Hasidic Judaism is a sect of Orthodox Judaism with Eastern European roots, a distinct type of dress, and rules that set them apart from the rest of the world. Like many small religious off-shoots, Hasidic Judaism can seem curious to outside observers. Founded in the 18th century, Hasidism emphasizes piety as well as joy and happiness, especially in religious worship and religious life. Men and women's roles are clearly defined and fundamental beliefs form the core of all actions and relationships.
Some of the traditions and practices of Hasidic Jews may seem oddly repressive, but it's not like there aren't plenty of Muslim, Hindu, or Catholic beliefs that seem absurd to non-believers. It doesn't make Hasidism wrong, just different. If you've ever wondered what goes on during a Hasidic wedding night or why Hasidic women's hair has to be kept covered, read on and learn about the very specific traits that help define this religion.
Hasidic Jewish communities live inside the eruv (or eyruv), which is a wire set up as a boundary between Hasidism and the world. The eruv is intended to create unity within its confines, as a symbolic border for a community that links together private spaces so people can complete everyday tasks on the Shabbat.
It essentially creates one big Jewish house in order to allow movement on the Shabbat, the Jewish day of prayer, that would otherwise be forbidden.
In addition to the eruv, the rebbe is the "master" or "teacher" that guides Hasidic Jews in their faith. He speaks Yiddish and is a spiritual conduit for his community. A rebbe must also be a tzaddik or "righteous man of God." As the leader of the Hasidic community, the rebbe holds great spiritual power and is often asked to bless people in times of sickness or financial struggle.
The eruv makes moving around on Shabbat easier but the rules for the Jewish day of prayer don't allow for much more than that. According to tradition, Jews shouldn't write, erase, tear paper, shop, drive, talk on the phone, turn on a television or anything else using electricity, do laundry, cook, clean, or conduct any business transactions.
There are ways around some of these restrictions. You can turn on the lights before Shabbat starts or use automatic timers, cook your food the day before, and set your thermostats accordingly. Keeping temptation out of sight is another way to make sure the rules are not broken.
In the Hasidic Jewish tradition, men and women are kept apart—especially during worship. Men and women are physically separated by a partition called a mechitzah that divides Hasidic synagogues. The mechitzah can be anything from a screen to a set of shelves to plants. Some synagogues have women sit on a balcony to keep them separate from male members of the congregation.
While Hasidic Judaism frowns on arranged marriages by force, couples are often "encouraged" to get together by their families and community. Parents often consult with a matchmaker known as a shadchan to find a suitable partner for their child. The potential bride and groom typically have several "dates" to get to know each other and make sure they see a future together.
When it's decided that the two are going to be bound to one another, a formal contract is signed. The contract, or ketubah, lists the obligations that a husband has to his wife. Sometimes the couple write their own ketubah, sometimes they include traditional content. The contract is intended to protect the wife from being mistreated, but it can also be considered a tool of Hasidic Jewish patriarchy.
After the contract is signed, the final step in a marital union is sex. Sex is supposed to be a way for the couple to become closer and join together spiritually and physically. Because the husband and wife are virgins, the wedding night can be awkward and some couples may use manuals prepared for them prior to getting married.