August 28, 2020 in Literature

American Literature

The author had spent some time living in an orthodox Jewish community, specifically among Hasidic girls. The purpose of that kind of experiment was to study Judaism and explore the inner workings in the minds of those who profess it: “I spent my time among lubavitchers exploring the daily lives and inner worlds of their adolescent girls – their thoughts, habits, dreams, struggles, and triumphs”. Reflecting the purpose of that kind of experiment, the researcher makes the assertion as follows: “I aimed to know them [Hasidic adolescent girls] as individuals, in all their complexity and mystery, to cut through the shroud of secrecy so many Americans associate with Hasidism”. All in all, the research by Stephanie Wellen Levine has aimed to explore how being raised in the atmosphere of religious orthodoxy affects the individuality of Hasidic adolescent girls. The following paper intends to systematize Stephanie Wellen’s findings and ponder the status of Hasidic adolescent women in the modern American society.

Being a part of a religious congregation (group) that an individual does not associate himself or herself with is a valuable and enlightening experience. Stephanie Wellen Levine has spent a significant amount of time among the Lubavitch Hasidim and found that each religious group stemming from Judaism is unique. “In school, at social gatherings, on trips, girls of all persuasions got along; the controversy rarely surfaced for them”, “the crux of their lives – the patterns, rules, and philosophies of Hasidism” “Hasidim are among the strictest followers of Orthodox Judaism, which touches every imaginable facet of human behavior. They must circumscribe their diet, dress, life goals, and, of course, beliefs and religious rituals within a narrow band of acceptability”. Gender distinctions within Hasidic community are sharp. In this respect, it has to be mentioned that such sex inequality among Hasidim assert themselves, perhaps, even more vividly outside families. One should quote then “males and females inhabit different worlds”. Since early childhood, Hasidic girls are being taught that their domain is household duties. Orthodox Judaism teaches us that chastity is one of major virtues of Hasidic females. Particularly, having spent some time among Lubavitch Hasidim, the researcher has found the following fact. Hasidic girls and women are obliged to dress up with proper tenuity and chasteness, as well as to behave modestly in front of men. Living among lubavitchers has taught Stephanie Levine that energy and spirit are some of the specific aspects that Hasidic adolescent girls pay, perhaps, the closest attention to. At the same time, the scholar maintains that such females are “every bit as expressive as their peers in mainstream America”. In this respect, Hasidic adolescent girls can be characterized as obedient, docile, and intelligent.

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Stephanie Levine postulates and conclusively proves that these women have a very limited access to all kinds of amenities the modern world has to offer, including food, clothing, arts, music, and cinema. Building on that, it is possible to presume with utter surety that there is a firm belief among the Orthodox Jewish people in the corruptive force of popular culture. Even more so, according to Levine, every encounter Hasidic adolescent girls have with the popular culture (mostly, listening to rock music on the radio and watching films) ends with repentance and anxiety. All in all, the religious code of conduct of Lubavitch Hasidim is rather strict in the following sense. It determines not just their behavior, but such aspects of their lives as social interaction, cultural diet, clothing, and food. At the same time, Stephanie Levine claims that even though the Hasidic adolescent girls’ level of contact with the outside cultural universe is low, they are very well aware of other people’s ways.

As far as the patterns of interaction of Lubavitch Hasidim with other people is concerned, it is essential to take the following points into account. Hasidim are defined as an Orthodox Judaist group in the first place. It can be distinguished from such passionately spiritual communities as, for example, the Mormons and fundamentalist Protestants. Protestantism and the faith of Mormons do not forbid the representatives of respective religious groups to associate with those being not a part of their community. In this respect, attending public schools is, probably, one of the brightest examples of possible restrictions that religion impresses on Hasidim. Assuming the foregoing statement is correct, it is also important to point out the following fact. Those who profess Roman Catholicism are allowed to associate freely with non-Catholics, while lubavitchers see their mission in bringing all Jewish people around to Orthodoxy. Hasidism is the quintessence of spirituality, defined by Stephanie Levine herself as all-encompassing. What the researcher is trying to say here is, probably, that this approach interferes with nearly every sphere of adherent’s life.

Taking all the aforementioned facts into consideration, the following conclusions can be made based on the findings of Stephanie Wellen Levine. Jewish community is heterogeneous (diverse). The group Orthodox Judaists calls itself Hasidim. These people live as a segregated and tight community. Hasidism is strict in terms of the norms of morale, virtuousness, and conduct. At the same time, it institutionalizes social interaction patterns, contacts with a broader society, and culture. It brings them under a set of strict regulations. Clothes, food, and arts are those fields in Hasidism that are controlled by religion. Apart from that, Hasidism is tight in terms of gender roles. Lubavitch Hasidim represents a patriarchal community. It means that the most important decisions there are made by men and women have nothing say in the most important questions and issues challenged. Evidently, more restrictions are imposed on Hasidic girls and females than men. It means that males have more privileges, such as, for example, becoming a rabbi. In this respect, one cannot help but admit that being a leader of a Jewish congregation requires a great deal of skills and devotion, and not a small amount of responsibility. Hasidic women, on the other hand, are mostly housekeepers, who are, actually, ready to accept the fact and dedicate themselves to their loved ones.

Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey among Hasidic Girls is written by Stephanie Wellen Levine. It basically draws a clear demarcation line between religion and faith. Judaism is a faith, while Hasidism is a choice that some Jewish people make consciously. For Lubavitch Hasidim, faith and religion are intimately related. Both of them constitute the essential part of Hasidim lives. On the other hand, the experience shows that religion is some sort of a social institution, while faith is something extremely personal. Strictness is, probably, one of the best-known distinctive features of Hasidism. The evidence support that the Hasidim minimize their contacts with the outer world and other cultures on purpose. 

There is no unambiguous approach towards understanding the status of women in the Jewish community, specifically, in the group of Lubavitch Hasidim. On the one hand, Hasidic men have more educational opportunities. Therefore, they have a chance to be more successful. Women, however, being intelligent and smart, are also educated. However, their function in the community is delimited to doing household duties and raising children mostly. Hasidic adolescent girls are a very tight group. It is a commonplace when a Hasidic female befriends another young woman being a bit older. Therefore, she may learn from her. Whether or not Hasidic adolescent girls have a free voice is by all means a debatable question. On the one hand, limited contacts with a broader society make navigating certain aspects of life more difficult for the Hasidim. On the other hand, they manage to keep abreast of the latest events in political life, science and technology, medicine, and culture. Apart from that, being a Hasid presupposes that one is aware of restrictions and responsibilities that come with the devotion to God. In Judaism, in general, and in Hasidism, in particular, this dedication is steadfast. Anyways, faith is a conscious choice. Thus, in Hasidism, men and women are taught how to conform and live the life of virtues (by Judaist standards, of course) by an equal measure. On the other hand, however, the restrictions that religion imposes on Hasidic females are stricter that the ones that define the lives of males there. Lastly, one cannot help but admit that S. W. Levine’s encounter with Lubavitch Hasidim and sharing her experience on this is rather provoking.

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