Sign Language



One man. Two boys. Twelve kids.

Related Post Roulette

119 Responses

  1. Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

    They are not seen as individuals, but as members of some rather insidious collective.

    There’s a good reason for that.

    They’re doing it to themselves. Furthermore, they’re wanting to be separate and “pure” where it suits them but not so much where it doesn’t (like welfare).

    The question is, If this weren’t an ultra-orthodox off-shoot of a recognized, main-stream religion, how would you feel about it then? What if they were an even weirder offshoot of Raelians or Scientologists? And furthermore, they were expecting the tax-payers to subsidize their lifestyle like this?

    As a member of the most reviled “faith” groups in America (atheists) I’m all for religious tolerance. But I also have about zero tolerance for religious groups that demand society subsidize their existence. It just makes me roll my eyes and say, Get Over Yourselves, Already!Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I’ve actually had to make my peace with their lifestyle. Initially, I found myself saying, “That’s fished up! Having all those kids while on the welfare roles!” Then I realize I often criticize others who make those comments about inner-city black women and I had to do some soul-searching. I came to understand that I was reacting more to their faith than to the action itself. Which is wrong.

      I think there are legitimate questions that can be asked about the appropriateness of having 8 children on one relatively low income. Further complicating the matter, as I understand it, is that there is a lot of money funneled through the temple and there is a very communal aspect to their little society, so food costs might be lower because things are subsidized through the temple or something. So, yea, it is complicated.

      But I do think the other residents of the area, largely Roman Catholics, are as bothered by their faith as they are their family planning. If it were Catholics doing it, they’d respond differently. Their is a real ugliness to the tenor and tone of conversations. If one of the Hasidim, easily identified by their clothing, cuts someone off in traffic, it’s never, “That asshole!”… it’s “That Hasidic asshole!” or “That kyke!”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        To clarify and summarize, I don’t think we should base on our opinions on things like welfare on the race or faith of the recipients.Report

        • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

          Neither do I. What bothers me is that they appear to be deliberately milking the system. I mean… if they want to adopt a lifestyle of poverty and then live with the consequences of that choice, then more power to them. But this half-assed business of deliberately impoverishing yourself and then begging for welfare just feeds into the right-wing meme of how all welfare recipients are just milking the good, honest, hard-working taxpayers. To the extent that welfare queens in Harlem actually exist, I feel the same way about them as well. And, for that matter, midwest farmers begging for subsidies on appeals of saving their “way of life.”

          Rich, poor, black, white, religious or not, I get really annoyed at people that think they’re special and demand privileges from the rest of us.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            That’s fair, Rod. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the community or its history to say whether they would change their practices if welfare was not available to them.

            But, let’s examine what you’ve said here, which mirror thoughts I’ve had myself.

            Why do we consider themselves to be deliberately impoverishing themselves? Do you look at a black woman in Harlem with 4 kids and no job and say, “Well, you’ve deliberately impoverished yourself?” Probably not. So why do we say it to these women? I’m tempted to say it is because we have different expectations for these folks… those black women? They don’t know any better… they’re uneducated… they’re unemployable. But the Haredi? Come’on, ladies… we know you can do more than you do. At least, those are thoughts that entered my brain, thoughts I had to fight back. And it just makes it really, really confusing and complex.Report

            • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

              Question: The hypothetical black woman in Harlem with a passel of kids is assumed to be single while being unemployed/underemployed & on welfare – correct? But the Hasidim women are all married, and their husbands work – they just don’t make enough to support the family – correct?

              I can support a single mother raising kids being on welfare, even if she is gaming the system to some degree or another.

              I have a harder time supporting a nuclear family using welfare because they want a larger family but are not willing to find better employment (be they Hasidic or Catholic or what not).

              If they want to live the old ways, maybe the town should grant them 100 acres of arable land and turn off the welfare?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                So if the Harlem woman was not single… she was married… or perhaps not married but the children’s father was involved and contributing financially, would you object as well?

                It seems we assume an element of choice amongst the Haredi women that we don’t for others (though there are certainly those amongst us who assume most poor folks are that way because they choose to be, one way or another). And maybe that is accurate. But I’d like to know so rather than assume.Report

              • Avatar Rod Engelsman says:

                I’m assuming that the impoverishment is a consequence of their religious practices because that’s pretty much what you said in the OP.

                The large families and general prohibition on women working makes the community home to the highest rate of poverty in America (62%), with many collecting entitlement benefits that strain the local tax rolls

                I personally know nothing of the Haredi first hand, but the welfare thing sounds similar to the kind of thing you see in FLDS communities where you have one man trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to support multiple wives and a crap-load of kids. All but the first wife aren’t really legally married to him so they qualify for welfare benefits as single mothers. (Not implying that the Haredi practice polygamy.)

                Normally I don’t assume anything about any particular welfare recipient. That un-married woman with three kids may very well be living a very irresponsible lifestyle. Or she may be recently divorced through no fault of her own. Or her husband may have not returned from a tour in Afghanistan (or actually, returned in a box).

                The corollary to my respecting your religious choices is you not making your religious choices a pain in my ass.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                Let me speak from the I perspective here…

                When I first learned of the situation in KJ, it bothered me. It bothered me in a way that the traditional “face of welfare” did not. When I thought about it, I realized that I assumed a choice on behalf of the KJ women and families that I did not for other welfare recipients. I saw the latter as largely victims of circumstance, who would have gotten themselves off the poverty rolls if they could but the opportunity to do so was limited or non-existant. Compare that to what I assumed about the families of KJ, who I presumed did what they did knowing that welfare would be there to support them, assuming they had other options they chose not to pursue.

                But this was wrong. Not only was it wrong to question the intentions of the KJ families, but I was also denying agency to other welfare recipients; by making them victims, I was inherently assuming they had no control over their situation.

