Orthodox Jews: A Cultural Profile
Christina Soranno & Kim Sondey
WCSS 6111-1: Communications and Teamwork in a Global Society
February 25, 2012
Based on conversation with Chava from Orthodox-jews.com
And Yoseph from Sell-my-structured-settlement.com
The purpose of this paper is to observe, analyze, and profile the Orthodox Jewish culture. We will discuss their history and traditions, beliefs and practices. The team will also explore the issues they face such cultural bias and perceived gender roles. Finally, this paper will discuss how the above mentioned items affect communication. We are intending for the profile we have created to assist the director of the clinic to present his ideas to the community leaders while following the traditions and observing the religious rules that the group of Orthodox jews observes.
Judaism is a religion that started many thousands of years ago. The Torah (the writings of God) was presented to several thousand people on Mt. Sinai 3000 years ago. These writings are the basis for all sects of the Jewish Religion. The basis of Orthodox Judaism is Jewish Law. Orthodox Jews follow the law to the letter and believe it is not to be altered or changed regardless of time and space. They follow the Torah, also called the Written Law, and the Talmud, which is the Oral Law. Because they follow these laws so strictly it makes them standout in today's society.
There are now Orthodox jewish communities all over the world. There are many types of Orthodox Jewish groups, from modern Orthodox jews (less strict) to Hasidic Orthodox jews (most strict). Though there are vast differences they do have several significant things in common. The most important is the adherence to Jewish Law. The first is observing the Sabbath , The second is niddah, or family purity. The third is eating kosher foods (Yoseph from Sell-my-structured-settlement.com personal communication, February 21, 2012).
The lives of Orthodox Jews are centered on the Jewish Law. The belief is that the Torah was handed directly from God to Moses and because of this it is divine and it is not acceptable to change or alter these laws for any reason (Segal, 2009). The Talmud or Oral Torah is the "user's guide" for the Torah. Moses learned it from God on Mt. Sinai and it has been passed on verbally for thousands of years. It was eventually written down in the 2ndcentury C.E. (Rich, 2011). With that said the laws are not always specific and are subject to interpretation. An example of this is the custom of shaking hands. Traditionally it was forbidden for an Orthodox man to shake hands with a woman (who was not his wife). It was considered a friendly gesture and a man should not be friendly with just any woman. In today's society a hand shake is considered more of a professional gesture than a friendly one so some Rabbi's permit their people to shake hands (Chava from Orthodox-jews.com, personal communication, February 21, 2012).
Family purity or niddah is an important practice in Orthodox Jewish life. It refers to the time that a woman is having her menses and the way in which a couple must behave during this time. When a woman is menstruating and for seven days afterward marital relations are prohibited. Once this period is over she performs a ritual bath called a Mikvah and relations may resume. The Law dictates that a community must have a Mikvah. If they do not they must find a way to do so including selling important things such as their religious scrolls which are very ornate and expensive.
Husbands and wives are not permitted any physical contact during this time. They are not permitted to pass things to each other and are discouraged from seeing each other uncovered. This is all intended to prevent the couple from being tempted by their spouse. It is also said that it enhances the marriage. The husband and wife are said to be "best friends" during the niddah time and when they are able to come together it is as if the relationship is new again (Chava from Orthodox-jews.com, personal communication, February 21, 2012).
The Sabbath or Shabbat is the Jewish day of worship. Although the official day is Saturday it is observed from sundown on Friday until Saturday. Orthodox Jewish people are not permitted to work, cook, drive cars, use electricity, or touch money. Food is prepared in advance and the women of the family light candles the day before so that they will have light in the house.
Orthodox Jewish people follow the kosher food laws. According to the website http://www.Orthodox-jews.com, kosher food is not blessed by a Rabbi, the way popular myth explains it.
"Hashem (God) has forbidden in the Torah (Bible) many types of food. As a quick guide, Jews are forbidden from eating fish that don't have fins or scales, meat (and milk) from animals that don't chew their cud and have split hooves, and birds of prey. In Judaism, keeping kosher food laws also prohibits eating blood of an animal, and any animal that wasn't slaughtered according to Jewish law (Everything you need to know about Orthodox Jews, 2010)."
Ancient Jewish clothing has changed little over the years. The Torah preaches modesty for all, especially women. Orthodox Jewish women do not wear pants and wear long skirts. They wear shirts that cover their elbows. Married women cover their heads. They may use a scarf, called a tichel, or some women, especially working women wear wigs to cover their own hair. The hair is considered a women's beauty and is saved for her husband and not displayed in public. The typical clothing for men includes dark suits, a skull cap and a tzitzit or Talit, a form of prayer shawl, worn over their shirts and under their jackets. They will have strings that hang outside of their clothing. Depending on the sect, clothing may vary slightly. Some men will wear long socks and tuck their pants into the socks (Everything you need to know about Orthodox Jews, 2010).
