Hasidim - Kinship, Marriage and Family

Marriage. Boys and girls are segregated at a very early age and never participate in activities where the sexes are mixed. Ideally neither male nor female has any sexual experience Before marriage, the average age of which is young—usually Between the ages of eighteen and twenty—but varies with the particular Hasidic sect. Dating and falling in love are as Foreign to the Hasidim as they are the norm in the larger secular culture. The selection of a mate is arranged through the aid of friends and members of the community who act in the capacity of shadchan, or marriage broker. There is a tendency to prefer marriages within the same sect or at least within sects sharing a similar ideology. Although intermediaries bring the couple together, the latter do meet and are given the opportunity to talk and judge the other's suitability as a marriage mate. Such encounters often consist simply of conversations in the living room of the girl's family, although some might take a stroll unescorted. In some instances, notably among the Lubavitcher, the couple might go for a drive or meet in a public setting. After a few meetings between a prospective bride and groom, a decision regarding marriage is reached. It will require approval by the respective families, and the rebbe's blessing will be sought. Procreation, God's commandment, is one of the most important functions of the Hasidic family, and couples strive to have children as soon as possible. Most forms of birth control are religiously forbidden and the tendency is toward large families. Although rates of separation and divorce remain low, they may increase as the Hasidim respond to social and economic changes in the world around them.

Domestic Unit. The family is a central institution in the Hasidim's efforts to ensure conformity to a prescribed lifestyle, as it is the first and most enduring locus of the Socialization process. It is the mediator or communicator of social values and links the individual to the larger social structure. In this capacity, it becomes one of the cornerstones of Community cohesion, continuity, and survival. Structurally speaking, the Hasidic family appears to be much like its traditional North American counterpart. Its organization shows a division of labor whereby the husband and father serves as the overall supervisor in religious matters, and the wife and mother is charged with keeping the house and ensuring that the children adhere to the prescribed religious precepts.

Socialization. The religious education of the young is a central consideration in the Hasidic community. From childhood on, parents are instrumental in communicating to their children the appropriate attitudes and behavior. The ultimate objective of the religious training is to produce a God-fearing person who is well socialized into the sect's normative Structure. Since Hasidic norms demand a strict separation of the sexes, separate schools are available for boys and girls and their formal education differs. For males, the central activity of the school day, until they are sixteen or seventeen, consists of learning Torah. The primary subject matter is the Pentateuch, and this, together with the Babylonian Talmud and some biblical commentaries, constitutes the core curriculum. Following graduation from the elementary division, the young man moves to the yeshiva—upper division—where the same basic subject matter is emphasized, except that more commentaries are added, and the coverage increases. The girls' religious curriculum does not parallel the boys'. Although it has undergone some changes in recent years, the general rule against teaching Torah to girls has resulted in a diluted curriculum, which emphasizes a knowledge of Hebrew reading for prayer, Bible stories, moral teachings, and simplified law and custom codes. For both, the language of instruction is Yiddish.

A feature common to all Hasidic sects is the view that secular education threatens their traditional values; in order to shield their children from its potentially harmful influences, they run their own schools where secular classes are closely supervised to ensure that the pupils will not encounter any conflict with the contents of their religious studies. Secular programs exist alongside the religious curriculum in the schools, but they are hardly accorded equal importance. Text-books are censored in advance and purged of all suspect stories and pictures. Nonacademic subjects such as music and physical education are totally absent. Those hired for secular studies—virtually all are outsiders since Hasidim do not pursue higher education to qualify for teacher accreditation—are specifically informed about the constraints within which they must operate. The secular studies program for girls is Generally more liberal than the boys', since the former are permitted to have a greater amount of diversion from their religious studies. In the case of boys, only minimal time is devoted to secular education—usually not more than a couple of hours late in the afternoon—and by age sixteen such studies are terminated for both sexes. The coordination of secular education helps the Hasidim uphold community boundaries, screening out potentially harmful secular influences and contributing to the maintenance of their particular life-style. Secular studies programs are not seen as bearing any relationship to occupational choice in adulthood.

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