Old Order Amish and Jewish ultra-Orthodox women’s responses to the internet

Old Order Amish and Jewish ultra-Orthodox women’s responses to the internet

 

 

My lecture explores how women in two devout religious communities cope with the internet and its apparent incompatibility with their communities’ values and practices.  Two groups were chosen as the appropriate populations for my research, carried out between 2012 and 2015: Old Order Amish and Lithuanian and Hassidic Jewish ultra-Orthodox, both “mainstream” sub-communities that are generally familiar with the internet but limit their use of it.  Participants in the study (82, approximately half from each community), answered questionnaires comprised of closed and open-ended questions. In keeping with the main subject of the conference, the lecture focuses on the Old Order Amish women, but comparison with the ultra-Orthodox will provide an inter-cultural context and shed additional light on the Old Order Amish respondents.

Although their discourses included similar framings of danger and threat from the internet, the two groups manifested different patterns of internet use (or nonuse). A quarter of the Old Order Amish and half of the ultra-Orthodoxwomen were found to use the internet. Amish women reported using it to search for information or to shop; ultra-Orthodoxwomen reported using it mostly for their jobs, but also to search for information, send emails, receive news updates, shop, and maintain contact with family. None of the Amish women had internet at home, and their use was limited to the public library or friends’ homes. Most of the ultra-Orthodox used the internet outside of the home, especially in the workplace.

 

Rigorous adherence to religious dictates, the “strict life,” is greatly admired in these communities, and the women in both take considerable pride in manipulating their status in them. If the coins of modern societies are what their citizens have and use, the coins of these women are what they don’thave and don’t use. Their agency is reflected in how they negotiate the tension inherent in their contradictory roles as both gatekeepers and agents-of-change, which are analyzed in the lecture as valuable currencies in the cultural and religious markets these women negotiate.

 

 

“To Be the Wife of a Talmid Hacham [Torah Scholar]”


“To Be the Wife of a Talmid Hacham[Torah Scholar]”

How Ultra-Orthodox Women Perceive the Socio-Economic Reality of the “Learners’ Society”

 

The lecture examines how Ultra-Orthodox women perceive the socio-economic reality of contemporary Ultra-Orthodox society in Israel. In practice, most Ultra-Orthodox women work and therefore play an important role in the financial support of their families. The Ultra-Orthodox press, a major socialization mechanism, has a dualistic approach: On the one hand, it encourages women to work in order to provide for their families and support their husbands in their studies; on the other, it makes clear that work is not an aim in itself (a career), but rather a means (an occupation) for the financial support of the family.

Through in-depth interviews, 25 Ultra-Orthodox women were asked about their reactions to texts published in Ultra-Orthodoxy’s magazines. The texts argued that the essential place for women is in the home, and that they should maintain a sense of modesty regarding the hierarchy of their various roles inside and outside the home. A grounded-theory-based analysis of their responses found three voices: first, an essentialist voice that perceives men and women as creatures who are different in essence and therefore have different roles; second, a sociological voice that analyzes the socio-economic circumstances of Ultra-Orthodox society and assigns women the task of providing financial support as a matter of necessity, given the reality of their husbands being engaged in Torah study; and third, a critical voice that dared point out the dangers and repercussions of women going out and working – the destabilization of the husband-wife relationship, the family unit, and the social system in the Ultra-Orthodox sector. These very different voices illustrate one of the fascinating developments taking place in Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox society in the twenty-first century.

 

my religious-feminist journey

The lecture will explore my personal religious-feminist journey, addressing the question of what it means to be an academic as well as a religious woman. Is it possible to combine religious belief and commitment with a secular, critical, and feminist academic life? Does it make sense to define myself as a radical feminist observant Jew?

 

I have navigated religion and gender conflicts myentire life, having grownup in a Jewish nationalist-Ultra-Orthodox settlement in the Gaza Strip. My feminist sensibilities began to emerge in middle school, studying Torahand arguing with the teacher about Eve’s creation. “Ha, we have here a little feminist,” she ridiculed me, though she would not explain what a feminist was, only saying something about crazy women who want to imitate men. Eleven years later, as a 23-year-old social worker, married, pregnant, and an MA student at The Hebrew University, I decided to find out who those crazy women were. I took all the Women’s Studies courses the university offered.

 

A class on Advanced Feminist Theories helped me articulate a long-sensed relationship between religion, body, and sexuality.  The concept of the male gaze made me realize that from early childhood I had been taught that it was my responsibility to be covered to protect men. I began to ask myself:  Should I really choose to hide my body? Did I want my second child at 26, when I was struggling to complete my MA? Why do I, together with other religious women, partake in these practices? I cried uncontrollably at times: the daughter, granddaughter, and wife of rabbis, I understood that religion controlled every vein in my body. These feelings helped me join the Shira Hadasha(“New Song”). This community was formed in Jerusalem as an Orthodox feminist alternative in a city where religious extremism is spreading. I am an active member of this community and a partner in social change and the creation of a religious-feminist alternative for women and men.