                So I had to walk this back. The reality is, I don’t know enough about any of these people’s situations to evaluate them. So I needed to come up with a more principled stance on welfare, one that wasn’t based on such assumptions (which were steeped in all sorts of unsavory ideas about race and gender and faith). Unless I have reason to believe that folks are consciously choosing to go on welfare despite other options being available, it is not fair for me to cast such aspersions on them.

                As I read your comment, it seemed to me that you were expressing some ideas that I once held… ideas I could identify with. It’s possible I misread you and, if so, I apologize. I was conflating my own feelings and experiences with similar ones you seemed to hold and took us in a screwy direction.

                Ultimately, I can’t say that the women and families of KJ are doing anything worse than any other recipients because I just don’t know enough about the individual situations.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                I don’t think offering them or them getting welfare is at all problematic.

                What is bothersome is if they feel that they deserve welfare as a support from the society around them but they do not want to support the society around them.

                I’m not saying that all of the people of this community or even some of them think that they deserve the help of the outside world but the outside world doesn’t deserve their help (I suspect most don’t think that way and would want to help people in the world outside of the community in ways that they can help), but if they do think that way, that is pretty awful.

                It’s the sort of awful that we can’t make illegal.

                IMO, deeply impoverished places where there is intergenerational poverty are not places where most (or even a significant number of) residents think they deserve a kind of economic support that they would not offer to others if they could. Indeed, many places where there is poverty, people dream of being able to give back to the community around them and the world that has supported them.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi says:

                the fuck? Haredi jews were never given land ever.
                “The old way” is cheating and stealing from other people (kinda like gypsies and carnies, it’s the same cultural element, just less pronounced)Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                I have a harder time supporting a nuclear family using welfare because they want a larger family but are not willing to find better employment (be they Hasidic or Catholic or what not).

                In some ways I actually feel better about supporting people with in-tact families struggling because of the presence of children either too early or too many. I guess it’s partially a product of my natalist streak.

                There are things that, at first blanch, I’m less excited about when it comes to supporting KJ. As with the single mother, nothing I would advocate preventing, mind you, but stuff that makes me feel less good about supporting a family of them than a family of Mormons that got off to an early start.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            welfare queens in Harlem /can’t/ exist. you can’t make enough off welfare to afford to live in Harlem. (at least last I read…). Everyone there is on the underground economy train.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Call for drug testing. “I don’t mind if they use welfare. That’s what it’s there for. I just don’t want them blowing shofar while I’m hard at work.”Report

        • Avatar Aidian Holder says:

          Oh, please.

          About 18 months ago, I helped a friend as she was applying for ‘welfare’ (which means TANF, the orwellian named Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) as part of her disability claim (which, even though this girl is clearly physical disabled, still took more than a year to approve…).

          That largely meant giving her rides to and from county offices as she jumped through various bureaucratic hoops. What became immediately apparent to me is that the amount of eligibility verification, paperwork, and proof of X required was WAY out of proportion to the amount of money offered as a benefit. The amount of stuff required to ensure her eligibility would have been totally appropriate were she dealing with tens of thousands of dollars, but it was absolutely ridiculous when you’re talking about a couple of hundred bucks.

          Having such an extensive process is a disaster. It requires a ton of time and effort that the recipients should be directing to more useful endeavors — it struck me that she had to put in almost as much effort as I did during my last job search.

          Even worse, all these requirements mean a proportional amount of staff are required to process applications — I was shocked to see how many people worked at this county office, and it made me suspect that a big chunk of all the social services spending gets used to pay for all those workers, not to help families in need.

          I’m convinced that all these issues are about politics, not accounting, but the last thing we need is to add a drug test on top of it.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Isreal has pretty much perfected the model of gov supporting ultra religious folks lifestyles. Kiryas would fit in well there.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Keep government out of Medicare taxpayer subsidized freedom of religious expression?Report

  2. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Oh the Haredi.

    I know all about Kiryas Joel even though I have never been. Being a Jewish New Yorker, I know all about the Haredi. My brother lives in one of the Haredi centers of Brooklyn. But the neigborhood is also equally split between secular hipsters/professionals and Latino/Latinas that they cannot be as controlling with the signage. They can give secular Jews some encouragement/dirty looks but that is about it.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:

      and trying to run people down in the bike lanes now and then, supposedly.

      a long while back i watched a series of very (to me) funny interaction between the guy who owned the used furniture joint that used to be on driggs near the park with my wife, who didn’t understand why he wouldn’t hand her change back but just left it on the counter. she took my joking explanation that he thought her menses was made out of invisible sea serpents poorly.

      she also didn’t like how i’d deal with being the last person taken in a line regardless of order. what else are you going to do? some people are jerks. so long as you go into it understanding that you’re a little bit less than human to them, by and large, you’ll be fine. it’s like being the outsider in any group – you have to eat a bit of poop sandwich now and then to stay in their good graces.Report

  3. Avatar Michelle Togut says:

    Great post Kazzy. I’ll have to think about it some more before I come back to comment further.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate that. I struggled with this piece… I wasn’t really sure what my “point” was and ultimately decided that I could simply explore the conflicting feelings that my various neighbors generate for me. Grand conclusions are for blowhards anyway… :-).Report

  4. Avatar Citizen says:

    Does the sign comply to the live and let live rule?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      I don’t know. It would depend on how far they went to enforce their “request”. But I’ll admit that even its presence, even with no enforcement mechanisms of any kind, might fall under failure to comply.

