Hasidic Jews are a sect of Orthodox Jews 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 is mysterious 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 weird but every religion has a unique set of beliefs that seem absurd to non-believers, right? [I'm looking at you, Catholicism.] It doesn't make Hasidism wrong, just different - very 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 these unusual and very specific traits that help define this religion.
The Eruv And The Rebbe Guide Hasidic Jewish Action
Hasidic Jewish communities live inside the eruv (or eyruv) or 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 that links together many private spaces in the community, which in turn permits people to ferry around keys, children, and canes, or push wheelchairs and strollers." It allows for movement on the Shabbat, the Jewish day of prayer, that would otherwise be forbidden by essentially creating one big Jewish house.
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 "conduit" for his community. Also known as a tzaddik, the leader of the Hasidic community demands total submission, is supported by his followers, and holds great spiritual power. His prayers produce better results and food he blesses is spiritually charged.
You Can't Do Anything On Shabbat, Literally
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.
Men And Women Live In Different Spheres
In the Hasidic Jewish tradition, men and women are apart - a lot. At the synagogue, men and women pray in different rooms, with men getting the bigger communal space. At smaller community prayer centers, shtibl, women are not allowed to attend services with the men in their families either.
At blessings, women might be able to attend but not always face-to-face with men, and at weddings, men and women dance on separate sides of a partition called a mechitzah.
Marriage Arrangements Involve Money, A Contract, And Sex That Often Requires A Manual
Marriage in the Hasidic Jewish tradition is arranged. Boys and girls do often meet each other before actually getting married, however, just to make sure they don't find each other repulsive but when it's decided that the two are going to be bound to one another, three things then happen. There is an exchange of money, although it's usually in the form of a ring. Then 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 both a way for women to be protected but also seen as 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 close, to join together spiritually and physically. Because the husband and wife are virgins, the wedding night can be awkward and some couples use manuals prepared for them prior to getting married.