 

My unfinished business took me directly to the strictest community I knew – the Ultra-Orthodox. My PhD dissertation was on Ultra-Orthodox women’s media exposure patterns and reading behaviors. This taught me what agency was: Even the most devoted women were decision-makers in their families. I uncovered how they critiqued the texts they read and circumvented their community’s expectations. My work in women, gender, and religion has not been limited to the classroom. While pursuing my MA and PhD, to support my family I worked as a social worker with religious women. My work showed me the practical utility of thinking as a feminist. These women with full-time jobs and eight children taught me not only about juggling, but also to pay attention to the subtle tensions between their words and their deeds. My political journey from the right-wing to the Left helped me to decide to serve as a facilitator for Jewish-Palestinian and religious-secular discussion groups. This experience taught me how religion both helps and hinders women’s efforts to work across national, gender,and class boundaries.

 

After completing my PhD, I was a Fulbright post-doctoral fellow and scholar-in-residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, where I worked on a project about new and renewed rituals created by women. My unfinished business with strict religious communities then led me to a comparison of Amish and Ultra-Orthodox women. I argue that studying how these women navigate and cope with their surrounding societies and media technologycan shed light on questions about the social world,and reframes our understanding of negotiation of continuity and change.

 

Following the feminist motto “the personal is political,” thelecture will explore my and my generation’s personal, political, religious, academic, and feminist contexts. The audience will be tasked with dealing with the conflicts of a female researcher with an unmistakably religious appearance, still trying to find the meaningful answer to the question, “What does it really mean to be an academic and a religious woman?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old Order Amish and Jewish ultra-Orthodox women’s responses to the internet

My lecture explores how women in two devout religious communities cope with the internet and its apparent incompatibility with their communities’ values and practices.  Two groups were chosen as the appropriate populations for my research, carried out between 2012 and 2015: Old Order Amish and Lithuanian and Hassidic Jewish ultra-Orthodox, both “mainstream” sub-communities that are generally familiar with the internet but limit their use of it.  Participants in the study (82, approximately half from each community), answered questionnaires comprised of closed and open-ended questions. In keeping with the main subject of the conference, the lecture focuses on the Old Order Amish women, but comparison with the ultra-Orthodox will provide an inter-cultural context and shed additional light on the Old Order Amish respondents.

Although their discourses included similar framings of danger and threat from the internet, the two groups manifested different patterns of internet use (or nonuse). A quarter of the Old Order Amish and half of the ultra-Orthodoxwomen were found to use the internet. Amish women reported using it to search for information or to shop; ultra-Orthodoxwomen reported using it mostly for their jobs, but also to search for information, send emails, receive news updates, shop, and maintain contact with family. None of the Amish women had internet at home, and their use was limited to the public library or friends’ homes. Most of the ultra-Orthodox used the internet outside of the home, especially in the workplace.

 

Rigorous adherence to religious dictates, the “strict life,” is greatly admired in these communities, and the women in both take considerable pride in manipulating their status in them. If the coins of modern societies are what their citizens have and use, the coins of these women are what they don’thave and don’t use. Their agency is reflected in how they negotiate the tension inherent in their contradictory roles as both gatekeepers and agents-of-change, which are analyzed in the lecture as valuable currencies in the cultural and religious markets these women negotiate.

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Woman in the Old Order Amish Community

 

A Day in the Life of a Woman in the Old Order Amish Community

Dr. Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar

 

Between 2012 and 2017 I conducted an anthropological study among women of the Old Order Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The study included participant observations, in-depth interviews, and distribution of questionnaires. I spent eight stretches of time on the farm of an Amish family, participating as much as possible in their daily activities. A personal relationship marked by openness and trust evolved between the family and me. One reason for this was our special bond as people with religious beliefs. They were respectful and appreciative of the fact that as a religious Jew I observed the Sabbath and the dietary rules of kashrut.

 

I took part in most housekeeping chores, especially washing dishes and folding laundry. Since the Old Order Amish are forbidden to drive or own a car, I often drove the women of the family, and sometimes female neighbors and friends as well. I was invited to an end-of-school picnic, to church, to youth groups – and I was asked to teach the children at the local school the Hebrew alphabet.

 

In the course of my observations, I accompanied the mother of the family for the duration of one day, starting at 4:15, when she gets up to prepare meals, until 22:00, when she goes to sleep.  My lecture offers a look at the intensive routine that I observed and in which I participated, and attempts to sketch an outline toward analysis and conclusion. So – how does it look – an Amish woman’s daily schedule? Dozens of pictures from the farm’s life, kitchen, and garden will take you to a different world, where the laundry takes four hours and schedules are determined by the harvest.