Hasidic Women in the United States

How they are educated and their role in the community.

Print this page Print this page

Tragically, the new Hasidic girls' academies served only one generation before their destruction in the Holocaust. By the time that agents of the Nazi Holocaust swept entire Hasidic villages into death camps, many Hasidim had already fled to transplanted communities in North America and Israel. From the 1920s to 1950s, a steady stream of displaced Hasidic leaders, followers, activists, and refugees flowed into low-income Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Jerusalem. Postwar Hasidism quickly flourished, rebuilding each devastated community of separate and scholarly lineage. Today, descendants of the Lubavitcher, Satmar, Belzer, Ger, Bobover, and other sects populate Hasidic communities on several continents.

Women have served as important agents of faith and family life in the transmission of Hasidic belief to new generations of followers, their public roles increasing with educational experience. Although Hasidic sects in America continue to differ in the work and educational opportunities permitted to women, without question one of the most profound postwar changes overall has been schooling for girls. The rapid expansion of Hasidic parochial schools and girls' yeshivas, however, has not meant that women have joined the ranks of scholarly men as religious authority figures rendering interpretation of Jewish law. Girls' schools primarily serve to protect Hasidic daughters from the secular influences of the "outside" society, rather than introducing them to the advanced Talmudic curriculum typical of boys' education.

Identification of Hasidic Women

In the United States today, the Hasidic male, in black coat, black hat, tzitzit fringes, beard, and sidecurls, is easily recognized today as a symbol of ultra-Orthodox Judaism and Talmud scholarship. Visually, he summarizes an ongoing commitment to religious practices once confined to the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe. His yeshiva training and devotion to daily piety make him a "holy man" in our secular society, although some more assimilated Jews find the Hasidic life-style anachronistic or embarrassing.

Far less visible is the contemporary Hasidic woman, though no less devout. While her secular education is limited to high school and perhaps some vocational training, she is often a family breadwinner, working outside the home--and this is considered perfectly appropriate, if such work frees a scholarly husband for study or pays for children's yeshiva tuition. Economic roles for Hasidic women include shopkeeping, teaching in girls' religious schools, secretarial and computer jobs, and work with a specific Jewish purpose: for instance, matchmaking, and catering simhas (weddings and other celebrations).

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Bonnie Morris

Bonnie J. Morris earned her Ph.D. in women?s history from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Morris published her doctoral dissertation on Lubavitcher Women in America at Harvard Divinity School. She has taught women?s studies at both George Washington University and Georgetown since 1994.