      My shopping trip today was my first real foray into the community, other than getting lost and driving through it. No one in the store offered me any help as I searched the aisles… was this how they always were or was I getting special treatment? None of the products had price labels, leaving me to wonder if there was variable pricing based on where you stood in the community (as I understand it, there are in-groups and out-groups)… did I get overcharged (I wouldn’t care since the prices were nearly half what they were on Amazon)? The woman behind the register was a bit short with me, but perhaps she was just frustrated that I violated an important religious restriction on gender segregation… or maybe she’s just an old Jewish lady who has a harsh tone with everyone; she did say “Thank you” and “Have a nice day” after in English, which was obviously not her first language.

      I do imagine going back to the store because they do have a great collection of baby supplies at apparently reasonable prices. I don’t imagine putting myself out or, more importantly, putting my wife out to adhere to their rules. Though I also won’t be deliberately provocative. If they prefer that I place my credit card on the counter instead of handing it to them, that’s not sweat of my back. If they won’t let my wife into the store because she is in a t-shirt on a hot day… well, now we’re going to have a problem.

      I’ll have to see what steps are actually taken regarding the sign and the request…Report

  5. Avatar Kimmi says:

    1) It’s a schtetl.
    2) Any group of people that deliberately exchanges money within itself in order to maximize the amount of welfare payments is being grifters. They deserve consequences because of that, not because of their religion.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      That’s fair, Kimmi, if that is indeed what’s going on.Report

      • Avatar trumwill mobile says:

        I’d add that I think this would fall under “criticize the act” rather than “condemn the people.” The people may be worthy of condemnation, but not (I don’t think) on the grounds of welfare maximization.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Great point, Will. Thanks.

          In listening to other folks’ response, it seems a bit chicken-and-eggy as to where the objection lies. Are they frustrated with the Satmars because of their perception of their situation with welfare? Or do they make a bigger issue of the welfare issue or waste management issue because Satmars appear to be the culprit? My hunch is that it is both: when you have an easily identifiable group of people, it is really easy to blur the line between acts and actors.Report

  6. Avatar Barry says:

    The sign reminds me of ‘sundown towns’.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:


      The sign is straight up sexist. I have the same problem with it that I would have with a sign that trotted out a local religious value for racial segregation.

      I fail to see how ‘it is my religion’ makes something less objectionable than ‘it is my philosphy.’

      Still the people in there do have the right to be terrible jerks. It is the same right that I have to consider their values terrible.Report

  7. Avatar Max says:

    When I lived in Jerusalem with my girlfriend (now wife), out of ignorance we moved into a Haredi neighborhood. While our landlord was secular, all of our neighbors “took the black” so to speak.

    For the first six months or so, we were basically shunned. Because this was a small neighborhood that did have some other secular families, we were never assaulted, as we might have been in Mea Shearim or other, exclusively-Haredi enclaves. But we were ignored and frowned at, particularly in the early going, when we would sit in the square with our laptops to mooch wifi while we tried to get our lives set up.

    Anyway, the following year, my wife and some classmates made plans to visit an exclusively Haredi settlement, so she got dressed up in her “disguise:” long skirt, high boots, long sleeves, and a hat. This so as to be acceptable to the townsfolk.

    Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as she left our building she was greeted by every one of our neighbors. Big smiles, lots of “boker tovs” (“good morning”) all around. It was like flipping a switch. And it flipped just as easily the other way…as soon as she went back to pants, they went back to frowns.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      They do know how to reward someone who is “converting” to their culture…Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Max.

      I should say this… My interactions with the Haredi in town (as opposed to within the KJ Village) were overall more pleasant than my few interactions today. So there might be a “our space, your space” dynamic. I could have been seen as encroaching, though I technically was not flouting any of the stated rules (I had on jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and was basically mum the whole time). I wonder if, despite the somewhat mixed nature of your neighborhood, the Haredi still viewed it as “their space”.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        So there might be a “our space, your space” dynamic.

        This is something I had a lot of difficulty communicating to people when I moved to Deseret. I’d complain about the Mormon attitudes and I’d get a lot of pushback because the experiences with Mormons inside Deseret and outside Deseret is very different. A Mormon doctor in Tampa would never dream of refusing to call a woman colleague “Dr. So-and-so” but in Logan, Utah, that sort of thing can be a problem. They have the cultural power to behave differently. And I think the sense that we are, in a way, guests in their home. Also, the self-sorting. Mormons that leave home base are more likely to be those comfortable with gentiles. Those that are more suspicious are less likely to leave. I would assume the same is true here.Report

    • Avatar George Turner says:

      Next time try wearing leather and thick furs, a two-horned helmet, and carry a big axe, just like the Vikings on the credit card commercials.Report

  8. Avatar Damon says:

    I’m all for this. They want to live how they want to live and they tell you they aren’t going to welcome you with open arms if you don’t “conform”. Just a smaller version of what all societies do. Reminds me of the signs outside Italian Catholic Churches.

    I do take exception to the “feeding off of taxes” part, but that just puts them in the same catagory of most Americans.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Deliberately gaming the system is different from “getting what’s coming to ya”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      How unwelcoming would they have to be before you wouldn’t be for this? If they denied my wife access to the store because she was wearing jeans and a crew-neck T-shirt (relatively modest by American standards but inconsistent with their norms), would that be acceptable? If they did indeed charge me more because I was not Haredi, is that okay? And would it be okay if the local Home Depot and other stores that I see them frequent treated them accordingly?

      There is a part of me that agrees with you… but then there is a part of me that doesn’t. I really don’t know what is “right” in this scenario.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I’d say biological warfare is a problem.
        … I wish this was a hypothetical.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        All those examples are acceptable to me. It is their community–they can run it how they like, as long as you have choices to go other places nearby.

        I equate it to a business that has a “no firearms” sign on the front door, like the one I visited in Jerome AZ. The owner wants no guns in his store. You are free to come in as long as you comply, or you can shop elsewhere.

