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Educated and Ignorant: Ultraorthodox Jewish Women and Their World

Tamar El-Or
Educated and Ignorant: Ultraorthodox Jewish Women and Their World
ISBN: 978-1-55587-396-7
1994/228 pages/LC: 93-13332

"Provides some wonderful insights into the complex lives of hasidic women and the paradoxical reality of hasidic life in the modern world. This book is valuable reading and useful teaching material."—Shofar

"Reveals the paradoxes all women living under patriarchal religious law experience and how they both adhere to and in some ways refashion that patriarchal rule.... This is a fine book.... Despite a most sophisticated analysis, El-Or manages to maintain a text accessible to scholar, student, and general reader."—Shofar

"Educated and Ignorant is one of the best ethnographies I have ever read.... Where too many ethnographies stay on the level of description, El-Or situates the practices and beliefs of the Gur women within the context of haredi society and Israeli society as a whole."—Israel Studies Bulletin

Fascinating throughout. . . . a must for courses on women in the Middle East."—Mina D. Caulfield


This ethnography investigates the meaning of learning in the lives of ultraorthodox Jewish women. Presenting a vivid portrayal of the Gur Hasidic community in Israel, El-Or explores the relationship between women's literacy and their subordination. What she finds is a paradox: ultraorthodox women are taught to be ignorant.

And they perform the role of being ignorant as only educated women can. Preserving their social and emotional ties with their community, these women are at the same time able to observe their surroundings and even their own worlds as if from the "outside." This duality creates the social and personal conditions that allow the women to accept their subordination and help to perpetuate it, even at the end of the twentieth century.


Tamar El-Or is lecturer in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


  • Introduction: The Road to the Development.
  • The Gur Hasidim and the Development.
  • Educated and Ignorant.
  • The Substantial and the Practical.
  • "Make Thy Way Straight Before Me."
  • Afterword: Cultures in Context.