Over the next few months, we will introduce you to the Jewish communities we hope to reach with the gospel message in the year ahead. Our goal is to help you learn about these various groups and to encourage you to pray for them as each one is precious in the sight of God. We are doing as much as we can to reach each and every group—from the religious to secular, young Israelis, and so many others worldwide. This month, we will take a brief look at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
One group we hope to reach as part of Foundations ’22 is those whom Jewish people typically view as the most religious within the community. They are usually called Haredim. This common term includes all ultra-Orthodox Jewish people: the various Hasidic sects, old-style Orthodox, and even some Modern Orthodox Jewish people. Haredim is a transliteration of the Hebrew term that means “those who fear” or “the reverent ones.” In other words, Haredim are those who fear God and are very traditional in their expression of faith and observance of the Jewish religion.
There are very few believers in Jesus among them, and we hope to focus on praying for and reaching these extraordinarily devoted members of the Jewish community. They remind us of the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2).
The Haredim dress differently so they can stay separate from the wider world. Women are very modest; they wear long dresses or skirts and cover their hair with scarves, wigs, or hats. The men usually wear black clothing and white shirts. On the Sabbath, they dress more formally and often wear elaborate fur hats—all these examples reflect the clothing worn by upper-class Eastern Europeans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The children usually attend yeshivas—Haredi parochial schools. They live together within a wired boundary called an “eruv,” and their synagogue is only a short walk away. The Haredim eat food that meets the highest kosher standards. Children are often well-behaved, marriages are usually arranged, and the roles of men and women are strictly defined. Men work but also spend much of their time studying the Torah. Many Haredi women work so that their husbands can study, but they also tend to the children and matters of the home.
The Haredim revere their rabbis, using the title “rebbe” to describe their leaders. The hope for the Messiah’s coming and the establishment of His kingdom in Israel is a vital part of the religious beliefs of the Haredim. They believe the Messiah will come—once—to reign as king and do not believe in two comings of the Messiah, especially that He will come to die for the sins of the world. Passages like Isaiah 53 are not interpreted as referring to the Messiah but rather to Israel, who is deemed as having suffered for or even because of the sins of the nations.
Haredi Population Numbers and Places of Residence
According to a survey by the Pew Foundation in May 2021, there are stark differences between Orthodox and secular Jews: “Orthodox Jews are more likely than the non-Orthodox to say that following Jewish law and being part of a Jewish community are essential to what it means to them to be Jewish. Non-Orthodox Jews are more likely than the Orthodox to say that remembering the Holocaust, being intellectually curious and having a good sense of humor are essential.”
Additionally, from that same report, 83 percent of Orthodox Jews believe that keeping the Jewish law is essential to Jewish identity. Since keeping the Jewish law is essential to the Haredim, this percentage might be lowered by the inclusion of some with a nominally Orthodox upbringing.
Even though many Haredim reject secular Zionism and the modern State of Israel, many still live in Israel, mainly in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Mea Shearim and east of Tel Aviv in B’nei Brak. Hundreds of thousands of Haredim also live in the New York City area—extending one hundred miles north of the city—and Lakewood, New Jersey. There are many other enclaves of Haredim in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and around the world in countries like England, France, and Argentina.
There are dozens of distinct groups that we might identify as Haredim, including Hasidic groups like the Chabad Lubavitch, the Ger, and Satmar. We would also count old-style Orthodox living in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, Williamsburg, and many other New York areas.
It is hard to estimate the total number of those who consider themselves Haredim. The Haredi population is also one of the fastest-growing groups in Israel and among the five-and-a-half million Jewish people living in the United States.
The Times of Israel reported Haredi population numbers and growth rate: “The ultra-Orthodox . . . population in Israel numbers around 1.175 million, showing an annual growth rate of 4.2 percent over the past decade, over twice the 1.9% shown by the rest of the Israeli population and over three times that of the rest of the Israeli Jewish population.”
Regarding the future of the Haredi community in Israel, The Times of Israel also noted, “At those rates, the community will double in size every 16 years while the rest of the population is expected to double in size every 37 years. The non-Haredi Jewish population is predicted to double every 50 years at current rates.”
Many Haredim have an entirely different worldview than your average Christian, Messianic Jewish believer, or even secular American Jew. The Haredim have a different prism through which they evaluate and understand how the world works—a different manner of thinking altogether.
Though we may all be communicating in English, it is as if we are often speaking two different languages. Sometimes, this is literally true. The Haredim usually speak Yiddish, a language based on a combination of Hebrew, German, and Slavic languages, but written in Hebrew characters. To speak to the hearts of the Haredim, we are producing literature, videos, and books in Yiddish.
When we share the message of how a person can be saved and have a personal relationship with God, we are providing an answer to a question that the Haredim are not usually asking. Moreover, we tend to frame our response in completely foreign categories to their thinking, and understanding of who God is, and who we are as human beings. The Haredim do not think in terms of “saved” and “unsaved.” They believe that every Jewish person already has a place in “the world to come,” the afterlife. The Haredim try to keep the Law because this is what God commanded them to observe as part of their covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Reaching Haredim is also challenging as they live in tight-knit communities, limited to specific geographical locations where there is very little need or desire to interact with outsiders. Like the Amish, the Haredim choose to live in self-sufficient communities to guard against what they see as harmful secular influences. The collective memory of atrocities on the part of the nations and even by “Christians” has also contributed to the shaping of the Haredi communities and their views about Jesus.
Jewish history is filled with examples of persecution of Jewish people by so-called Christians. This has produced a built-in distrust and skepticism of those outside the community, especially those who are not Haredi.
The community is very well-organized and concerned for the ongoing well-being of its members. There are even directories with phone numbers to call if someone has a particular need. Having a party and need fifty folding chairs? Call the number, and someone will drop them off. Visiting a different city and need a place to stay? Not a problem—make a call, and someone will offer housing. For these reasons and others, it is very difficult to gain access to the Haredim and even to begin a conversation about the Messiah.
While it may be challenging to reach the Haredim for the Lord, we can never underestimate the mysterious ways in which God turns the hearts of seemingly hard-to-reach people to Himself! We have seen the Lord move by His Spirit in these communities in the past, and we praise Him for the work He is doing now and will do in the future!
 “Jewish Identity and Belief,” Pew Research Center, May 11, 2021, accessed January 17, 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-identity-and-belief/.
 Stuart Winer, “Haredi Population Growing Twice as Fast as Overall Israeli Population—Report,” The Times of Israel, December 31, 2020, accessed January 18, 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/haredi-population-growing-twice-as-fast-as-total-israeli-population-report/