Haredim (Charedim)

You've seen the black hats and long dresses--but who are the people underneath?

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The Holocaust

The Holocaust was also a critical factor in the development of haredi Judaism. With the destruction of the major European yeshivot, as well as the deaths of myriads of the affiliated faithful, the extinction of religious life as practiced in the shtetl seemed nearly inevitable.

But the remaining few highly observant European Jews sought to preserve their lifestyle by moving their communities and learning institutions elsewhere, mainly to Israel and the United States. Leaving many of their followers behind, European rabbinic figures who were saved, such as the Beltzer Rebbe; Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the third Hasidic rebbe of Ger ; and the Satmar Rebbe, helped reestablish learning centers for their communities in new locales.

Though haredi communities were established all over the world after World War II, when the State of Israel was formed, the center of haredi activity transferred there. In Israel, haredim established yeshivot, often bearing the names of destroyed European yeshivot, and haredi communal life started anew. Agudas Yisroel was organized into a political party called Agudat Israel, using the modern Israeli Hebrew pronunciation. Over time, the party spawned several factions, some of which became splinter parties representing various factions of Hasidim and Mitnagdim.

The state of Israel currently has the largest haredi population worldwide, with an estimated 800,000, with the U.S. trailing behind at about 500,000. With the most explosive birthrate of any Jewish group, haredi Judaism may very well come to dominate the population of the Jewish world in years to come. According to The Jerusalem Post, the current Israeli haredi population alone is set to double within the next decade.

Family and Lifestyle

hasidic men

Haredi Jews usually live in communities populated mostly or exclusively by haredim. Each community has its own synagogues, yeshivot, and community-oriented organizations. The major centers of haredi life in the United States are in and around New York City: Borough Park, Monsey, and Williamsburg. The two largest haredi communities in Israel are the city of Bnei Brak and in Jerusalem's Meah She'arim district.
Because most varieties of secular education are frowned upon, few haredim hold professional degrees. Most adult men devote themselves to full-time Torah study, and their wives commonly assume the role of breadwinner. Because most haredim live in single-earner households with large numbers of children, haredi communities are generally characterized by extreme poverty, requiring subsidies from charities and governments in order to subsist. However, in recent years, a new haredi upper-class has emerged, especially in Israel, flourishing in upper-management business and the diamond industry. Children of the haredi upper-class attend the same yeshivot as their less-privileged peers, while their parents direct a very large portion of their income to communal charities and funds that support major rabbinic figures and their projects.

When faced with major life decisions such as where to live, whom to marry, and whether to study full-time or work, haredi Jews often consult their rabbis. This tendency is rooted in the principle of da'as torah (Torah knowledge), which mandates that one seek Torah-based guidance from a recognized rabbinic authority on all matters of life.

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Raysh Weiss

Raysh Weiss is a freelance filmmaker and musician based in Minneapolis. She is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches film and cultural studies.