Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

The Growth of the Haredi Communities in the Diaspora

One of the most common ways of understanding the Haredi community is through the notion of the “enclave” (Almond, Appleby and Sivan 2002). This approach describes the Haredi community as being primarily concerned with defending itself against modernity, which they conceive as eroding religious faith and commitment and Jewish identity and cohesiveness. Thus, they create a community with high and impenetrable boundaries (the “enclave”). These boundaries entail unique behaviors, separate schools, special neighborhoods, distinctive dress, avoiding mass communication and, to a certain extent, speaking a separate language (Yiddish). They hope they can avoid undue contact and contagion with modern society and its influences. This stance undoubtedly contributes to the Haredi disinclination toward participation in mainstream Jewish organizations. The conflict between Haredi and non-Orthodox norms regarding gender and the mixing of the sexes is perceived as a barrier to cooperation between the mainstream organized Jewish community and the Haredim.

Nevertheless, this explanation is not entirely sufficient. Haredim may live in enclaves, but they are “mediated” enclaves. Haredim do succeed in maintaining significant interaction with the larger society in regard to issues and resources that are important to them, while also maintaining the insular character of their society. They maintain effective communications with political figures in the general society and they maintain a small presence in AIPAC (despite their overall reluctance to participate in mainstream Jewish organizations). They have developed various mechanisms for accomplishing this, such as designating specific individuals as specialized “ambassadors” to sectors of the general modern society. The fact that they appear not to have done this in regard to many of the mainstream communal organizations (such as federations) despite the fact that Jewish solidarity is a traditional Jewish value, indicates that other factors are also at work.