March 18, 2018 Hasidic Jews and the Amish
A reader asked: Why do the Amish and Hasidic Jews dress and live in a similar manner to one another?
I gave a tour of Hasidic Williamsburg to a group of Mennonites, which are similar to Amish but maybe in some ways less insular. I think. That’s how they explained it to me.
Notice me in the jacket without a pretty hand sewn dress! I look so bad. So much like a shiksa, a bad Jewish girl. But wait. They are not even all Jewish!
The similarities between Hasidim and the Amish are striking. Both groups are incredibly insular in their way of thinking and have a world view that sees change, assimilation, integration as the destruction of their people. The women also behaved a lot like my childhood friends. Everyone was very careful to say the right and proper thing. Dare I say… repressed?
The one point in the tour that everyone broke into laughter was when I asked what kind of media they are allowed to watch, and then added on an impulse that came from my experience with Hasidim: “But don’t say anything that will get you in trouble!” and they all cracked up. They knew exactly what I meant. Whatever media you are watching that is verbotten, don’t mention that—everyone here can hear! The laugh was so knowing, so familiar.
But there were big differences too. The Hasidim sounded positively metropolitan next to our group and — all took pictures of us. One Hasidic woman came over and said “Good for you, you come here. We go to you in Amishtown, you should come back and enjoy the sites back!” Her confidence was wonderful Another difference: the Hasidic men are also a lot less timid.
What I realized is that both these groups believe in holding on to their traditions despite the changing tides around them. And when you try to preserve a way of life while you’re in the very enticing America with all its flashy colors and addictive ways, then you develop many similar methods: a unique language, dress and a rejection of popular entertainment. Both these groups have done it largely successfully.