Today we toured Bnei Brak, an ultraorthodox Jewish part of Israel. Before this we had spent all of our time in parts of Old Jaffa and Tel Aviv both of which gave off the same modern feel as the United States; which just led to further shock when touring Bnei Brak.
Our tour was lead by Shaul Meizlish, a Jewish author whose books were being sold at the local bookstore. Meizlish lead us through the neighborhoods of Bnei Brak. During this walking tour he discussed with us the ideology and the beliefs of the surrounding area. One part that really stuck with me, was the belief that without their religion, they would all be unhappy and how this belief was the cause of many cultural aspects of the society. For example, ultra-orthodox Jews are expected to pray, or go to religious services three times a day. This was also revealed to be one of the reasons why they do not have any entertainment other than books, because they believe that it will distract them and take away from their faith.
During the tour we got to sit down with a family, which was made up of a husband and wife with four children, two boys and two girls. While we spoke with the parents the two sons were in the other room, which should have been surprising since the tour was from 10am until 2pm but, in ultraorthodox community’s males do not get an education and instead spend their time learning the Torah. But, what I found most interesting was the wife’s discussion of her roles in the household. Not only did she take care of the children, she was also the bread winner for the family, with a job at a local insurance company. I was shocked to learn this because Bnei Brak is a traditional neighborhood, which can even be seen in the clothing choice of the residence, long sleeve shirts and skirts for women and traditional 17-18thcentury European Jewish clothes for the men, but some of the practices were so liberal.
But, this is also complicated because they still lived in a culture where things like matchmaking exist. In fact, the wife told us that she had met her husband a total of 1 time, for an hour and a half a year before she married him. The parents of the bride are also still required to pay a dowry and provide a place for the new couple to live. If the parents are not able to pay the dowry they can get it for free from the local store, because that’s just how it works there. There are other things that are given out for free, as they are seen as being essential to the lifestyle, one of these items being a Kippah, or more commonly known as a yamaka. Meizlish told our group that this was simply because the people believed in “trade and charity”, something that I believe would be more interesting to see in other places.