually increasing their leverage and influence. In addition, the Haredi population grew substantially, giving them a larger power base. From a small group of just four members in the 1977 Knesset, they gradually increased the number of seats they hold to 22 (out of 120) in 1999. In effect, they controlled the balance of power between the country's two major parties.
In the early 1980s the Shas party of Sephardic Haredim was set up. Shas appealed to Sephardim who felt marginalized by the dominant Ashkenazi Zionist establishment. In 1999, Shas gained 17 Knesset seats (other Haredim won 5 seats). Taking the attitude that restoring Sephardic pride and restoring Sephardic religious observance are one and the same, Shas has created devoted cadres of newly religious and semi-religious men and women with the zeal of neophytes and an animosity toward the country's secular European political establishment. Furthermore, the movement has shown unwavering and determined obedience in its supporters to the teachings of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.
Following the 2003 elections, the Haredi parties lost their place in the government to the secular anti-religious Shinui party (since defunct). Shinui opposed the funding of Haredi schools and the Torato Omanuto exemption from military service. In 2005 Shinui left the government and Ariel Sharon brought the Haredi United Torah Judaism party into his ruling coalition.
In 2010, the Sephardic Haredi political party Shas broke ranks with Ashkenazi Haredi organizations and joined the World Zionist Organization, becoming the first officially Zionist Haredi political party.
The Haredim are relatively poor, compared to other Israelis, but represent an important market sector. Consequently, the Israeli Haredim "probably spend more time in formal study than any other class of humans ever has in the history of the planet". More than 50 percent live below the poverty line and get state allowances, compared with 15 percent of the rest of the population...." Their families are also larger, usually having six or seven children.
In recent years, there has been a process of reconciliation and a merging of Haredi Jews with Israeli society, for example in relation to employment. While not compromising on religious issues and their strict code of life, Haredi Jews have become more open to the secular Israeli culture. Haredi Jews, such as satirist Kobi Arieli, publicist Sehara Blau and politician Israel Eichler write regularly to leading Israeli newspapers. Another important factor in the reconciliation process has been the activity of ZAKA – a voluntary rescue organization run by Haredim, which provides emergency first response medical attention at suicide bombing scenes and retrieves human remains found there to provide proper burial. Another important unifying organization is Yad Sarah, established by Uri Lupolianski (mayor of Jerusalem 2003–2009) in 1977. Yad Sarah is the largest national volunteer organization in Israel, with over 6,000 volunteers representing all ages and backgrounds, including different socioeconomic sectors and cultural and religious backgrounds. Yad Sarah provides free loans of medical and rehabilitative home-care equipment to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze, enabling hundreds of thousands of sick, disabled, elderly and recuperating patients to live at home. Its menu of free or nominal-fee services also includes oxygen service, wheelchair transportation, national emergency alarm system, services for the homebound, legal aid for the elderly, geriatric dentistry, day rehabilitation centers, a play center for special needs children, and an education and recreation club for retirees. Yad Sarah receives no government funding, yet saves the country's economy an estimated $320 million in hospital fees and long-term care costs each year.
Between Haredi Judaism and National Religious or Religious Zionist Judaism, there is also a category of Orthodox Jews known as 'Hardalim', who combine Religious Zionism with a stricter adherence to Halacha.
Mehadrin bus lines, which used to serve Haredi population centres, were found to be unlawful by a January 2011 ruling of the Israeli High Court of Justice. Mehadrin buses are segregated by sex, with males sitting in the front and females sitting in the back of the bus. However, the court rule allowed the continuation of the gender segregation in public buses on a strictly voluntary basis for a one-year experimental period.
In December 2011, several separate incidents took place in rapid succession, creating a large public discussion about the position of Haredim in Israeli society, and leading to widespread incitement in both directions - seculars about Haredim, and Haredim about seculars. These incidents included cases of women refusing to move to the back of 'Mehadrin' (segregated) buses, and escalating disagreements in Beit Shemesh surrounding a non-Haredi girls' school, which developed into violence.
In the course of the public and political debate that followed, the separate incidents merged into a single major debate with Haredim on one side and the secular world on the other side, which is continuing in full.
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