Haredim, Not Ultra-Orthodox, A Linguistic Change and “Otherness”

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 2014.

Valid Point, Ultra-Orthodox May be Derogatory. Thanks for the Clarification – But Which Jew is the “Other”?

Dear Reader:

We have been using the term Ultra-Orthodox since this blog’s inception, primarily because Hared, Haredi or plural Haredim are Hebrew words; and because knowing the difference between those who view themselves as “Hasidim” and those who do not is simply too hard to define. We have not intentionally been trying to offend, demean or place any group into the category of an “other”. When we have referred to radical – we have used the term “radical” or “fundamentalist”. 

However, the point of the opinion below, posted in the NY Times is very valid and we thank Avi Shafran for pointing out something many of us did not know. We also apologize for the offense.

As to his comments about the “bloc” however, we beg to disagree. The Haredi community tends to vote as a bloc, at least in Rockland County, New York, Lakewood, New Jersey, London, England, throughout Israel, and in other areas where there are a large population of Haredim living together. The numbers speak to that point. We therefore believe that to take offense to the term “bloc” is hyper-sensitive. A voting bloc is a function of mathematics and nothing more.  That said, we are not Haredim so far be it for us to judge; and we will do our best to respect the sensitivity.

There is one thing we would like to point out to Mr. Shafran, for whom we have the utmost respect. The Haredim have chosen to live together in highly exclusionary communities. For the most part in areas like New Square, New York, and Kiryas Joel (n/k/a Palm Tree, New York) outsiders are wholly and entirely unwelcome into those communities. The people who have chosen to make a modern-day Shtetl out of a community cannot then complain about the lens from which the “outsiders” – everyone else –  view them, namely as others. That is not anti-Semitic. It is a function of feeling like a bean in a bag of rice.  Moreover, many of us feel an non-Haredi subtle “otehrness.”

We would argue that in many circumstances the rest of us, particularly those of us who are Jewish but do not view Judaism by clothing and shoe-tying rituals, are actually the “others.”

Just something to think about. 

We wish every Jew a Shabbat Shalom on this the “Rosh Hodesh” (first of the month) of Adar. 


Stop Otherizing Haredi Jews

By Avi Shafran

Mr. Shafran is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

“Ultra-Orthodox” is a label that should be retired.

In the spring of 2016, President Barack Obama signed a bill eliminating dated references to racial or ethnic minorities that had remained in parts of federal regulations. “Negro” would be replaced with “African-American,” “Oriental” with “Asian-American or Pacific Islander” and so on. It was a long-overdue recognition that the meanings that words carry matter — especially when applied to minority groups.

It’s now generally accepted that racial, ethnic and religious groups determine how they wish others to refer to them. This is true not only in government documents but also in popular media and polite conversation.

There’s an exception, though, applied to my group — a different standard. We’re constantly labeled “ultra-Orthodox,” against our wishes.

We’re your neighbors, recognizable by our men in dark suits and black hats (for the subset among us called Hasidim, fur hats on the Sabbath and holidays), our women in modest dress and wigs or with kerchief hair coverings.

We oppose the label “ultra” as anyone would. What does “ultra” bring to mind in, say, politics? Does “ultraconservative” conjure images of Ambassador Nikki Haley and John McCain, or of Pat Buchanan and Steve Bannon? What do we mean when we call an investment “ultra-risky”? Or a race an “ultra-marathon”? We mean something that is extreme, beyond normal or beyond the mainstream.

Haredim (the Hebrew word we prefer, signifying religious devoutness) don’t buy into some elements of modern culture, and our value system places family, textual study and religious observance above certain material goals.

But that doesn’t make us extremists. We don’t rail against others and have no plans, as some religious extremists do, to harm or impose our will on anyone. We’re Orthodox, religiously observant Jews, but no more “ultra” than a typical observant Catholic, Mormon or Muslim.

Being tarred with the prefix “ultra” is only part of the problem. We’re demeaned in other ways, too. Enjoined by our faith to travel on the Sabbath only on foot, HarediJews tend to live near their synagogues, and what naturally results are Haredi neighborhoods and communities.

Why, when we buy homes in new communities, are we so often portrayed as invaders? We fully understand that the character of a neighborhood changes when members of a new ethnic or religious group arrive. We’ve been there ourselves. But no one should be able to discriminate against us in the home-buying process.

To keep reading click, here.

6 thoughts on “Haredim, Not Ultra-Orthodox, A Linguistic Change and “Otherness”

  1. If you work with EA’s and are thinking of acquiring any, I recommend you not to buy or follow suggestions of a guy named Casey Siscar, do not even look at his Infisec company, they are scammers who are taking the strategy of saying that they work directly with other people to convince others of acquiring their products, several have already been fooled with this and have lost their money in an EA without a good configuration, even incomplete. Please take precaution and do not trust anyone.

  2. Rabbi Shafran has glossed over the most obnoxious practices of the Haredim (which are in line with those of comparable Muslim or Christian groups) which is a wish to live apart, to reject utterly almost everything of the world around them and to look down on those not of their kind. They attempt to impose their standards on those who Shafran pretends to consider neighbors (ie: hounding cyclists in typical cycling shorts when riding down Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, or those in ordinary American attire on the streets of any of their shtetl towns) and they vote en bloc (definition: “in a mass; as a whole; all together ” at the direction of their religious leaders. The comparision to African-American or Latino citizens is entirely inapt. Neither of those very large and heterogeneous groups votes in a manner directed by any one leader except perhaps to the extent that some may be members of Haredi-like sects.

    The Haredim are in fact very much ultra-Orthodox, taking their observance to levels well beyond those of other Jewish streams. It is they who are the other in the eyes of the larger world because separating themselves from those unlike them is the essence of their religious practice and of their lifestyle. Let them suggest a better English descriptor for them and perhaps the world outside their communities will pick up on it and use it.

    • That and other Orthodox leaders from Dr Roberts to Agudath Israel intimidating the non-Jewish public saying that we are a powerful voting bloc with its own self interest, accept it and live with it…I mean, does that promote good will or tolerance of their community? Its a 2 way street! Respect our way of life and we will respect yours. Enough said.

      • Okay. Your point is well taken. On the one hand, Shifran is lauding his community for their shared voting and consistent “bloc” voting on the other, he does not want to be referred to as a “voting bloc” because of the derogatory connotations of that term. On the one hand he wants to be able to be separate and unequal, on the other hand he does not want anyone pointing out the uneven playing field as that scrutiny creates “otherness.” There is agreement that there appears to be a double standard. Unfortunately, that is not a short conversation, nor is there an easy fix.

  3. I certainly think Rabbi Shifran wrote a very good article, but the article’s content contradicts the title. The Haredi community move into areas and get their developers to build, market and sell to only other Orthodox Jews. You vote as a bloc for your group’s self interest only so you can have sole control over the school, planning and zoning boards. You do not seem to respect the rights and needs of the non-Jews living in your communities. You are creating highly segregated religious Orthodox Jewish communities all over the NYC area where non-Jews are not really welcomed. How then can you expect non-Jews to not see your community as “the other”. Can you clarify Rabbi Shifran?

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