The wheat harvest for Matzah Shemurah, Viznitz Hassidut, Mevo Horon, 2009
Extreme caution is taken in the preparation of matzah (unleavened bread) for the Passover holiday. Every step of the process, beginning with the harvesting of wheat in the early months of summer, is carefully supervised to ensure that there is no contact between wheat and water. Even a drop of water could result in fermentation and render the wheat or flour unsuitable. Furthermore, among Hassidim, every activity associated with matzah production is regarded as part of the mitzvah (biblical commandment) to eat unleavened bread on Passover night, and is therefore attended with ceremony and excitement.
Ritual immersion, Jerusalem hills, 2006
Immersion in fresh water is the basic form of purification in Jewish Law. According to Jewish law, women must immerse themselves, typically in a mikvah (ritual bath of gathered rainwater), after their menstrual period. By contrast, ritual immersion for men is not a matter of Jewish law but is customary among the Hassidim, especially before the Sabbath and holidays and in preparation for morning prayers. Freshwater springs located in the Jerusalem hills are popular sites for male ritual immersion.
Second Lebanon War, near Fassuta, 2006
Late one afternoon, during the Second Lebanon War, a group of Chabad Hassidim visited an isolated artillery battery on Israel’s northern border. Their van was festooned with yellow Chabad flags and the song “Mashiach, Mashiach” blasted on the radio. In the spirit of joyous outreach that characterizes Chabad Hassidut, the emissaries handed out biscuits and engaged the tired soldiers in singing and dancing. The improvised party was suddenly interrupted when the soldiers received orders to fire shells across the border. The visitors refused bulletproof vests and helmets, choosing to cover their ears and put their faith in the hands of the almighty. The photographer happened upon this unusual scene while covering the conflict for Reuters.
Feast for the drawing of water, Sukkot, Toldot Avraham Yitzhak Hassidut, Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, 2005
Toldot Avraham Yitzhak is a splinter group of the ultraconservative and anti-Zionist Toldot Aharon. When the Temple in Jerusalem stood, a central observance of the Sukkot holiday was the pouring of water on the alter as a libation. The water was drawn from the spring of Shiloach and brought to the Temple through a special gate, accompanied by drums and dancing. Since the destruction of the Temple, it has become customary to gather on the holiday nights of Sukkot to sing and dance in memory of the Simchat Beit Hashoeva (Rejoicing in the Drawing of the Water).
Demonstration against desecration of graves, Route 6, near Kibbutz Regavim, 2005
Many Israelis vividly remember the dispute that arose during the construction of the northern section of Israel’s Highway 6 (or Trans-Israel Highway). Ancient graves were discovered along its planned route, inciting outcry by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. An effort to uproot and relocate the graves was met with forceful and sometimes violent opposition by Haredi protesters who fought for the sanctity of the dead. The man pictured here succeeded in stopping a bulldozer seconds before being crushed.
This image was selected by Reuters as one of the top 100 photographs of the first decade of the 21st century.
One of the highlights of the Hassidic wedding is the mitzvah tanz (or mitzvah dance). During the mitzvah tanz, family members and respected rabbis are invited to dance before the bride to bring her happiness. The dance begins after the wedding ceremony ends, typically around midnight, and often continues until the early hours of the morning. For reasons of modesty, the bride’s face is covered with a veil and she stands at a distance from the dancing men, grasping one end of a gartel (long belt made of black silk). Her own father and grandfather may dance directly in front of her without a gartel.