        A modification of Clint Eastwood’s words in “Unforgiven”. “Like’s got nothing to do with it.” I may not like it, but I will tolerate it, because I expect the similar consideration for issues that are important to me.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I think it is easier to justify the restrictions within the private businesses; many of them are not unlike dress codes you might find in bars or restaurants. On the street is another matter, though I’m not sure anything they might do there would be criminal unless it is otherwise criminal (e.g., not holding a door open for a non-Haredi would be a douchey move, but not criminal; punching me in the face would be criminal regardless of their motivation). Variable pricing could be justified if there is some sort of membership system, a la a Costco or BJs. Whether they would have to offer that membership option to non-Haredi would be another interesting discussion; the private country club around the corner doesn’t need to let me be a member, but the BJs does. What makes them different? And if their membership criteria includes a religious test, what then?

          I’m not pretending to know the answers to these, either legally or ethically.

          Part of me does feel there ought to be room for communities like KJ to exist, but their creation ought to be delicate.

          And I’m curious if folks would respond differently if this was a Muslim community that encouraged Sharia compliance.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            I’m not familiar with this particular community, but I’ll assume that they were there first or have a majority of the population, so it’s their community. Their rules. As long as no criminal action is taken (beating the outsiders) I’m pretty much cool with it. After all, this is democracy at work. *smirk*

            Now a Muslim community that encouraged Sharia might be a different thing altogether. Do they enforce Sharia upon non belivers? Same points as above.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      I think societies do it too much, and this town does it far too much.

      The world would be a better place if more diversity was tolerated (excepting values or practices that cause harm to others). For this reason, I strongly disapprove of what Kiryas Joel are doing.Report

      • Avatar ktward says:

        Sorta recently but not really, I stumbled into a closer examination — a contrast and compare exercise, more or less — of the concepts of Tolerance and Acceptance.

        I’m over-simplifying, no question, but for the sake of blogging brevity this is my take:

        For a whole lot of folks, spanning various religions and a host of religious traditions, Tolerance is the greatest evil. Why? Tolerance, inevitably, leads to Acceptance. Therefore, Tolerance should ever be eschewed. And they’re absolutely right. Tolerance does indeed lead to Acceptance.

        Amusingly (to me, anyway, because I’m a twisted sot), this ilk of thinking has root in both theistic and anti-theistic communities.Report

    • Avatar Angela says:

      Reminds me of the signs outside Italian Catholic Churches
      One difference is that the sign is only restricting / requesting desired behavior in a church.

      In the OP, they’re trying to limit behavior in an entire neighborhood / town, with shops, restaurants, etc. That seems much more limiting.

      In Israel, there have also been some very unfortunate instances of girls being harassed when heading to school. ( (The mom is from Chicago, and people in my kids’ soccer teams knew the family. It was all quite horrible.)

      Depending on how the “suggestion” was enforced would affect my take on things. If breaking the rules meant I was being rude, and was treated as though I had acted rudely (like cutting in line, for example), that would be OK. However, if I was treated as though I was a social pariah, and not given access to public accommodations, etc, that would be a problem. IMHO.Report

  9. Avatar Ryan Noonan says:

    This dovetails nicely with some of the conversation from the Doc’s post earlier today. To go in a slightly different direction than I did there, I’d say there’s a really weird strain in American political discourse that confuses religious freedom with having the authority to force other people to behave according to your own religious principles.

    We saw this in the Obamacare/contraception dustup too. It’s not enough that you be allowed to live your life according to your own ideas about contraception; you must also have the authority to deny contraception access to other people because giving it to them would offend you.Report

  10. As a medical provider, I have had some of the loveliest patient interactions of my career with Haredi families. One brought enough food to share dinner with me one night when I was on call and kept teasing me about how much better it was than the treif they usually saw me eating. Another gave me a gift I still carry every day in my wallet, a copy of some Hebrew scriptures on microfiche.

    But some of the most marked conflicts I had as a resident between a community’s norms/biases and the values of the hospital/larger society were with Haredi families. I was once asked by a father, when I was senior resident assigning patients to junior residents for care on admission, that only a Jewish male doctor take care of his child. I had to explain that, just as I could never honor a request that a patient not have a Jewish doctor, I could not honor a request for only Jewish, male doctors. (A Chinese woman was the next resident due for an admit, so that’s who they ended up with.) Another wanted only Jewish blood used if his child needed a transfusion, and had to be told that directed donation was the only way to guarantee that, and that we c0uldn’t withhold necessary treatments in the absence of such supply.

    Again, a conflict of their norms vs ours, and only in a few isolated cases.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Fair to assume you’ve read “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”?Report

      • Indeed I have. The author actually came to deliver Grand Rounds for our department when I was in residency.

        Situations like those are always so fraught, and lend themselves so poorly to uniform answers.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I feel like I remember you mentioning that. Very cool.

          That was one of the most influential books I read during my college career. I hope to do a book club with it at school. Perhaps doing one here would be good as well.Report

          • Avatar dhex says:

            “Situations like those are always so fraught, and lend themselves so poorly to uniform answers.”

            indeed. and convincing people it’s a lot more than just having a translator on hand or running info in multiple languages can be an uphill climb.Report

    • Avatar Angela says:

      A question:
      How comfortable / accepting are you of requesting a female doctor for a female patient, especially once a pap smear, etc is being done?
      Or a male doctor for a male patient?Report

  11. Avatar KatherineMW says:

    Last time I visited Jerusalem, I walked through Mea She’arim, a similar type of neighbourhood (yes, I wore long pants and a long skirt). There were signs similar to the one in your photograph (minus the comment about gender separation), although more homemade-looking, as well as one which I photographed, reading, “GROUPS passing through our neighbourhoods SEVERELY OFFEND THE RESIDENTS. PLEASE, STOP THIS.”

