The Orthodox Jews of Israel (or: The Shocking Experience of My Family Reunion)

Being the only Jewish country in the world, Israel has many unique citizens whose religion shapes their lives. From their clothing to their job, everything they do is based on the bible and the Jewish virtues. While most of the people in Israel have a modern, not-very-religious lifestyle, the Orthodox Jews still make up a big part of our culture.

A month ago was my yearly family reunion, and even though my parents and siblings are not religious, the rest of my family are as religious as it gets. Starting at 3 o’clock, relatives with weird hats and skirts, and dozens and dozens of babies knocked on our door. After getting over the first shock, I got to hear very interesting stories about their beliefs and everyday lives.

An Orthodox Family Reunion

The conversation started with my cousin. She is 24 and already has three children as orthodox are not allowed to use contraception and are encouraged to have as many children as possible. My aunt, for example has 10 children. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it is not uncommon in the Orthodox society.

My cousin used to have beautiful long hair, but when she got married she had to shave it all, because in her society men should not be able to see the hair of a married woman. Now she wears a toupee like some Orthodox women, although others claim that a toupee is not good enough and cover their hair with a scarf instead.

Not even a toupee is good enough for them

As we talk, I look at her clothes. A long black skirt to cover her ankles and a very modest shirt to cover her elbows and neck bones, just like she is required to. Her clothes are all blue and white, as she is not allowed to wear pink or red clothes. The great Rabbi says that these colors attract male attention and should be avoided.
Every sentence she says ends with either “thanks to gosh” or “with the help of gosh” and I am amazed that she remembers to say it every time.

When the conversation ends, she turns to the food area, where everything is wrapped in nylons. My mother and I worked on that all morning to make sure they will be able to eat. Their restrictions on food are very strict. They are not allowed to eat pork or seafood, and they are never to mix meat with dairy; they must count six hours between the two and they have two separate fridges, sinks, dishwashers and sets of cutlery, one for meat and the other for dairy. As a result of that, our entire kitchen was wrapped in nylon to make sure that none of the food they eat will touch a surface that once had non-kosher food on it.

The Orthodox Men

It is impossible not to notice the men in black in my living room. The orthodox men all wear black and white suits, giant black hats and have long beards and even longer sideburns, or “payot”, that give them a distinctive look. It is still a riddle to me how their side burns are so curled.

Men in black

They all have white strings dangling from under their shirts as some sort of a religious symbol, they wear hats as a fancy replacement for the kippah, and I could not count the number of times they all prayed that day. Most of these men don’t have a job, they study the bible and pray all day, and get money from the government to do so.

You can see by the women wearing a toupee and red clothes that they are not the most strict

If I tell you that the reunion occurred on a Thursday, and many relatives did not work that day to be able to join, you might wonder why we didn’t meet on the weekend. That is because the orthodox’ lives shut down on Saturday the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, they are not allowed to do any sort of changing actions. That includes turning the light on and off, driving and even flushing. As they once told me, they tear the toilet paper into squares on Friday because they are not allowed to tear it on the Sabbath.

Do you think you would be able to live like an orthodox?

What do you think?

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Continent: Asia
Capital: Jerusalem
Population: 7,354,000
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Languages: Hebrew, Arabic

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