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John Chuckman


Stamford Hill’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is moving to Canvey Island – as a rabbi, I’m cautiously optimistic
The early signs have been positive, but the long-term outlook may be less rosy

They are strange people, the ultra-Orthodox, at least as strange as any far-out group you care to name.

If you are familiar with some of their customs around women and cleanliness and eating, you cannot but wonder how an entire group of people can manage to adhere to such practices?

I do think, as a comment below suggests, that in-breeding is involved here, and that is not intended as an insult. The constant swaying and nodding movements when men study Torah, suggest classic extreme ritual neurosis.

The nature of the “uniform” the men wear also points this way. It is almost literally a uniform, an odd assemblage of garb resembling stuff from early 19th century rural places in Eastern Europe.

Why would you fix on such a time and place as a definitive style of dress? Were all believers before that time, somehow condemned for the wrong garb and habits?

Conservative orders of Amish and Mennonites, also very small in-bred communities, follow a similar pattern.

Always in such relatively tiny communities, finding a mate, who is not closely related, is a serious difficulty. A very great deal of intermarriage must have occurred over the last century or so.

I have nothing against people who choose to live in this fashion, but in many communities where groups of them live, great difficulties arise as they spill over their private boundaries into the lives of others.

They cause great troubles in Israel, and there have been many violent confrontations over the years. There were even cases of pedestrians assaulted on the street – as a woman walking where she wasn’t allowed – and some incidents of extreme violence.

The violence included two women, reportedly prostitutes living in or near their neighborhood, being burned alive when their home was set fire to in the night. Of course, there was also the terrible case of the vicious attack on a Palestinian family in the West Bank.

Liberal Temples also have been vandalized in Israel. People like Reform Jews are not even accepted as Jews by this group.

In New York state, there are some very hostile groups of them who even refuse to pay their taxes and disobey laws about the education of children, much resembling in their attitudes the extreme right-wing militia types in the American West.

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