Differences Between Amish and Jewish
Are the Amish Jewish?
Easy answer: no.
Yet the misinformation that the two faiths are somehow linked persists. Why? We’ll try to unpack some of the reasons in this post.
Interestingly, there is a scene in the Harrison Ford Amish-themed classic Witness where young Samuel encounters a Hasidic Jew, a bearded man dressed in black, at a train station and looks at him curiously. There were strong similarities in dress, but Samuel quickly turned away when he realized that the resemblances probably pretty much ended there.
The two groups -Amish and Jewish - had generally been at odds with one another for much of the 20th century, their differences driving them apart. But in the past twenty years or so there has been a thawing of relations and the two groups are increasingly viewing one another as kindred spirits.
☑️ Similarities Between Amish and Jews
Let’s look at some of the similarities first.
Above, Old Order Amish men ...you can see similarities in dress with Orthodox Jews.
DRESS: Orthodox Jews can resemble very conservative Amish, wearing stark colors of black and white. Long beards for the Jewish men are common as are dark head-coverings for the women. Both of these are staples of Amish culture as well.
Several Amish delegations have, in recent years, made visits to Israel to apologize for perceived lack of support for the Jewish faith. The Jerusalem Post reported:
PERSECUTION: Both religions have been subject to pogroms and persecutions. Of course, the Amish were never subjected to a genocide in the way Jewish people were. Both groups had strong roots in Europe before coming in large numbers to North America and the United States in particular.
Traditionally the Amish have not supported Judaism nor the State of Israel due to an entrenched belief that the Jews are guilty of the crucifixion of Jesus and their perception of Israel as a militant and aggressive power (the Amish are pacifists by nature).
No, the Amish are found in North America and a few South American countries. However, groups of Amish do enjoy traveling to Israel to see Biblical sites and places of deep religious significance in Christianity.
The Amish have, because of their shared persecuted pasts, have begun to develop a kinship through these delegations.
INSULARITY: Both the Amish and Jewish faiths, particular in the Orthodox Jews, have tended towards an insular culture and religion, preferring to turn inward and isolate themselves from the larger world.
❌ Differences Between the Amish and Jewish Faiths
ORIGINS: The Amish faith originated as an offshoot of Anabapitism (adult baptism), a faction of Christianity led by Martin Luther and his Reformation. The changes began taking root in the 1600s, some 3000 years after Judaism’s beginnings.
HOLY BOOK: The Amish use the King James version of the Bible while the holy book of the Jewish faith is the Torah.
LANGUAGE: The Amish speak a dialect of Pennsylvania Dutch, which is a mish-mash of German with some regional differences. Traditionally, Jews have spoken Hebrew or Yiddish, the latter of which does have some Germanic elements.
⛪ Other Interesting Overlaps Between the Amish and Jewish Faiths
Other overlaps between Amish and Jewish aren’t as easy to pinpoint or define. For instance there has long been some historical evidence that Jewish settlers, who were welcomed into William Penn’s Pennsylvania, settled near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the 1600s, about when the Amish were arriving. Some evidence points to some intermingling of the groups.
From Haaretz and their article about the lost Jewish colony:
At the Lancaster Historical Society, there are oral records of witnesses who remember relatives who spoke of the existence of the Jewish cemetery on Tower Hill and even of stones with Hebrew letters that once belonged to a Jewish synagogue known even then as “the schul”. Some historians of the late 19th and early 20th century found circumstantial evidence of the Jewish presence in Schaefferstown through the fact that Christians in the vicinity, including Pietists, Mennonites and Amish, maintained Jewish customs, including circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. But lacking any real physical evidence of the Jews of Schaefferstown, their existence is now a myth rather than recorded fact.
Schaefferstown, Pennsylvana, where this Jewish community might have existed, is only about 20 miles from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, considered the cradle of Amish culture in America. So that is tantalizing evidence that the two groups did intermingle and influenced one another in the colony's early days.
The groups also share many of the same general beliefs about technology, photography, simplicity, family, and insularity. Orthodox Jews generally avoid photography and they'll use technology selectively.
In 2009, as part of this decades long warming of relations between Jewish and Amish people, a group of Pennsylvania Amish were given tours of ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in New York.
"It's reinforcing to the Amish community to see us Jews living the way the Bible says Jews are supposed to live, and have lived since the time of Moses and Abraham," said Yisroel Ber Kaplan, program director for the Chassidic Discovery Center in Brooklyn.
"The Amish are also living their lives as the Bible speaks to them."
So, while the Amish and Jewish faiths come from very different historical and religious roots, their commonalities and forged a kind of cultural kinship between the groups.