Religion: An Antique Version of Myself

A writer's inside account of life among Hasidic Jews

The ultra-Orthodox movement in Judaism known as Hasidism is alien and vaguely unsettling to some Gentiles and even to many modernized Jews. Hasidic men, bearded, black-hatted and clad in severe dark suits, take to their streets to dance in spiritual celebration on joyous holy days. The strictly observant women dress to conceal their elbows and knees and cover their shorn hair with wigs. Members of tightly knit, Yiddish-speaking Hasidic communities, under the virtually absolute sway of a grand rabbi, preserve a way of life that began long ago in Eastern Europe.

Hasidim, in turn, are generally indifferent to or suspicious of...

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