The Mikveh- Chance To Examine The Body

We could add another latent function: the mikveh gives the Haredi the chance to examine his body, to experience it, and compare it with others. It is virtually the only opportunity available to Haredim to satisfy their curiosity about their own body and bodies in general, as the family structure and their tightly-packed homes offer them hardly any privacy, and because Haredim do not usually participate in sport or leisure activities that require undressing, such as a swimming pool.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran 

The mikveh is the place where Haredim are closest to their own bodies and those of others. Because the mikveh is usually crowded, there is a certain intimacy between Haredi men.[i] And despite the crowds, it also affords a degree of intimacy of each Haredi man with himself.

Out of respect for the research subjects’ right to privacy, ethnographic data collected during participant observations at a mikveh will not be presented. We shall Continue reading

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Prof. Gideon Aran: The Nakedness of The Haredim

There was no feeling that the nakedness of the Haredim was accompanied by any particular tension. A certain degree of haste while in the nude was observed, but we can easily explain this in terms of time pressure, and not necessarily as modesty, despite many Haredim replying to questions about this matter by quoting from the halachic Rules of Dressing that are very strict on issues of exposure.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran 

Given the background of the Haredi emphasis on bodily morality, and taking into account the rarity of other opportunities for exposure, it would have been reasonable to expect demonstrations of shame over and above those familiar to us from conventional situations of nudity in a group. However, nude Haredim seemed to move within the chambers of the mikveh calmly and as a matter of routine. Sometimes it would even seem that the Haredim at the mikveh almost verge on exhibitionism.

The high frequency of the situation, and the experience accumulated over the years since their childhood have seemingly created a routine that eases anxieties. A few more hypotheses can be proposed in trying to explain the apparent dissonance in the clear lack of shame that marked out Haredi nakedness.

Taken from “Denial Does Not Make The Haredi Body Go Away Ethnography of a Disappearing (?) Jewish Phenomenon”, By Gideon Aran.

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Institutionalized Public Undressing – The mikveh

It is most surprising to find institutionalized public undressing at the heart of Haredi community. The Haredi is exposed both symbolically and literally at the mikveh, the Jewish purifying bath, prescribed in the Halacha with a detailed explication of the laws of ritual immersion. The religious man must visit the mikveh on a number of specific occasions, such as before fasting on Yom Kippur.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran 


The more day-to-day Haredi routine includes ritual immersion on the eve of the Sabbath and festivals. Some Haredim immerse themselves every morning, or even more often: there are Breslav Hassidim who go to the mikveh every few hours, or religious scribes who immerse themselves each time before they commit the name of God to a mezuzah, Torah scroll, or phylactery parchment (tefillin). Continue reading

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Kookism: The roots of Gush Emunim – Preface Part 3

In order to conduct my research I accompanied the followers of Gush-Emunim wherever they decided to go. I looked at them closely, had lengthy talks with them and thoroughly read the materials they had memorized by heart.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

As time went by, we became friends. I earned and gained their trust even to a point in which I almost became an integral part of the movement myself. There was this one time when a marital ceremony of one of the community’s leaders had to be kept secret and so they felt comfortable enough to hold the wedding at my house (as long as I agreed to remove Leonardo Da-Vinci’s Santa Ana painting off the wall). Continue reading

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Don’t let The Mirror Peep At Your Body

There are restrictions on nudity even when alone. For instance, Haredim mention that in the toilet a Jew should “expose a little and cover up even more”; an oft-quoted story is told of an exemplary character from the period of the Mishna: “Throughout his whole life he never saw the sign of his covenant with God [his circumcised penis]”.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Given the importance attributed to the issue, one might reach an intriguing hypothesis: namely, that exposing the male body to members of the same sex is less potentially explosive than revealing it to oneself. Haredim know that according to the Kabbalah the male organ is “God’s magic seal”, comprised of the letters of His explicit name. It follows that the Haredi can experience the emanation of God when looking at his own penis. This might be a source both of abhorrence of one’s own nudity, and its irresistible attraction.

