We have previously discussed the Orthodox Jews, and their slow takeover of American Jewry by outbreeding the more liberal Reform Jews. Orthodox Jews hew more closely to biblical commands, keeping kosher, marrying young and without premarital sex, and resting on the Sabbath. One of the remarkable features of hospitals in New York is the “sabbath elevator,” an elevator that is programmed to make stops at every floor automatically, so that Orthodox Jews do not have to press a button to call it, thus, somewhere, “making a fire” on the Sabbath, which is forbidden to them; its presence and increase shows the growing numbers of the group.
But the Orthodox are considered fringe left-wing radicals by the ultra-orthodox, a group that includes Hasidic Jews. The New York Times recently ran an article on their influence in New York politics, an influence and a strategy we admire and hope to encourage reactionary Christians to adopt.
First, how did they come about?
The sparse remnants of Hasidic sects in Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union were almost decimated by Hitler’s slaughter of the European Jews and arrived in New York after World War II in tiny numbers, barely enough to fill a sect’s single small yeshiva or room-size synagogue. But families have an average of six, seven and eight children, helping the sects replenish. … The latest population survey by the UJA-Federation of New York counted roughly 330,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, or 30 percent of the city’s 1.1 million Jews, a figure that melds Hasidim with others who are as scrupulously observant but do not revere a particular grand rabbi. Today Hasidim dominate neighborhoods like south Williamsburg and Borough Park, and support scores of schools, synagogues and kosher stores. Rising numbers have also brought increasing tensions with government authorities.
This is extraordinary. Assuming 8 children are born by age 30, then the question arises: has enough time elapsed since 1945 to birth 330,000 Jews from a small number? Assuming 70 years since arrival, an original band of Hasidic Jews of, say, 3000 has shown a compounded population increase of 7% per year. If they keep up the same rate of growth, in 70 years there will be 37 million of them. Still, at some point we’ll be up to our ears in Amish, too.
Do these guys follow common cultural trends? Well…
the city has battled with ultra-Orthodox Jewish representatives over the health risks in metzitzah b’peh, a technique for orally suctioning a circumcision wound.
Yuck. Glad Papists consider that sort of thing a sin. But that is their religious tradition. Anything else to shock the conscience of the over-sexualized, liberal West?
Two years ago, when the city transferred a female lifeguard at Williamsburg’s Metropolitan Pool to a beach and replaced her with a man, Hasidic women stopped going and felt cheated.
“It’s the only exercise I get,” said Rose Herschkowitz, a Satmar Hasid who swam with her 85-year-old mother.
They turned to their local councilman, Stephen Levin, explaining that wearing bathing suits under the eyes of a male lifeguard would violate the tradition of modestly clothing themselves before men who are not their husbands. Mr. Levin agreed that it was “a reasonable accommodation.” But parks officials did not see it that way, arguing that explicitly assigning lifeguards by gender could violate the First Amendment’s establishment of religion clause, not to mention union seniority rules.
Feminine modesty? Women only to be seen by their husbands? Egad. Troglodytes. How else do they defy Caesar?
Hasidim were somewhat more successful in the tussle over matzo bakeries. After inspectors told a Satmar bakery that it could not use well water without a permit since reservoir water was “available,” the Hasidim marshaled their lawyers. The lawyers, with Talmudic hairsplitting, argued that the reservoir water was not technically “available” to the Hasidim because it had been treated with chemicals like chlorine and so violated religious requirements for matzo baking. The conflict was resolved when the bakery installed carbon filters that allowed the well water to meet state chemical and bacteriological standards.
But that’s not radically going in the face of post-civil-rights America. Surely they could do more?
Sometimes a city ruling seems beside the point. A city-franchised company that operates the B110 bus that ferries people between Williamsburg and Borough Park no longer enforces the Hasidic custom that men and women sit apart in social situations. But since virtually all the riders traveling that route are Hasidic, the men and women choose to do so on their own and do not complain about segregation. …On a public bus service that plies a route between the Hasidic neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn, men sit up front and women in the back, hewing to the practice of avoiding casual mingling of the sexes, even after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg condemned the arrangement.
Holy crap! They actually got the liberal city of New York, for a while, to enforce a rule that women had to sit at the back of the bus: segregation. Again, not something you’d see in a restored patriarchal Christian society, but amazing that this happened recently in the capital of liberal America. Why do the ultra-orthodox have such influence?
The remarkable rise in the population and the influence of Hasidim and other ultra-Orthodox Jews has provoked repeated conflicts over revered practices, forcing the city into a balancing act between not treading over constitutional lines by appearing to favor a particular religious group and providing an accommodation no more injurious than suspending parking rules for religious holidays.
A politically astute new generation of ultra-Orthodox leaders has become savvy at navigating the halls of government, while the grand rabbis of Hasidic sects wield electoral power like few religious leaders can, turning followers into cohesive voting blocs. “No one can deliver votes like a rebbe can,” said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York, who has written extensively about ultra-Orthodox Jews.
That power was evident most recently in last September’s primary for Democratic district leader in the area covering Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Two factions of Satmar Hasidim turned out at the polls in astonishing numbers for such a relatively obscure post, yielding a turnout of 11,000 votes, among the city’s largest. Many members of both factions admitted they did not know whom they were voting for but had been instructed to do so by their rabbis or yeshiva officials. The dominant Satmar faction made the difference in vaulting a candidate to the leadership.
As a result, the image New Yorkers and the city’s power brokers have of Hasidim has changed. “They are no longer an obscure group — they’re not just quaint,” Professor Heilman said.
There are lessons for Reactionary Christians here.
1) If you want to win the cultural war, you need soldiers, and that means babies. Lots of them, birthed young, with subsequent generations following in the same path. Are the four most fertile years of a young woman’s life best spent in college?
2) You need to minimize population losses, especially by your women. That means having a number of restrictions on their behavior; insisting on hair covering and that the beauty of the wife is exclusively for the husband seems to both encourage group solidarity, and give women what they want: a master whose approval they need, and whose exclusive prize they are.
3) Having bizarre rituals that set the group apart help insure that a person raised in that group will be at a disadvantage outside it, discouraging young women especially from divorce theft, as it will require self-excommunication.
4) Concentration for political purposes is important. Politicians follow votes, even though pastors cannot tell people how to vote from the pulpit for fear of losing tax-exempt status. But what the Ultra-Orthodox do is particularly notable: rather than worry about national politics where their votes are diluted in a sea of others, they care and focus on local politics, and get results for it; in a large sense, they follow the Papist policy of subsidiarity. Long before they reach 37 million, they will vote in a local government that matches their ethics; it will NOT be liberal.