What you need to know
Hassidic communities must react to social changes that could alter their insular lifestyle. They recognize the internet, rising divorce rates, and more people leaving the community as factors that most affect their unique way of living.
What is this research about?
Hasidism is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that has beliefs in the absolute authority of religious law. Hassidim attempt to distance themselves from outside influences to maintain their distinctive lifestyle, by setting up systems that distance them from outside ideas. As technology advances, however, it becomes more difficult to separate the Hassidic community from modern developments.
What did the researcher do?
The researcher travelled to Montreal to meet with and observe members of the Hassidic community. He conducted interviews to determine the impacts of modernity on the Hassidic population. He also used survey information that was compiled in 1997 and 2005 about the Montreal Hassidic community to examine the social changes they experience.
What did the researcher find?
Hassidim identified three points that have changed day-to-day Hassidic life: the internet, divorce, and those leaving the Hassidic lifestyle.
As new technologies are introduced, from newspapers to computers, rabbis have had to regulate their use. The internet is no exception, but because it is so easy to access, its ban has not been entirely successful. If someone requires the internet for their livelihood, they must get permission from rabbis and install multiple safeguards to prevent children from the danger of the internet. The internet allows Hassidim to interact with outsiders without leaving their home.
Divorce is rising among Hassidic Jews, though it is still quite rare. Men and women have different education experiences, with women going through a much more secular education. Marrying after having such different exposure to the outside world can lead to incompatibility in the marriage. Many within the Hassidic community blame selfishness for divorce, saying divorce happens when someone considers their needs more important than the needs of the community.
The numbers are also rising for those leaving the lifestyle, along with those who are distanced from the values but remain part of the community. Both men and women lead double lives, appearing to follow the Hassidic lifestyle but secretly engaging in deviant behaviour. While this is not a widespread problem, it occurs more today than it did before.
How can you use this research?
Those living in Hassidic communities, or other Orthodox communities, like Amish and Mennonites, may find this research useful. It gives an overview of how one Orthodox community is changing in modern times, which other communities can use to assess their own ability to stay insular, or which aspects of modern life they should embrace. This research can be used by government agencies when Hassidic communities approach them for assistance.
About the researcher
Dr. William Shaffir is a Professor of Sociology at McMaster University.
Shaffir, W. (2007). "Hassidim Confronting Modernity." The Jewish Journal of Sociology 49: 5-35.