    I felt very sympathetic. These people just want to live their lives according to their religious beliefs, and it’s completely understandable that they would get sick of being treated like zoo animals and having tourists wander through wearing any old thing.

    The case of the community you describe is a little different (although the ultra-Orthadox are a contentious issue in Israel, due to issues around welfare and military service), but I think they’ve got a right to live as they choose. I believe in giving people a substantial amount of leeway to live out their religion. Trying to “impose tolerance”, as one might say, is a little like saying your independent neighbourhood grocery store and bookstore are required to have a Costco and Chapters next to them and “compete” with them: if allowances aren’t made for uniqueness and local variety, it doesn’t matter how much you talk about diversity, you’re going to end up with homogeneity.

    It’s a fairly unique quality of the US that it allows for such religious diversity. In a heavily secularist country like France, communities like the Hasidim or the Amish probably couldn’t exist. This is one area where I don’t want to see the US move in a European direction.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I haven’t heard of anyone treating the local Satmars as tourist attractions. If that were going on, I’d object and support their efforts to curb such behavior provided they did so through legal means.

      I’m curious what they thought of my presence. Were they happy to have the business? Would they rather folks like me never enter their space? My interactions while there were entirely too fleeting to really draw a conclusion.Report

    • Avatar hazemyth says:

      In point of fact, I believe that there are Hasidic communities in France.Report

    • Avatar Barry says:

      “although more homemade-looking, as well as one which I photographed, reading, “GROUPS passing through our neighbourhoods SEVERELY OFFEND THE RESIDENTS. PLEASE, STOP THIS.””

      As I said, it reminds me of ‘sundown towns’. I’d hate to caught there after dark.Report

  12. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Kiryas Joel is inhabited by a particular group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews called the Satmar, after the place in Romania that they originated, Satu Mare. I live in their Brooklyn neighborhood. Kiryas Joel is a utopian, isolated community that they built so they could live their life style while limiting the influence of modernity. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism operates on the assumption that modernity and Jewishness are incompatible and if the ghetto was torn down than Jews should maintain it anyway.

    The Satmar Hasidim are particular passionate about this idea, more so than other Ultra-Orthodox Jews. They aren’t what you would call respected or liked in the Jewish community even among other Ultra-Orthodox Jews.Report

  13. Avatar ktward says:

    A most lovely post, Kazzy. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate further learning of your specific circumstances. I mean, no question I’ve missed some important insights along the way, but this post leaves me … well, at least feeling like I’ve perhaps caught up, if only a teeny bit.Report

  14. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I know this misses the entire point of this really great post, but am I the only one that read this and kept thinking that Kiryas Joel sounds like a series of children’s books about a Hasidic monkey who always gets into trouble?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Initially I thought it was about a guy who plays piano at a depressing NY bar of broken dreams night after night…Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Ha! I’m actually a bit embarrassed to say I don’t actually know how to pronounce the village’s name.Report

        • Avatar dhex says:

          the first jo-el
          the firrrst jo-el
          filled with a bunch of people who are rather dubious on the value of iiiiissssra-elReport

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            Kiryas Joel, down the road that I must travel
            Kiryas Joel, through the darkness of the night
            Kiryas Joel, where I’m going will you follow
            Kiryas Joel, on a highway in the lightReport

  15. Avatar b-psycho says:

    *wow* I’d avoid that kind of area like the fishing plague…

    Hey, they don’t want people who don’t conform there…fine. I’d never conform, so I’d skip it. Completely.Report

  16. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    Don’t give baby Mayonnaise away quite yet. Give the kid a chance!Report

  17. Avatar Shazbot5 says:

    “And the sign said “Clean-shaven Gentile people need not apply”
    So I put on a fake beard and I went in to ask him why
    He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
    So I took off my beard, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”
    Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
    Blockin’ out the scenery, breaki
    Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
    Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
    Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”Report

  18. Avatar Jaybird says:

    In The American Religion, there is an attitude that says that other cultures are fine, just so long as they are compatible. So you can eat silly food or wear silly clothing or pray to silly deities but your culture better produce sassy women who would make for great supporting actresses in romantic comedies starring blond people.

    While, hey, this is pretty much my religion and, as religions go, it’s pretty tolerant… it does worry me from time to time that whenever I find a culture that isn’t sufficiently American that my automatic assumption is that they should change. I feel like I should be more open-minded.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      Does it seem anyone is making an argument that the Satmars or other Haredi groups should change their ways? The most I’ve seen is people discussing whether or not their expectations for non-believers and the enforcement mechanisms for those expectations are appropriate. I suppose it is possible that “their expectations/enforcement mechanisms for non-believers” could be one of “their ways”, but that starts to take us down a really squishy path. Plus I highly doubt that their religious texts demand that they treat non-believers in particular ways, though I could be wrong.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I tend to take the assumption that “inappropriate” indicates some form of “that should be changed” or, at least, “they shouldn’t do that”.

        You know, the way that they look at people who wear short sleeved shirts.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Is there room to appropriately criticize religious practices without actively stepping in to prevent or change them?

          Because right now it feels like you are telling me that I should change because of the way I look at them for the way they look at people who wear short sleeved shirts…Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Is there room to appropriately criticize religious practices without actively stepping in to prevent or change them?

            Maybe we could put up a sign.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              Suppose I walked the public streets of KJ with a sign around my neck that said, “Please don’t tell me or my wife how to dress”… who would you consider the asshole in that scenario?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s assholes all the way down.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Is calling someone an asshole the same as calling for them to change?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, to step back a bit, there’s the fundamental question of whether we can say that one culture is better than another. Now it seems pretty obvious to me that we can. I’m sure you don’t need me to provide examples.

