Who Is a Hero? who conquers his desire

The answer to the above rhetorical question is: “He who conquers his desire”. This classic Jewish motto expresses the frequent tendency of radical religion to view urges negatively. Accordingly Haredi focus on keeping urges under control, overcoming impulse (yetzer).

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Professor Gideon AranThe examples of Haredi efforts at regulating the body’s various appetites are well known: sex (only for reproduction and contingent on strict conditions of matrimony and purity), nutrition (just enough to ensure bare subsistence and enable Talmud study), and excretions (even here enjoyment is forbidden).

A similar stance is taken towards sleep, another threatening bodily weakness. Sleep is suspicious because when sleeping one is no longer occupied with the Torah, and this is the first step on the pathway to sin. During sleep religious discipline weakens, and the body is liable to attain autonomy and precedence. So war is declared on sleep, and it is defined as a phenomenon indicative of evil.

Taken from “Denial Does Not Make The Haredi Body Go Away Ethnography of a Disappearing (?) Jewish Phenomenon”, By Prof. Gideon Aran.

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Eliminate The Presence Of The Body In Public

In relation to the body, as with other matters, the Haredim move back and forth between two polar options, both of them obsessive. On the one hand, they eliminate the presence of the body in public and private discourse. In its place a vacuum is formed, a secret. On the other hand, they treat the body in a coarse, technical, stringent and particularly assertive way.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Meiron Israel Jewish Holiday Lag BomerThere are notable Haredi silences about the sexual body that contribute to heightening the tension around it. However, the Haredim have produced an abundance of methodical texts concerning this issue, which eradicate any shred of mystique, and deprive the body and sex of all connotations of the sublime often attributed to them in other cultures. Sometimes, it is in exactly those places where silence would seem to be most fitting that it is aggressively shattered by pointed prose. Continue reading

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Haredi Authorities Permit Themselves

While Haredi authorities recognize this, they cannot permit themselves not to wage an all-out war against mobilization. Candidates for conscription are intimidated and condemned, while those who do sign up are cursed and excommunicated.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Gideon AranIn sermons in the yeshivas, army service is compared to apostasy or suicide, and many families repudiate their enlisted children and cut off all contact with them. It seems safe to assume that such severe sanctions against joining the army would not have been needed unless draft was highly attractive. It is particularly tempting for those youngsters who were frustrated by the Haredi way of life and especially so for the Shabab.

There is nothing like the military to compensate them for being deprived of a chance to discharge physical energies, express masculinity and seek action. The army is a place where one cannot only legitimately realizes one’s violent tendencies but where possessing such tendencies might be a criterion for excellence (see Hakak, forthoming).

Taken from “Body, Violence and Fundamentalism: The Case of Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy” By Gideon Aran.

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Haredi Body Culture Has a Rich Repertoire Of Indirect

As in other puritanical cultures, Haredi body culture has a rich repertoire of indirect and suggestive expressions for talking about intimate issues or areas, which can nonetheless be interpreted as sharp and serious.

Written By Gideon Aran

Some expressions for parts of the body appear in code, usually taken from religious sources. For instance, pubic hair is nicknamed “the lower beard”, which sounds comical, though the expression actually comes from the Babylonian Talmud. And how could we neglect to mention the common epithets for the penis, in a secret language of Kabbalists and euphemism.

An outsider could not guess that “sinew” is a synonym for “penis”. There is a wide range of expressions for describing the penis, most of them rich with traditional meanings, such as “keystone” (even ha’rasha). The most common name for the penis is “the organ” (ever). With the cheeky smile of one skirting the edge of the legitimate, young Haredim repeatedly quote from the Mishna: “There is a small organ in man which satisfies him when in hunger, and makes him hungry when satisfied.”

Taken from “Denial Does Not Make The Haredi Body Go Away Ethnography of a Disappearing (?) Jewish Phenomenon”, By Prof. Gideon Aran.

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One-On-One Meetings With Authoritative Experts

Explicit guidance and methodical policing form a part of sermons, morality lessons, lectures by yeshiva heads and “supervisors”, as well in one-on-one meetings with authoritative experts on matters of the body.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Purim in Mea ShearimUsually they are turned to when needed in relation to particular events, especially rites of passage like marriage. In such cases sensitive aspects of sex, which are absent from public discourse, are touched upon. There are also specialists and consultants in the sub-field of the ethics of Haredi life known as “preserving the body”, where a pseudo-medical discourse is adopted.

