The newly opened Kosher Gym in Jerusalem offers prayer books instead of magazines at its juice bar, and bearded men listen to Talmudic interpretations on earphones as they exercise.
In an Internet chat room, messages about Outlook and Microsoft pop up in Yiddish. At upscale kosher restaurants, men in black hats and sidecurls, accompanied by wives in wigs and long dresses, sip fine wines.
If that's one face of the haredim -- "the God-fearing," as Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews refer to themselves -- another is the young hotheads who torch clothing stores in their neighborhood for selling "immodest" attire and hurl bleach at women who wear it.
From cellphones to Stairmasters, from women's rights to Hebrew slang, the outside world is seeping into the cloistered haredi community and plunging it into a tug-of-war between a tentative embrace of modernity and fierce resistance.
Similar communities are replicated across the world, with the Bible and Jewish law central to their lives. The difference is that in New York, London or Sydney they have little impact on society around them. In Israel, the relationship is very different, and often bumpy.
Haredi political parties have often held the political power to make or break a government. The men spend their lives in prayer and study, subsidized by taxpayers who can't see why they don't just get a job. Every secular Israeli, male and female, must do military service, the great leveler in a country of immigrants from east and west. But haredim are exempt.
They belong to a religious power structure which at various times during Israel's existence has managed to ban public transport on the Sabbath, grounded El Al, the national airline, on holy days, and has absolute control of all Jewish marriage and divorce. This power was reinforced last month when 12 of 15 new rabbinical court judges were recruited from the ultra-Orthodox -- a move that caused a furor among secular Israelis who had hoped more moderate judges would join the court.
Haredim tend not to take firm stances on the big issue confronting Israeli society -- war and peace with the Arabs. But their birthrate of seven children to a family is a force in Israel's demographic race against the Palestinians.
As Israeli society grows more pluralist, advancing the rights of women and gays, the haredim cling to the old ways, and sometimes the clash is extreme. In 2005, when Jerusalem held a gay pride parade, a protesting ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed and wounded three marchers.
Yet reality is forcing change in many areas.
The haredim, many of whom once opposed Zionism as a blasphemous pre-empting of the Messiah, have largely made their peace with the Jewish state.
At the same time, election results have enabled coalition governments to be formed without the haredim. The sidelining of haredi parties in recent years has led to cutbacks in their subsidies, and haredim are beginning to trickle into the job market.
"There are many changes coming in the haredi world, because you can't offer only one lifestyle, you can't offer only one life opportunity for a whole range of abilities and spiritual levels. You'll lose too many that way," said Jonathan Rosenblum, a haredi columnist.
The word haredi is an umbrella term for a variety of groups, each following its own ancient sages and living rabbis.
It broadly means anyone who takes the maximalist approach to Jewish law and follows a lifestyle whose most visible characteristics are unlikely to change soon.
Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak feel like 18th century European ghettos: men in long black coats and large fur hats called streimels; women in shapeless dresses covering their wrists and ankles, wrapped in scarves or wigs because they shave their heads when they marry.
In Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's largest haredi neighborhood, cars are banned on the Sabbath and toddlers ride tricycles down the middle of the street. In synagogues, men press their lips to the words of an open Torah scroll.
Haredi households shun TV, and haredi rabbis have ruled that only cellphones without Internet access are permissible.
Israel's haredim number an estimated 600,000 -- nearly 9 percent of the population and growing fast. Jerusalem, the city at the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict, is now one-third haredi and has its first ultra-Orthodox mayor.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies