The reality of modern secularity, with its abundance of temptations, is seen as a threat to the continued existence of the Haredi world. Even though the Haredim invest much effort in raising walls so as to isolate them, in Israel the boundaries between them and their Jewish environment are thinner and more penetrable than any that ever existed between them and their non-Jewish surroundings.
In this situation of defensively rallying around in the face of a perceived existential danger, Mary Douglas’ reading of ancient Israel is most valid here too. According to her thesis, when there is increased awareness of a threat to a group’s external boundaries, there is a tendency to deal more intensively with the bodies of the group’s members as they try to ensure their wholeness. Continue reading →
Among the Israeli Orthodox, the extent to which the foot is covered up is an indicator of religiosity. For instance, similarly to other Israelis, the modern orthodox often wear sandals during hot summer days.
In yeshiva circles this is seen as proof of a decline in the neo-orthodox commitment to the Torah and its mitzvoth. In the national-religious youth movement a fierce argument rages between the tsabarim, who are accused of slighting their religion by wearing sandals with no socks, and those who do not take their socks off, thus termed by their friends-cum-rivals as being “on their way to becoming zealous proto-Haredim” (chnioks, or, “shechrim”). At the top of the pyramid of devoutness sit those who do not expose their arms, knees or feet. Continue reading →
Jewish religious sensitivity to exposing the foot is not only a matter of modesty, nor is it merely the result of identifying being barefooted with the “primitivism” of the Mideastern sections of the population scorned by the Haredim.
The symbolic meaning of the foot should mainly be understood in the context of the ritual distinction between purity and pollution. It is a borderline limb that connects these two basic religious categories, the latter of which is associated with danger. The distance, liminality, and contradictions that characterize the foot explain the multiplicity of mystic and magic beliefs focused on it, such as the dibbuk, that possessive, mythological Jewish spirit. Continue reading →
There are restrictions regarding feet, and limitations on their exposure. Haredim keep their shoes on in circumstances in which others would take them off; and where others would go barefoot, Haredim will not remove their socks. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see Haredim in the park walking around on the grass or sand in their socks. Even at home, among family, the Haredi foot is not to be seen. Continue reading →
The Hassidim in particular place emphasis on a sash, known in Yiddish as a “gartel” (sometimes the gartel signifies a social sub-category, such as with the Gur Hassidim, where only married men wear one). There are those that are very wide and made of rough or golden silk, and others made of black shiny thread, with a thickening of the material towards their tapering ends for decoration. This girdel is worn during prayer, and on the Sabbath and festivals, as part of a more elegant and expensive costume. Continue reading →
Yeshiva students tell of a Rabbi who “never let his hands fall lower than his belly”. Most prohibitions applied by the Haredim to their body concentrate on the lower parts. This is reflected in the disproportionate amount of educational and disciplinary comments made by parents and teachers in relation to different parts of the body.
A custom widespread amongst Haredim is to use their clothes to highlight the symbolic distinction, if not detachment, between the two parts of the body, between spirit and matter, between the person and his intimate organs.
Jerusalem: one city, three religions. In the hills of the Judean desert, earth and sky have always been separated by a thin line.
Sociologist and anthropologist Gideon Aran said:”The political or religious conflict is imposed upon the national one. And the two of them together obviously are harder to solve and are much more bitter.”