Many sects of Orthodox Jewish people speak the language of the country or region that they live in. There are some exceptions. A Hasidic Jews first language is generally Yiddish. For many of the residents of the Orthodox community in Brooklyn, New York, English is a second language. There are some people that do not use English at all in their lives. This is probably not true for more Modern Orthodox as they tend to live in areas with many different cultures (Chava from Orthodox-jews.com, personal communication, February 21, 2012).
Jewish women are seen as wives and mothers. They are considered the heart of the Jewish home and not many of them work outside the home. In some communities, sex segregation is heavily practiced. Local streets have women walking on one side of the street and men on the other. In public and social situations, men and women do not interact. A local YMHA has separate sessions when the pool and exercise facilities are open to only men or women at certain times of the day.
When treating Orthodox Jewish patients, there are some sects that will not allow someone of the opposite sex to view them without clothing. This will need to be considered when hiring staff for the clinic. This could be a selling point during the business proposal that will add to the presentation.
There are many myths and biases involving Orthodox Jewish people. Because of the way their traditional, modest dress it is often assumed they are ignorant or backwards. This is very far from the truth. A good example of this would be involving healthcare. Even the most Orthodox (Hasidic) Jewish people believe that it is God's will that they do everything they can to protect their health. This includes breaking the Sabbath if someone is having a medical emergency. It would be a worse transgression to ignore the problem and continue Sabbath observances. There are some communities that even have their own trained emergency medical personnel and ambulance team. Orthodox jews are also permitted to break kosher laws if the treatment is something to maintain or improve health.
Relationships among Sects
When interviewing some of our subjects it was quite interesting to learn of some of the differences among the sects that originate from different parts of the world. When interviewing Joan Palma, it was discussed that her parent's ancestors came from two parts of the world. Her mother came from a European sect, while her father came from a sect from an area in the Middle East. She explained that her families did not get along. They looked down upon one another. Joan was not sure because of this rift if some of her traditions were truly religious or were unique to her family (J. Palma, personal communication, February, 2012).
When speaking to Arlene and Seth Perlmutter, their knowledge was a little different. Seth came from a very strict Jewish family and Arlene converted from Catholicism to Judaism when they decided to marry. Arlene went through an intense learning process to convert and brought her children up in the same strict way that Seth was raised. They were both very knowledgeable about their religion and offered a lot of good information. They were able to explain a lot about the food and dress as well as the segregation of men and women (A. Perlmutter, & S. Perlmutter, personal communication, February, 2012).
The information we have presented above is vital when we try to communicate or work with the Orthodox culture. God and family are central to them and must be respected by anyone trying to engage. Even though their appearance is traditional they are not opposed to modern technology or medicine. The good of the group is much more important than the individual. What one Jewish person does (Orthodox or not) is believed to effect all Jewish people. It is important to note that Orthodox people have many rules and expectations for themselves but that does not hold true for outsiders. A non-Jewish person might feel intimidated because of all the regulations but it is not assumed that they will abide by them. What might be considered a sin for a Jewish person may not be a sin for a non-Jewish person because non-Jewish people have not promised to uphold Jewish law (Rich, 2011). So, unlike many other cultures, you are not expected to become like them in order to work with them. It would be more accepted to acknowledge the differences and respect them.
Judaism as a religion has been in existence for thousands of years. This religion is the basis for life in the Orthodox Jewish culture. Orthodox Jewish people have chosen to separate themselves from the rest of society in varying degrees. The Torah and Talmud play a central role in their lives; it provides their rules for everything from daily life to how they worship. It dictates their actions, what they eat, what they wear, and how they do business. Despite these differences Orthodox Jewish people do function well in today's modern society. As we found in our research, many Orthodox are willing to reach out to non-Jewish people to inform and educate about their lives and culture. There is a lot of myth surrounding these people and they seem very willing to explain and help others understand who they are. As a business trying to cater to Orthodox people these things must be kept in mind.
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Rich, T. R. (2011). . Retrieved from http://www.jewfaq.org/index.htm
Schafer, B. (2012). Oprah Tours a Traditional Jewish Mikvah/Interviewer: Oprah Winfrey. [Video on the Internet]. Available from http://www.oprah.com/own-oprahs-next-chapter/Oprah-Tours-a-Traditional-Jewish-Mikvah-Video.
Segal, E. (2009). Judaism the E-book [Adobe Digital]. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org
This is the email I send for Chava from Orthodox-jews.com befor the interview:
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The life of Orthodox Jews. Find all info on the beliefs, lifestyle, culture and customs of Orthodox Judaism
Taharat Hamishpacha - Family Purity laws. Get familiar with the Jewish laws of family purity. Learn about the prohibition of having sex during Niddah - menstrual period.