A former member of the Ger Hasidic sect, the largest and most powerful in Israel, last week published the secretive group’s takuness – the rules regulating every tiny facet of daily life, particularly those concerning the relations between men and women – on Facebook. The rules have hitherto been kept secret, passed orally from person to person and never put down on paper. Their publication on Facebook by Yisrael Greenhouse followed an intensive online debate between a group of former members of Ger.
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Working from memory, Greenhouse and his colleagues compiled a list of 104 rules applying to bachelors: Two men or boys are forbidden to sit together on the same bed or be alone in the same room. It is forbidden to touch another man, to shower at home (only in the mikveh, or ritual bath), to use soap on weekdays (only on the Shabbat eve), to speak with aunts or go to the home of a married brother, though visiting the home of a married sister is allowed.
It is also forbidden to utter the words “bride,” “woman,” “child” (female) and “girl.”
The bachelor rules pertain to boys and men studying in yeshivot, and are intended to maintain the innocence and holiness of the single man in a world in which such a thing appears to be impossible.
They include the prohibitions on being awake after 10 P.M., using deodorant or scent, combing one’s hair or looking in a mirror, lifting other boys on one’s shoulders, riding a bicycle, reading newspapers, smoking and going to the beach.
Some of the rules are based on accepted Hasidic and halakhic concepts, although they take them to the extreme, while others are unique to Ger. Though the rules are no longer relevant to many members of the group who have left the sect, they chose not to present them in a negative light so as to leave open the opportunity for dialogue with Ger members.
The practices of the Ger sect have been in the news recently following the suicide of Esti Weinstein, who left the sect seven years ago. Only one of her seven daughters left the movement with her and stayed in contact after she left.
In a manuscript written before she died, Weinstein highlighted the rules of the group and the “guidance” provided by spiritual enforcers appointed by a rabbi regarding relations between husband and wife in Ger Hasidism. She also highlighted the total separation between parents and children after one of them decides to leave the Hasidic community.
Dr. Shlomo Tikochinsky, a researcher of the Haredi-Lithuanian community, described Weinstein’s manuscript as “the most serious indictment of a Jewish sect in our time, a tragedy of distorted education regarding the female body.”
The fact that Ger Hasidism has specific rules and social norms is publicly known and has been criticized by other ultra-Orthodox leaders in the past. They regulate all the internal intercourse in the Ger community, although only those regarding economic issues and modesty have been put in writing in the past. Thus, rules regulating the celebration of family events were published to avoid disparities between rich and poor in the community.
Greenhouse and his colleagues only published the rules pertaining to bachelors, although one of them said that the intention is to publish additional types of rules in the future.