Dear Jew in the City,
I live in Hollywood, California, and here there is a community full of Orthodox Jews with beards and everything. I was wondering where do they work? How do they make money? I have never seen an Orthodox Jew outside of this neighborhood. I been in many business places, offices, etc., etc. and have never seen and orthdox man working there?
Also do you guys wear the suits 24/7? In the house? Camping, beach, etc??? And second I’ve never seen an Orthodox Jewish couple out on a date somewhere like the movies or dinner. You guys dont go out much or what?
All good questions. I understand your curiousity – I’m sure we Orthodox Jews can be a bit puzzling from the outside looking in!
Since I’m Jew in the City (as in New York City), I’m not personally familiar with the Orthodox community in Hollywood, California, but I’ll answer your questions to the best of my ability based on things I do know about Orthodox men who have beards, hats, and suits.
First of all – not all Orthodox men have hats and beards and suits. The ones that do would generally be considered”ultra-Orthodox” in English or “Chareidi” in Hebrew. (Though you will sometimes see a modern Orthodox rabbi in a black hat, suit and beard.) I know it’s hard to tell from the outside, but there are actually many different types of Orthodox Jews out there. Even the ultra-Orthodox world is broken into many groups.
The two main ones are: Chasidic and Yeshivish. Within the Chasidic world, there’s a group called Lubavitch (or Chabad) that is a bit different in dress and philosophy than most other groups of Chasidim (as they’re more involved with the larger world). So I don’t know for sure which subdivision you’re seeing in Hollywood, but with black hats, suits, and beards, my best guess would be either Yeshivish or Lubavitch.
In that case, I’ll answer what your average Yeshivish or Lubavitch man would do for the various things you asked, but I’ll also explain what some more modern Orthodox Jews do as well.
1) In terms of where they work: For the most part, people in the Ultra-Orthodox world are less into college education than people in the Centrist or Modern Orthodox world. That means that there are usually less professionals in those circles, although professionals do exist. For the men that work, that leaves them with jobs as teachers in Jewish schools, rabbis, and various businesses. In Manhattan, there’s a big electronic store called B&H photo owned and run by Chasidim, and everyone knows about Chasidim who work in the diamond district.
There are also many Yeshivish and Lubavitch men that don’t have jobs in the traditional money making sense. Many Yeshivish men learn Torah full time, so like grad students, they’ll get a stipend to live off of while they learn and almost always have wives who work.
In the Lubavitch circles, many of the men (and women) are shluchim, or emissaries, and their job is to start new Jewish communities and open up synagogues, Jewish schools, and reach out to unaffiliated Jews. These shluchim have to raise their own salaries as they’re running non-profits.
2) In terms of do the men wear the suits 24/7? In the house? Camping, beach etc??? Let me preface this answer by saying that because I’m not personally ultra-Orthodox or married to an ultra-Orthodox man (if I had to categorize myself, I’d call myself Centrist Orthodox), I can’t tell you what these men are literally wearing 24 hours a day – although I’m pretty sure they don’t sleep in black suits!
From what I’ve seen, there are some men from the ultra-Orthodox community that wear a white shirt and dark pants nearly all the time – even for outdoorsy activities. (I’ve been on hikes in Israel where I’ve seen men dressed like this.) The reason for this way of dress is that there’s an idea that a Jew should have a certain recognizable way that he or she looks, and at some point (I’m not sure when) it was decided that black and white was the standard in these circles.
Some men wear suit jackets in addition to the white shirt and black pants (although I’ve never seen hats or jackets on a hike). Some wear black hats during the week, others only wear them on the Sabbath. In terms of the Chasidic community – different types of Chasidim differentiate themselves (in part) with how they dress. There are various types of hats – some fedora style, others fur. There are also different types of coats these men wear.
3) In terms of you never having seen an Orthodox Jewish couple out on a date somewhere like the movies or dinner. You’ve never seen them out to dinner because they eat in kosher restaurants only. In terms of the movie question, you’re right – you haven’t seen men in black hats and beards at the movies because most ultra-Orthodox Jews do not watch movies.
Now, just so you don’t assume that the practices of the ultra-Orthodox community are the same throughout the entire Orthodox world, I’d like to clarify some points. There are certain practices that are Jewish law: i.e eating kosher, observing the Sabbath, praying. There are other practices that are community standards or traditions which develop out of philosophical outlooks.
Many of the questions I answered above about ultra-Orthodox Jews are community practices and not Jewish law. The ultra-Orthodox community, for the most part, has more of an insular attitude. We Jews used to be forced to live separate from non-Jews (back in Europe), but a few hundred years ago, when Jews were allowed to leaves the ghettos, there was a decision to be made – was it better to continue staying to ourselves or live among the rest of the world while maintaining Jewish law?
The people who chose to stay among themselves are what we now call ultra-Orthodox. They believe that too much mixing with secular society is detrimental to their Jewish observance, and therefore they’re more strict to dress distinctly, avoid secular education, and not be a part of secular culture.
The group that decided to go out and mix with the rest of the world, but still remain observantly Jewish were called Modern Orthodox. Modern Orthodox is a super loaded term because it means many different things to many people, so for the sake of this post, I’m going to use generalizations and simplifications (and I apologize if I offend anyone).
It seems that Modern Orthodox Jews have broken into two main camps – right wing Modern (or Centrist Orthodox) and liberal Modern. Right wing Modern/ Centrist Orthodox Jews still try to maintain this original value of living in society but remaining careful about Jewish law.
Liberal Modern Jews tend to be more lax about Jewish law in general and seem to commit to the major laws like the Sabbath and keeping kosher, but aren’t necessarily committed to laws of modesty, daily prayer, etc.
So let’s do these questions again with RWM (Right Wing Modern) and LM (Liberal Modern). In terms of where they work, both RWM and LM have all sorts of jobs, but usually are professionals as both believe in secular education. They’re generally doctors, lawyers, or work finance, accounting, or computers. You might have seen these people in their various fields without even noticing them because the men might not be wearing yarmulkes to work and otherwise dress the same way other people in their fields would dress.
These men wear all different types of clothes – RWM may tend to wear khakis and slacks only with colored shirts while LM will generally wear anything: jeans, shorts, slacks, etc. In both groups some of the men might have beards, but for style purposes, not religious ones.
You generally wouldn’t see RWM at non-kosher restaurants unless they were at a work function and either had kosher food brought in or came along but didn’t eat. Some in the LM camp might eat only dairy or salads in non-kosher restaurants.
Both RWM and LM would be at the movies, but generally speaking, RWM would be more selective to choose movies that weren’t immodest whereas LM are generally less careful about such things.
Even with my in-depth explanation, this was still all a simplification, but I hope it helps clear up at least some of your questions.
All the best,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)