                The problem is that I’ve seen this bleed over into, well… let’s say “inappropriate” behavior. Boycotts, that sort of thing. Assertions made about “those people” who share “that culture” (but not you! You’re one of the good ones!) and so forth.

                And, at the end of the day, the whole “my saying that they ought to be different is totally different from them saying that I ought to be different” feels… unsatisfactory.

                But, and I can’t reiterate this enough, I’m pretty sure that I’m right and they’re wrong.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Let me be clear and say that I am speaking only about what they do in relation to non-believers. If they all want to wear black and grow beards and segregate the genders in public and everyone who does that is totally on board… more power to them. I would still reserve the right to call aspects of their faith that are misogynistic or sexist as such, but as I note in the OP, that is hardly unique to the Haredi.

                And if they want to have “dress codes” in their privately-owned businesses, I probably wouldn’t call that much different than dress codes at restaurants or clubs. Again, I might call them “sexist” if they are particularly onerous for women in the same way that I’d call certain clubs’ dress codes classist or racist.

                To me, it feels like you are saying that I shouldn’t feel or express discomfort with the sign because it is a small jump from feeling discomfort to attempting to change their ways. Do I have that right?

                Because, really, all I want is to be able to visit the shops on their side of town free of harassment. And I hope that they are able to visit the shops on my side of town free of harassment. Right now, I’m not sure either of those is the case.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If you dress modestly, will you be harassed if you go there?

                To me, it feels like you are saying that I shouldn’t feel or express discomfort with the sign because it is a small jump from feeling discomfort to attempting to change their ways. Do I have that right?

                No. It’s that your discomfort when you read that sign doesn’t strike me as significantly different from their discomfort when they see the underside of your wife’s upper arm. As such, I wonder how we reach the conclusion over which person has the superior “your discomfort is not my problem” argument.

                I know why *I* think that the discomfort of others isn’t my problem… but I would, wouldn’t I?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                My definition of modesty or theres?

                If I were too deliberately change into leather chaps before heading over there, I’d be an asshole.
                But if my wife and I were out running errands and she was wearing jeans and a crew neck T-shirt (pretty normal wear for her), I’d consider that modest by my standards.
                I don’t know if we’d be harassed. My one interaction in the store was less-than-friendly, but that might be the norm for that woman with all customers.

                I do think that there is a difference between those two discomforts because of what acts are being called upon. I am not asking them to do anything other than tolerate whatever feeling of discomfort they feel when they see my wife’s biceps. They do appear to be asking us to change outfits before heading into that side of town. Those requests are not equal, in my mind. One requires far greater action than the other… though we do get into a tricky area of how we measure and weigh action. It might well require incredible effort to tolerate a woman’s exposed bicep.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          There’s a difference between A disapproving of what B does and A disapproving of B disapproving of what A does.Report

  19. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    What if these signs said something more like:

    Welcome to Hypothetical Place, A Traditional Community of Modesty and Values

    In keeping with our traditions and religious customs, we kindly ask that you dress and behave in a modest way while visiting our community. This includes long covering clothing for those of ethnic minorities, making sure the races do not mingle and speaking modestly.

    Thank you for respecting our values and please enjoy your visit!

    How tolerant would we be of that?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Can someone who’s allowed to talk to Nob tell him it’s fine with me?Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

        Do we actually have people at the League who’d be allowed to speak to you and me at the same time?Report

        • Avatar Citizen says:

          The problem is there is a difference between speaking to someone and speaking with someone. Thats the problem with the sign, hell, thats the problem with society.

          “This is the local flavor.”
          “You will be the local flavor.”

          I’m not tasty though.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Great point, Citizen.

            That sign would have been much more helpful and much less bothersome if it said, “Our women prefer to avoid contact with men in public arenas. As such, we ask that you avoid physically contacting them, including but not limited to handing items directly do them*.”

            * Provided this is actually to be considered in violation; I’m still not sure.Report

            • Avatar Just Me says:

              It’s the same in Germany, at least when I was there. Shop keepers would get pretty offended if you handed them money instead of placing it in the dish and then letting them pick it up.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          My kids would.Report

  20. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Let me ask this…

    Imagine a sign that said the following:
    “Welcome to Loogville, a community of values.
    While visiting, we ask that you refrain from wearing shirts with swastikas, burning images of crosses, or photographs of Hitler.”
    Would that be a problem?

    Now imagine a sign that said the following:
    “Welcome to Crazytown, a community of values.
    While visiting, we ask that you style your hair in a mohawk and wear Tron outfits.”
    Would that be a problem?Report

    • Avatar Brooke Taylor says:

      I see problems with both concepts. A town or village necessarily includes public spaces and in those spaces, you should probably only assume that the only standard of behavior you can expect people to adhere to is the law.

      I do see a problem with communities, cultures, and ideologies that seek to seal their members off from the outside world. Even if the original members of the community made an informed choice to withdraw from the world and build an insular community, their children will not be given the same choice. Instead, they will be raised in an environment where these exclusionary/discriminatory behaviors are seen as normal at best, if not divinely-ordained. And that is a dangerous idea. This is not a healthy culture for anyone.

      When issues like this come up, people are very quick to forget that there is no right not to be offended.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      “Welcome to Crazytown, a community of values.
      While visiting, we ask that you style your hair in a mohawk and wear Tron outfits.”
      Would that be a problem?

      I think that’s called a con, Kazzy.

      Also, ROFL.Report

  21. Avatar Just Me says:

    Here is the question I would ask myself. Do I really want to go to this community? If yes, then I would treat a trip there like going to a relatives house where they prefer that I don’t wear shoes inside. I take them off because I am a guest in their house and I respect their wishes. If they have stated wishes and those wishes don’t go against some deep seated belief I would more than likely abide by those wishes. If I found those wishes offensive I would not go.

