Beneath their hats and locks they had a scholar’s pallor. It was once assumed that it was strain brought on by the long hours of study in the yeshive, or Torah schools, that affected the eyesight of so many Haredi men.
In many ways they are a community frozen in aspic - a repository of life as it was lived in 19th century Eastern Europe, where tradition is held sacrosanct and modernity is largely scorned.It is a deeply conservative community that venerates religious learning above all else and in which Yiddish is the primary language.I say to them, in the morning after you go to pray, go out for a brisk walk...’ He laughed.'“Got no time....”’ While mainstream Judaism in Britain is in decline, as people 'marry out’ and abandon the faith, the Haredi community is expanding at a phenomenal rate.Along with that came the increasing assimilation of Jews within mainstream society and a rise in secularism in which religious learning was exchanged for the scholarship of the university.
In the face of this drift from tradition, the Haredi regarded themselves as the last redoubt of orthodoxy, taking sustenance from their rigid observance of the halacha - the body of ethical and ritual injunctions governing Jewish life.
'They conduct themselves like madmen,’ railed a denunciation by the rabbinical authorities of the day, 'and explain their behaviour by saying that in their thoughts they soar in the most far-off worlds.
When they pray..raise such a din that the walls quake.’ But on the streets of Stamford Hill they looked as solemn as undertakers, hurrying purposefully along, their gazes fixed firmly ahead, a world apart from from the idlers outside the betting shop, the hoodies loitering on the green.
If current trends continue, the strictly-Orthodox will constitute the majority of British Jews by 2050.
The Haredi community first took root in Britain in Gateshead at the end of the 19th century, when a small group of Jews from Lithuania docked in Newcastle upon Tyne.
A report by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 2008 estimated the size of Britain’s strictly Orthodox community at close to 30,000 people, around 10 per cent of the nation’s Jewish population.