The proper body submits itself to a system of truths that promise physical and mental health. For instance, following the Babylonian Talmud, a recommendation is made to the Torah student: “Do not sit too much, for sitting aggravates the hemorrhoids; do not stand too much, for standing hurts the heart; do not walk too much, for walking hurts the eyes. So, spend one third of your time sitting, one third of your time standing, and one third walking”. Continue reading

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Gideon Aran: Role Of Socializing Agents

All the adults in his environment are placed against him in the role of socializing agents, including his older brothers (even though the age gap may be small), neighbors, fellow worshippers in the synagogue, and even passersby from the community.

Written By Gideon Aran

They are enlisted to examine his body, to castigate, to caution and to blame. Less commonly, positive instructions are issued: “delicate hands are a sign of scholarship”, or, “see how that student gently descends the stairs one by one, quite like the son of a king”.

Brokers of discipline have a key role in the Haredi yeshiva. In recent generations, and mainly in yeshivas affected by the historical “morality movement” (musar, which some of the Lithuanians disdain, though influenced by it), the special role of “supervisor” (mashgi’ach) has been created. He does not deal with frontal Torah teaching, but rather with moral education. Continue reading

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Prof. Gideon Aran: The sensual dimensions of Haredi life

A literary autobiography recently published by a former yeshiva student offers a fascinating testimony to the Haredi bodily regime. With credible and precise realism, it describes the daily (and nightly) routine in the life of a fourteen year old boy during the month of Elul.

Written By Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

The sensual dimensions of Haredi life and their characteristic tensions, such as the dissonance between the function of the mikveh as a purifying pool and its revolting look and smell are emphasized.The author is particularly sensitive to the contradiction between the aim of making the body vanish, and its increasing presence in adolescence.

For him, the intense activity devoted to repressing the body actually reinforces its presence, and the attempts at purifying Continue reading

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Professor Gideon Aran: Euphemism and Silence

A society in crisis tends to deal with control over the body and is occupied with ensuring its intactness, and also shows increased interest in its reproduction. In the Haredi era the subject of producing or replicating the proper Jew has become a task of supreme importance that almost entirely dominates community life.

Written By Professor Gideon Aran

Gideon AranThis includes efforts to shape the proper body. The correct Haredi body is formed and supervised in mainly negative formal and informal ways: rather than presenting youngsters with an ideal model and preaching to them about qualities that should be adopted, they point to examples of deviance to be avoided, and warn of indecent attributes from which one must free oneself.

The Haredi boy is mostly taught how not to behave. His world is filled with bodily prohibitions, all of which are accompanied by threats and scares. From childhood to adolescence he is constantly told by his parents, teachers and others in the community, “don’t cross your legs”, “don’t kneel down (like a Christian)”, “don’t lounge about on the sofa”, “take your hands out of your pockets”, “don’t jump around”, “don’t look at your reflection in shop windows”, “don’t open the top buttons of your shirt, even if it’s hot”, “don’t stroke cats and dogs”, “don’t wrestle with other kids”, “don’t hug your kin”, and so on.

Taken from “Denial Does Not Make The Haredi Body Go Away Ethnography of a Disappearing (?) Jewish Phenomenon”, By Gideon Aran.

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Gideon Aran: The prohibition on masturbation

The prohibition on masturbation is accompanied by a combination of draconian deterrent and preventative measures. 

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Throughout the day boys at kindergarten are berated should their hand accidentally touch that shameful area, and before going to sleep their hands are placed outside the blankets, which are pulled up to the neck and smoothed down tightly around the chest, in case the hands should wander towards the penis.

Supervision over the teenaged body continues throughout the night. Anyone sleeping on their stomach is woken up to change their position so as to prevent their penis rubbing against the mattress and causing unintentional ejaculation. Continue reading

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Prof. Gideon Aran: The priestly protect the boundaries of the body

The priestly tendency to protect the boundaries of the body against the danger of impurity characterized the children of Israel on the rivers of Babylon, the period of the return to Zion as told in the Torah, and their diasporic descendents who lived under the Talmud.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

With the Haredim it has become quite an obsession. As the classic question about tribal identity in the form of “who is a Jew?” is narrowed and sharpened, and replaced with the test of “who is a Haredi?” the defense mechanisms that envelope the body have become more and more severe and specific. Note, for instance, the attention paid to openings of the body, and to the flow of fluids into and out of it. Urinating, for example, is not an insignificant and neutral issue, but rather a whole ceremony carried out under precise surveillance. Continue reading

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