    The sign is a list of wishes. They can not pass laws that go against state or federal laws. So I don’t think that I would get jailed for wearing shorts, though I might be asked to leave individual stores.

    I kind of look at it like this. If I were to go to a nation where women norms were for the hair to be covered, I would more than likely wear a scarf while there. If I felt that doing that was onerous I would refrain from traveling there.

    If I went there specifically to shop and saw this sign and I was in shorts and a tank top I would still stop, do my business, probably state that this was my first time in this community and that I was unaware of the communities beliefs. Most people are asking for respect, respect of their right to their beliefs. Usually an acknowledgement of that goes a long way. Their beliefs may not be mine but I don’t normally go out of my way to throw my disdain for others beliefs in their faces. They may be offended that I am inappropriately attired, but oh well, I didn’t do it on purpose, they will get over it. The next time I went there though I would not be wearing shorts and a tank top.

    I have to admit I would have done the same thing as Kazzy. I would have stopped and taken this picture. I have never seen a welcome to our community sign with a dress and conduct code on it before.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Thanks, JM. This was largely my sense of the best route, but given that the rules were heavily gendered, I didn’t know how male privilege might have been playing into that..Report

    • Avatar Brooke Taylor says:

      I have a real problem with communities assuming that they have a right to enforce specific religio-cultural norms within certain public spaces. I don’t care if it’s the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, the Satmar of Kiryas Joel, or any other insular community. As an American in my own country, I should be able to go where I wish and expect that those communities will respect my rights, not try to enforce an arbitrary (and often discriminatory) set of rules.

      Other posters have already raised the troubling issue of sundown towns. There already exist communities like this in Israel, where the inhabitants can vote not to allow families to buy property and move in if they’re not of the “right” ethnicity (Jewish) or the “right” level of religious observance (Orthodox). These laws have been used as excuses to discriminate against Arab or secular Israelis. This is something we’ve had problems with in our own history and it’s not something I’d like to see gain popularity in America again.

      Let’s not empower these subcultures to exclude others against the spirit of inclusion in American civic life. Let’s not obey their arbitrary and discriminatory rules simply because it is their religious preference. Let’s not put religious beliefs on a pedestal where they must be respected at any cost. Let’s call this what it is: discrimination and exclusion.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        We all have our “codes of acceptable behavior,” though. And we enforce them on others using soft power (stigmatizing behavior we disapprove of). KJ has little or no right to use the force of law to enforce their norms, but they can use unfriendly behavior just as we all can.

        What jumps out at me about this outworldly sign is that they are so explicit about it. in a way, I think this is a good thing. I’d at least like the opportunity to know what I might be doing wrong. I might look at it and say “That’s reasonable” or I might look at it and say “Screw you” but there is something to be said for at least knowing what the social rules and protocols are.

        For KJ, while I would try to honor their codes on dress (assuming the sleeves and pants applies to men), but I don’t think I would honor their rules about gender separation. Particularly not if that extends to the people I entered the town with. Maybe for the locals, if only because I don’t want to make people uncomfortable and unwelcome contact could be considered an unwanted advance of sorts on the part of the woman.

        I do think that we should be careful before comparing this to sundown towns. Sundown towns enforced their norms with violence. That’s way different than what we’re talking about here.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          This is an excellent point, Will.

          A more generous and charitable reading of the sign would note that this sign is a welcome sign, imploring folks to enjoy their visit while being mindful of kind request. I’m genuinely curious how they felt about my visit. Technically, I was abiding by the stated rules… I had on jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, though both were sort of grungy, part of my work-around-the-house clothes. I was wearing a cap, though not the form they wear. I did have flip flops on, though this wasn’t explicitly mentioned. And I was alone… no female companion. I came in quietly, bought what I needed, and departed quietly.

          So I’m curious… did they see me as someone who was a welcome visitor because I generally did abide by their rules and I was there with a purpose and contributed to their economy? Or did they see me as some doof who couldn’t read between the lines and recognize that the warm language on the sign was simply to make it more palatable?Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            What if the norms were different? Button up the front long sleeve T-shirt; Docker-or-above pants; shoes made out of leather?

            At that point, you’d say: this is fucking ridiculous, yes? So the reason you thought you’re concessions to these folks were justified was because they were either a) convenient or easy enough to honor and b) that the people making these rules had a reason you could understand and identify with.

            Still arbitrary and ridiculous, but psychologically sufficient.

            Not that that’s a bad thing!Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              {{I don’t think there is a button up the front T-shirt. Damn, that comment held so much promise!}}Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                What if you showed up in sandals and a robe or ancient Israelite battle armor and gave them all the evil eye for wearing new-fangled Western fashions? “Pants? Shoes?” Flank them from the right. It’s wide open.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Hasidic dress comes from 17rh-century Poland, where Hasidism originated. Enforcing it makes some sense from the point of view, but none from a less insular view of Jewish culture.

                Or you could sat they’re trying to win a Besht-dressed contest.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Besht-dressed. Groan. The pun is the lowest form of humour.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Yea… this really is a new low.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                You realize that personal attacks like this violate the commenting policy.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                This opun aggression shall not stand, for I have sworn upun the altar of God eternal fealty to this so-called lowest form of humor.

                If you continue down this road, know that additional punishment will be swift and severe.

                I vow to inflict pun and suffering the likes of which have never been seen.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              First, I should clarify that I was abiding by whatever standards they had by pure chance; I was simply wearing what I was wearing and didn’t even know about the sign until I got there.

