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Coronavirus, the Greatest Challenge to ultra-Orthodox Jewish Life Since the Holocaust

39 95 62
01.04.2020

One of the most frustrating things about reporting on the ultra-Orthodox community as a journalist is that very early on in your beat, you realize that nearly all the Haredim you get to talk to in the daily coverage are not really representative of the community.

You talk to the politicians, the makherim and the askanim [fixers], to the spokesmen and journalists, the businessmen and even some of the rabbis, but no matter from which sub-set of ultra-Orthodoxy they come, they belong to the tiny group with connections to the outside world.

The Haredim you interact with have offices, cars and smartphones which are actually connected to the internet and feature WhatsApp, they know the media lingo, and make a lot more money than the average income in their community. Usually, their rabbis have allowed them to have an outside existence because they serve their community either through their work, or by making money, a significant portion of which is then tithed back. Just by dint of having these connections with outsiders, they are different.

And as hard as you try to go out on to the streets of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak and any other of the ultra-Orthodox townships, and just meet and talk with "ordinary" Haredim, few of them are willing to open up with a journalist, unless they themselves are aspiring to one of those outward-looking positions in life, or are baalei t’shuva ["returnees" to religion] who know other worlds from their pre-Haredi existence.

It also means that you very rarely get to speak to ultra-Orthodox women, with the exception of the tiny group of female Haredim who have been allowed to pursue a profession outside the community.

And you almost never get to see the inside of a "real" Haredi home. Not that your ultra-Orthodox contacts won’t host you, they’re eager to have you over, for an entire Shabbat if you like. Theirs is a proselytizing cult. Only your contacts live in the small number of "nicer" Haredi neighborhoods, can afford larger apartments with the creature comforts that their "outside" income buys and they socialize with those like them.

The one time you do get the chance to peek inside a "real" Haredi home is when one of your contacts is sitting shiva (the seven days of mourning) for a parent or sibling who unlike them, was a "normal" Haredi.

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© Haaretz