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- Ethnic group
- Group - Amish
- Worldwide population - 198,000 (2000 est.)
- Population place - United States, especially Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Maryland; Ontario, Canada; Belize
- Religious affliations - Anabaptist Christianity
- Languages - Pennsylvania Dutch, English
- Related groups - Palatinate Germans, Swiss, Alsatians
The Amish, pronounced ä' mǐsh, or äm' ǐsh, are an Anabaptist Christian denomination found primarily in the United States and Ontario, Canada, that are known for restrictions on the use of modern devices such as automobiles and telephones. The Amish separate themselves from outside society for religious reasons; they do not join the military, draw Social Security, or accept any form of assistance from the government, and many avoid insurance. Most speak a German dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch (or Pennsylvania German), which the Amish call Deitsch ("German"). The Amish are divided into dozens of separate fellowships. This article primarily discusses conservative Old Order Amish fellowships with restrictions on dress, behavior, and technology. There are many New Order Amish and Beachy Amish groups that use electricity and automobiles, but still consider themselves Amish.
Population and distributionEdit
In 2000, Raber's Almanac estimated there were 198,000 Old Order Amish in the United States . There are Old Order communities in 21 states; Ohio has the largest population (55,000), followed by Pennsylvania (47,000) and Indiana (37,000). The largest Amish settlements are in Holmes County, Ohio; LaGrange County, Indiana and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. With an average of seven children per family, the Amish population is growing rapidly, and new settlements are constantly being formed to obtain sufficient farmland. Some Beachy Amish have relocated to Central America, including a sizable community near San Ignacio, Belize.
Most Old Order and conservative Amish groups do not proselytise, and conversion to the Amish faith is rare. The Beachy Amish, however, do pursue missionary work.
The Amish as an ethnic groupEdit
The Amish are united by a common Swiss-German ancestry, language, and culture, and marry within the Amish community. Therefore the Amish meet the criteria of an ethnic group. However, the Amish themselves generally use the term only to refer to accepted members of their church community, and not as an ethnic designation. Those who do not choose live an Amish lifestyle and join the church are no longer considered Amish.
Like the Mennonites, the Amish are descendants of Swiss Anabaptist groups formed in the early 16th century during the radical reformation. The Swiss Anabaptists or "Swiss Brethren" had their origins with Felix Manz (ca. 1498–1527) and Conrad Grebel (ca.1498-1526). The name "Mennonite" was applied later and came from Menno Simons (1496–1561). Simons was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who converted to Anabaptism in 1536 and was baptized by Obbe Philips after renouncing his Catholic faith and office. He was a leader in the Lowland Anabaptist communities, but his influence reached gradually into Switzerland.
The Amish movement takes its name from that of Jacob Amman (c. 1656 – c. 1730), a Swiss Mennonite leader. Amman believed the Mennonites were drifting away from the teachings of Simons and the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith, particularly the practice of shunning excluded members (known as the ban or Meidung). However, the Swiss Mennonites (who, because of unwelcoming conditions in Switzerland, were by then scattered throughout Alsace and the Palatinate) never practiced strict shunning as the Lowland Anabaptists did. Amman insisted upon this practice, even to the point of a spouse's refusing to sleep or eat with the banned member until he/she repented of his/her behavior. This strict literalism brought about a division in the Swiss Mennonite movement in 1693 and led to the establishment of the Amish. Because the Amish are the result of a division with the Mennonites, some consider the Amish a conservative Mennonite group.The first Amish began migrating to the United States in the 18th century, largely to avoid religious persecution and compulsory military service. The first immigrants went to Berks County, Pennsylvania, but later moved, motivated both by land issues and by security concerns tied to the French and Indian War. Many eventually settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Other groups later settled in or spread to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maine, and Canada. The Amish movement eventually died out in Europe, and all remaining Old Order communities are in the Americas.