              Second, I don’t know that the degree, intensity, or quantity of norms effect the underlying principle. As I see it, we share this world with a variety of folks and often our needs are going to come into conflict. We should do our best to work collaboratively when this happens so that compromises, when necessary, are just.

              So if I have a long sleeve shirt in the car and it isn’t 110-degrees out, I can pop that sucker on without much difficulty and wearing it does not violate any deeply held principle. Now, if they wanted me to wear leather shoes and I was a vegan? I’d say tough nuts. As they do want me to maintain gender segregation, I’d do as Will described and to some degree deny their request.

              Now, if someone had a deeply held principle that they’re not going to let *anyone* tell them what to wear, I’d probably consider it permissible for them to wear what they normally wear when in KJ. I don’t have that principle so it is a different issue for me than it might be for this hypothetical person. Though I might call them a douche if they go out of their way to flout the rules.

              But, yea, it’s complicated…Report

            • Avatar Will Truman says:

              Well, the way I see if, it someone makes a request that is easily accommodated and one that doesn’t directly conflict with my values, I’d feel like a jerk for not complying. Even if I think it’s oddball. So, some examples…

              1) “We consider green to be a holy color. Please do not wear green.” If I knew I was going to be going to Nogreen, and it so happened that the first shirt I picked out of the closet was green, I’d go and change it. I wouldn’t be racked with guilt if I just happened to be passing through and needed to use the restroom and was wearing green, though.

              2) “We are a community of decorum and modesty. Please wear a suit and tie at all times.” Well, if I had a suit and tie, and it wasn’t 110 degrees out, I’d probably comply. However, since I don’t presently own a suit (or rather, the one I own is several sizes too large) I would not buy a suit especially for the occasion unless I needed to ingratiate myself with them for some reason.

              3) “We are a traditional community. We ask that women keep their heads down in public.” Well, I can’t break this rule but I am not a woman. But I object to this to the point that I would be fully supportive of my wife holding her head up high.

              So I don’t really have to understand the reason. I’d consider “no green” to be a goofy rule. But there are so many other colors I can choose from I feel it would be rude to disregard this simply request. However, if I look at the reason – or what I believe to be the reason – and think “that’s not kosher” then the rudeness really doesn’t bother me.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                So I don’t really have to understand the reason. I’d consider “no green” to be a goofy rule.

                Exactly my point. It’s a goofy rule that doesn’t withstand scrutiny but one which we accommodate anyway. Not because of any principle but out of empathy. We think it’s fucking stupid (that’s a judgment!), but we honor their desires.

                Not that that’s a bad thing!Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Society couldn’t function but for our ability to accommodate stupid. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well said, brother. And thank HaShem, because from someone’s pov I’m the stupid one and they’re (hopefully!) tolerating me.Report

          • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

            Is it that the people in KJ are bothered psychologically by people not wearing sleeves or men interacting with women or is it that they don’t want their children getting the idea that such behavior is acceptable to other people?

            There are some violations of the norms I grew up with that do shock me or bother me when another does them. But there are others that I could care less if someone else is doing them.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Is it that the people in KJ are bothered psychologically by people not wearing sleeves or men interacting with women or is it that they don’t want their children getting the idea that such behavior is acceptable to other people?

              Is there a distinction between the two?Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 says:

                Yeah, though a blurry one.

                I feel a pressure to shake someone’s hand as part of an internally enrgained social norm. However, it does not bother me when someone from another culture doesn’t shake mine or when two people in front of me don’t shake hands.

                However, there are some instances of norm breaking that bother me (rationally or not) even if I see others doing them and it isn’t effecting me.

                Do you suppose they are bothered or offended if they see me eat shellfish?Report

        • Avatar Brooke Taylor says:

          I’m usually a person who is willing to make reasonable accommodations for people so that they’re comfortable. However, as a member of a group targeted for discrimination by this community, I find it unreasonable to give them what they want here.

          If what you do in the normal course of your day mostly fits in with what they’ve asked for, that’s one thing. But I don’t feel obligated to comply with an antiquated code of conduct because someone decided there was religious merit in trying to preserve a very specific set of customs from a slice of 19th century Romanian existence.

          At its core, the sign is asking for my tolerance of this community’s lack of tolerance for diversity. To be clear, I would not bother the people of this community for keeping to these customs on their own, but I would not feel any obligation to humor their unreasonable requests by making any effort to conform to their antiquated expectations.Report

      • Avatar DavidT says:

        “I don’t care if it’s the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, the Satmar of Kiryas Joel, or any other insular community. ”

        Salt Lake City is far from “insulatr”–it’s only 48.6% Mormon.

        (Personally, I love Utah–it’s the only state in the Union where I’m a gentile!)Report

        • Avatar Brooke Taylor says:

          It’s not majority control by Mormons that makes the culture of Salt Lake City insular compared to much of the rest of the nation, it’s the power held by Mormon leaders and Mormon groups. There’s no question that they’ve historically used that power to try to legislate their morality instead of advocating freedom for the people of Salt Lake.Report

          • Avatar DavidT says:

            But if you want to give examples of Mormon domination, some smaller and more heavily Mormon cities in Utah would be better examples. Salt Lake City is after all a large city and has many of the characteristics thereof, including greater religious and ethnic diversity than most of the rest of Utah, and politics that lean more to the Democrats. The last couple of mayors have been (1) Rocky Anderson, who had an LDS background but was not a practicing Mormon, and even argued in hs campaigns that he, unlike his opponents, would stand up to pressure from the Church, and (2) Ralph Becker, who is not a Mormon. Both are known as progressive Democrats.

            No one denies that the Church is influential in Salt Lake City. But to see that city as a kind of Mormon Kiryas Joel is just wrong, whereas in some smaller cities in Utah, the comparison would not be all that far-fetched.Report