Ultra-Orthodox Jews? light orthodox? Haredim?  What does it all mean?!

Some think that the men wearing black suits and hats are orthodox while the men dressing casually are not, this is not true, They are all Orthodox.

Like you already know (or will start to learn), everything about Judaism is complex. There are many commandments and rituals and it all leads to several approaches and many arguments inside the Jewish world. As we like to say here: If there are 2 Jews, there are 3 opinions. you can find a lot of information about Judaism and the differences between the different groups, but I’ll try to sum it up for you here.

In Hebrew – Haredim (חרדים)

Generally, the ones wearing black clothes are called Haredim, meaning afraid or anxious. This name refers to their modern lifestyles in reform. They choose to stay in their communities and avoid the influence of the outside world. Being conservative is part of their ideology and wearing their old-fashioned clothes is a way to distinguish themselves from their environment. Wearing black is a color that isn’t prominent and it’s modest.

Hasidim vs Mitnagdim

Among the Haredim, the first differences will be between Hasidim and Mitnagdim.
Very generally, the Hasidim want to make the religion more approachable to people.  Judaism is a lot about studying, being clever, and understanding some very complex ideas.

Some spend the whole day and whole night analyzing texts and studying. In the 18 century, there was a big rabbi who started to make advanced ideas in Judaism, like Kabala, more approachable to people. He communicated that worshiping God is not only about studying but also about daily acts you do in the physical world.

This movement grew and appealed to many. Not everyone is born smart or capable of studying all day complex texts. The focus here is not on knowledge and analytical ability, but more on good intentions and being passionate about God and the prayers. 

  • The new movment is called Hassidim
  • Mitnagdim in Hebrew means the ones who oppose. They prefer the tradicional approach.  They are also called Litaim, (meaning Lithuanians in Hebrew) because some of their great rabbis come from Lithuania.


Mitnagnim (Lithuanians)

The Mitnagdim will say that a prayer without knowledge is empty, and with a lack of knowledge, you will forget how to do it properly anyway…

A documentry about their famous school nor far from Tel Aviv:


Hassidim are much more complex and diverse. They split into many sub-groups.

Hassidim like to make their celebraions big. with alot of toasts and dancing. although, they also study alot.

Short tales about the differences:

  • When the Messiah will come, the Lita ‘im will run to him with some scriptures and ask him about all the things they don’t understand. The Hassidim will run to him with a bottle of vodka containing the last few drops…

  • A Hasid and a Litai are having an argument about which Rabbi is greater. The Litai… say “If the Messiah comes and says we’re right, what will your Rabbi do?” 
    The Hasidim say “My rabbi will stop doing the Hasidic traditions and will sit all day and do nothing except study the Torah. I’m sure that in 10 years he will be as good as your rabbi.” “And what if the Messiah will say that the Hassidim are right? What your rabbi will do?” The Litai… answered “Well my rabbi will drop all of his studying and will start to focus on the Hassidic way of life. After 10 years, I’m sure he will be good as your rabbi.” The Hasid answered, “maybe, but to be a simple man like my rabbi I don’t think 10 years is enough.”

Anti-Zionism vs Assimilation

Some of Hassidim like “Neturei Karta” or “Satmer” are anti-Zionist and against the state of Israel. According to their view, God punished the Jews by expelling them 2000 years ago and only God will establish a new Jewish state. And besides, they can’t accept that the state is not a religious state. They don’t vote, they try to settle things inside the community and avoid any connection with the state Institutes. they are also openly siding with the hostile countries to Israel.

On the other hand, in recent years, some of the communities have begun to take part in building the state and get closer to the rest of Israeli society, and some are joining the military. There is 1 battalion of Haredim. I generalize very much and it’s much more complex, but these are the basics.
you can read more on this page on this site.

The Party People

There is one group of Hasidim which you will probably meet even if you don’t go to a religious area. They can be found even in the center of Tel Aviv next to club entrances in remote areas of the desert or in the Israeli version of burning man. The Hasidim of Breslev. You will see a bunch of religious Jews coming in big vans with huge speakers playing hardcore trance or western hits translated into Hebrew, singing about their rabbi and about being happy.

So if you see one of these big hippie vans with loud speaker and a happy religious guy inside……… Get ready!

Why Ultra-Orthodox wear black clothes?

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The Litaim cloths:

from the 19-century wear suits. They had a bad economic situation in the past and they wanted to increase their value in their own eyes and their self-esteem. They started to wear suits to give themselves the look and feel of honorable people despite their situation, and this style stays with them till today. It’s just normal suits that they can buy in any fashion shop around the world.

On the right – Litaim with summer clothes.

The Hasidim cloths:

will be more conservative with their clothes. Each Hasidic movement has its own style. Most of the time their clothes look like something out of an Eastern European fashion catalog of the 18 century. High socks, all kind of coats, and a big fur hat on holidays that’s usually about only in Haredim shops. What’s the story about the hat? It is called a shtreimel and here are a few stories about it:

The king of Poland made a law that said that on their holidays, Jews have to wear the tail of an un-pure animal on their hat. So the Jews tried to make something fancy out of it and it became the fancy holiday hat and the Tzar of Russia prohibited Jews from wearing the kippah. So the Jews put fur around the kippah to hide it, and it also suited the cold weather.

On the right – Hassidic teens from 2 different groups.

Payot – Or this weird hair beside the head

Why they have this weird long hair coming from the side of their head?
Well, the simple answer is because its written in the bible. The complex one is here, and it is not even the whole explanation.

Hassidic kids with Payot:

In this video you can see a mix of everyone. Hassidim of Toldos Aharon organizing a great party each year on the holiday of Sukkot and everyone is welcome, other Hasidim, Litaim, and just random people are joining:

Where can I meet Haredim?

Geographically they are spread all over Israel. With big concentrations in Jerusalem and BneI-Brak. 
The easiest way will be to visit Mea Shearim while you are in Jerusalem.

Klezmer Show

You can visit a Klezmer show in Jerusalem which is open for tourists.