Most Amish communities that were established in North America did not ultimately retain their Amish identity. The original major split that resulted in the loss of identity occurred in the 1860s. During that decade Dienerversammlungen (ministerial conferences) were held in Wayne County, Ohio, concerning how the Amish should deal with the pressures of modern society. The meetings themselves were a progressive idea; that bishops should get together to discuss uniformity was an unprecedented notion in the Amish church. By the first several meetings, the conservative bishops agreed to boycott the Dienerversammlungen. Thus, the more progressive Amish within several decades became Amish-Mennonite, and were then later absorbed into the "Old" Mennonites (not to be confused with Old Order Mennonites). The much smaller faction became the Amish of today. With the advent of widespread usage by non-Amish people of electricity and automobiles (and Amish rejection of same), a tourist industry sprung up around the Amish in places such as the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
Religion, lifestyle, and cultureEdit
Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung, which differs from community to community, and, within a community, from district to district. What is acceptable in one community may not be acceptable in another. No summary of Amish lifestyle and culture can be totally adequate because there are few generalities that are true for all Amish. Groups may separate over matters such as the width of a hat-brim, the use of tobacco (permitted among older and more conservative groups), the color of buggies, or various other issues.
The Old Order Amish have worship services every other Sunday at private homes. Since the average district has 168 members, they are often seated in several different rooms . Worship begins with a short sermon by one of several preachers or the bishop of the church district, followed by scripture reading and silent prayer, and another, longer sermon. The service is interspersed with hymns, sung without instrumental accompaniment or harmony. Singing is usually very slow, and a single hymn may take 15 minutes to finish. Worship is followed by lunch and socializing. The service and all hymns are in Deitsch. Amish preachers and deacons are selected by lot (based on Acts 1:23-26) out of a group of men nominated by the congregation. They serve for life and have no formal training. Amish bishops are chosen from those selected as preachers.
Hochmut and DemutEdit
Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their revulsion of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut or "humility" and Gelassenheit — often rendered "submission" or "letting-be," but perhaps better understood as a reluctance to forward or assert oneself in any way. The willingness to submit to the Will of God, as expressed through group norms, is at odds with the individualism so central to the wider American culture. The anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on neighbors, or which, like electricity, might start a competition for status-goods, or which, like photographs, might cultivate individual or family vanity. It is also the proximate cause for rejecting education beyond the eighth grade, especially speculative study which has little practical use for farm-life but which may awaken personal and materialistic ambitions. The emphasis on competition and the uncritical assumption that self-reliance is a good thing, cultivated in American high schools, are in direct opposition to core Amish values.
Separation from the outside and between groupsEdit
The Amish often cite three Bible verses which encapsulate their cultural attitudes:
- "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (II Corinthians 6:14)
- "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord." (II Corinthians 6:17)
- “And be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
The Amish prefer to have minimal contact with non-Amish. However, increased prices for farmland and decreasing revenues for low-tech farming have forced many Amish to work away from the farm, particularly in construction and factory-labor, and, in those areas where there is a significant tourist trade, to engage in crafts for profit. The Amish are ambivalent about both the consequences of this contact and the commoditization of their culture. The decorative arts play little role in authentic Amish life (though the prized Amish quilts are a genuine cultural inheritance, unlike hex signs), and are in fact regarded with suspicion, as a field where egotism and vain display can easily develop.
Amish lifestyles vary between (and sometimes within) communities. These differences range from profound to minuscule. "Black bumper" Beachy Amish drive chromeless automobiles and are rejected as non-Amish by most other groups, while conservative fellowships may disagree over the number of suspenders males should wear (only one is needed, so two could be seen as vanity) or how many pleats there should be in a bonnet. Groups with similar policies are held to be "in fellowship" and consider each other members of the same Christian church. These groups can visit and intermarry with one another, an important consideration for avoiding problems with inbreeding. Thus minor disagreements within communities over dairy equipment or telephones in workshops can create splinter churches and divide multiple communities.
Some of the strictest Old Order Amish groups are the Nebraska Amish, Troyer Amish, the Swartzendruber Amish, and Amish communities in Webster County, Missouri. Stricter groups tend to use Deitsch more, while more progressive groups often use English in the home. Amish who leave the old ways often remain near their communities, and in general, there are levels of progression from strict Amish to more liberal groups (usually Mennonite).
Baptism, rumspringa, and shunningEdit
The Amish and other Anabaptists do not believe that a child can be meaningfully baptized; this is, in fact, reflected in the name Anabaptist (which means "rebaptizer", as the Anabaptists would baptize adults). Amish children are expected to follow the will of their parents in all issues, but when they come of age, they are expected to make an adult, permanent commitment to the church.