Haredim refuse to acknowledge the existence of the body even by glancing at it. There are sanctions against touching, stroking, feeling or scratching parts of the body, as well as against looking at it. This refers to closely examining the clothed body; even more so the naked one. Indirect evidence of this can be found in the Haredi attitude to mirrors. Haredim do not hang mirrors in public spaces, such as shops, let alone yeshivas, nor in private houses (even in the bathroom). Continue reading

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Nudity Is No Trivial Matter

Nudity is no trivial matter. For most cultures, including Haredi society, it is a sensitive affair. We can see this from the centrality and gravity of the Jewish laws and customs that deal with exposure of the body in general, and its intimate parts in particular.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Many Haredim assert that they would never undress in front of their spouse, even after many years of marriage. In Haredi society they talk of men who permanently keep their gaze lowered, and say that they are so zealous that they have never seen the shape of a woman all their lives, including the woman of their affections and the mother of their children. Continue reading

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Notes on Haredi Physicality – The hair

It is a commonplace in anthropological literature that hair on the head and face is an effective symbolic medium for expressing identity and changes in identity, especially because it is immediately noticeable and easy to manipulate. Hair is a familiar means for

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marking out a person’s position in relation to his society, be that a manifestation of identification and commitment, or reservation and opposition.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Long hair and a thick beard usually indicate emancipation from dominant norms or even protest against them (beatniks), while a neat haircut and a close shave point to loyalty and subordination to a severe regime (new recruits to the military). With the Haredim, and especially the Hassidim, we can find both of these tendencies: a bald head (like Tibetan monks) and a full beard (like Greek-Orthodox monks).

Nudity further emphasizes the beard and sidelocks, which have crucial role in creating the general impression of Haredism. More than the beard, sidelocks are considered the definitive indication of Jewishness. In an elaborate rite of passage the Haredi (male) child has his first haircut aged three (chalaka), before embarking on the road of Torah study, in the exclusive company of boys. This is when his sidelocks are formed, thus shaping him as a Jewish man. This act can be seen as a kind of second, corrective circumcision. Continue reading

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Notes on Haredi Physicality – In The Nude

All clothing, and much more so a peculiar uniform like that worn by the Haredim, has a straightjacket effect on its wearer, as it restricts and defines his consciousness and behavior. This includes the influence of clothing on body language and the very feel of the body.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran


With different levels of awareness, Haredi educators understand that their supervision of yeshiva students’ clothing extends into regulation over their bodies. They explained to me: “When an adolescent wears a coat that identifies him as Haredi both to himself and to others he automatically understands that he can’t scream like a monkey and jump around like a goat”. Continue reading

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Prof. Gideon Aran: Body and Society – Male Body and Religious Body

In the past decade or two, writing about the human body has become a flourishing industry in the social sciences and humanities. A rich literature has accumulated on the Body and Society, including on the male body, and the religious body. The current article joins this research tradition.

Written By Prof. Gideon Aran

Recently, a number of important texts about the traditional Jewish body have been published, and they provide the basis for my work. However, my study differs from them, complements them, and goes beyond them: firstly, I focus on a Jewish sub-group, a defined religious sector whose body has not yet been discussed. Secondly, my work focuses on contemporary reality, and describes bodily trends that are developing even as I am writing.And finally, this study is based on sociological-anthropological “field research”, mainly interviews and observations.

Moreover, works on the Jew’s body usually discuss sacred texts and historical evidence, referring to a more or less official Jewish legacy and classic perceptions of the Jewish body. In contrast, the material presented here deals with bodily behavior in action. I do not touch on written traditions and customs – halachic and mythical materials, rabbinical or kabbalistic sources – except when mentioned by the subjects themselves in dialogue with one another or in conversation with me as significant anchors in explaining contemporary bodily practices. Continue reading

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Prof. Gideon Aran – Yeshiva Mizrachit And The Haredi Body

Yeshiva mizrachit is hegemonic. Of course, not everybody adopts it, and there are those who positively reject it. Certain groups of Jewish citizens from the pre-state yishuv, as well from today’s state, can be singled out for not practicing yeshiva mizrachit.

Written By Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

Gideon Aran

In the past they were the bourgeois immigrants from Germany and Poland (the Fourth & Fifth aliyot), and more recently they include immigrants from the former Soviet bloc. The former described yeshiva mizrachit as primitive and impolite; the latter see it as infantile and ostentatious. Continue reading

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