Thursday, Nov. 16, Snowden fellow Dr. Rivka Neriya-Ben Shahar presented the Snowden lecture in the Hoover Center for Business in room 212. The lecture focused on the responses of Ultra-Orthodox and Old Order Amish women on the Internet.
By gathering research on Lancaster County’s Amish population and their thoughts on the Internet, Shahar compared them to her own country and some of the views expressed there.
Coming from Sapir Academic College in Israel, Shahar always had the dream of coming to America and studying the Amish. Many of her friends and family from her home are Ultra-Orthodox Jewish, and she found the similarities between the two to be fascinating.
In regard to Israel’s Haredi population, Shahar shared that there is an average of 14 years of education among both women and men. She also said that there are approximately seven children per woman and that 68 percent of the women work outside of the home.
In her research of the Old Order Amish, Shahar shared that they mostly lived in North America and Canada. Overall, they were obedient to both their community and church and are well-known for their separation from modern culture.
In her research, most of the differences in the women came from the fact that the Amish only have an average of eight years of education and the same average of children (seven children per woman). The other difference is that the women are stay-at-home moms.
When Amish women hold jobs, they are often school teachers before they are married. Once they marry, the women leave teaching and begin to stay at home and raise their children.
When Shahar asked them about their choice to quit their careers, the women were caught off guard.
“I like how you assume we choose,” one said.
She shared how the Amish are more of a community religion, and they are simply doing their job as a member of the community. Going back to work after raising children is not an option they would think of.
“You can’t split your heart,” an Amish woman said.
When beginning this research, Shahar applied to a number of programs to get a grant to come study the Amish in the United States. She first applied to a total of 12 programs and did not receive any of the spots since she did not speak English and had never been to the United States. Eventually, after researching more and working hard to learn English, Shahar received the Fulbright grant, and her husband received a Harvard grant, which allowed them to move their family to the Boston area. Shahar shared she still had a problem, since there were not any Amish people in Boston.
After finding a family to shadow, she was able to convince an Amish neighborhood to participate in the study. She handed out questionnaires, and the answers helped form her research.
When comparing her statistics, Shahar found that only 20 percent of the Amish women had used the Internet, mainly for information or to shop online, while nearly 50 percent of Haredi women had used the Internet. Some of the answers Shahar received about the internet referred to it as a gift of the devil.
“The Amish are not supposed to use the Internet because it brings them closer to the world,” one Amish woman said.
“A blocked Internet is a kosher Internet,” a Haredi woman said.
One thing that amazed Shahar was the fact that, when asked about the influence of new media on the community, Haredi women said it had a bigger impact on the family over themselves. Amish women said it had the same impact on family and on themselves, which led Shahar to connect the fact that they saw themselves as a part of the community over being individuals.
“I never thought about the perception of media being an influence,” junior Megan Stone said. “I didn’t know anything about the Ultra-Orthodox and technology beforehand.”