Rumspringa (Deitsch, "running around") is the general term for adolescence and the period leading up to serious courtship. As in non-Amish families, it is understood as a practical matter that there will likely be a certain amount of misbehavior during this period, but it is neither expected nor overlooked. At the end of this period, Amish young adults are expected to find a spouse and be baptized. Some choose not to join the church, but to live the rest of their lives in the society at large. Some communities will actively shun those who decide to leave the church, even those going to a different Amish congregation with different doctrines. Still other communities practice hardly any shunning, keeping close family and social contact with those who leave the church. Some communities have split in the last century over how they apply the shunning, as in the case of the Holmes County (and area) Amish settlement. Shunning is also sometimes imposed by bishops on church members guilty of offenses such as using forbidden technology. Church members may also be "called to the carpet" to confess before the congregation.
Many Amish, especially those of the Old Order, are renowned for their avoidance of modern technologies. The avoidance of items such as automobiles and electricity is largely misunderstood. The Amish do not view technology as evil. Individuals may petititon for acceptance of a particular technology in the local community. In some communities, the church leaders meet to review such proposals. In others, it is done whenever necessary. Because the Amish, like other Mennonites, and unlike the Catholic or Anglican Churches, do not have a top-down governing structure, differing communities often have different ideas as to which technological items are acceptable.
Electricity, for instance, is viewed as a connection to the "World", the "English", or "Yankees" (the outside world). The use of electricity also could lead to the use of household appliances, which would complicate the Amish tradition of a simple life, and introduce individualist competition for worldly goods that would be destructive of community. However, in certain Amish groups, electricity can be used in very specific situations. In some groups, for example, electricity can be produced without access to outside power lines. Twelve-volt batteries are acceptable to these groups. Electric generators can only be used for welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirrers. The reasoning behind the twelve-volt system is that it limits what an individual can do with the electricity and acts as a preventive measure against potential abuses. Most twelve-volt power sources cannot generate enough current to power what are viewed as worldly, modern appliances such as televisions or hair dryers. In certain situations, outdoor electrical appliances may be used: lawn mowers (riding and hand-pushed) and string trimmers, for example. Many Amish families have non-electric versions of vital appliances, such as kerosene-powered refrigerators.
Amish communities often adopt compromise solutions involving technology which may seem strange to outsiders. For example, many communities will allow gas powered farm equipment such as tillers or mowers, but only if they are pushed by a human or pulled by a horse. The reasoning is that Amish farmers will not be tempted to purchase more land and outcompete other farmers in their community, if they still have to move the equipment manually. Many Amish communities also accept the use of chemical pesticides and GM crops.
The Ordnung is viewed as a guide to community standards, rather than doctrine that defines sin. The four Old Order Amish communities of Allen County, Indiana, are more conservative than most; they use open buggies, even during the winter, and they wear black leather shoes even in the hot summer. However, in the 1970s, a farmer near Milan Center, Indiana was ordered by his bishop to buy a conventional tractor. He had progressively severe arthritis and, with no sons to harness the horses for him, the tractor was seen as a need, rather than a vanity. The rest of the community continued farming with horses.
The Amish will hire drivers, for example, for visiting family, monthly grocery shopping, commuting to the workplace off the farm, though this too is subject to local regulation and variation. Hiring a taxi is forbidden on Sundays (as is any transfer of money). The practice increases the geographic reach of the Amish, and decreases isolation: a horse can travel only about 25 miles and then must rest for a considerable period, restricting the Amish to a radius of 12.5 miles from home. Moreover, a horse and buggy can only sustain 10 MPH over an extended distance. A 25 mile ride in a buggy takes almost 4 hours, whereas a taxi ride of the same distance in rural areas requires only 30 minutes. Regular bus service between Amish communities has been established in some areas.
Most Lancaster County, PA, Amish use telephones. The phone booth must be far enough from the house, as not to make its use too convenient. Almost all of these Amish phones have voice mail service from the phone companies. The Amish will also use trusted English neighbors as contact points for passing on family emergency messages.
In addition to English, most Amish speak a distinctive High German dialect called Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch, which the Amish themselves call Deitsch (German). Although now limited primarily to the Amish, Pennsylvania German was originally spoken by many German-American immigrants in Pennsylvania. The so-called Swiss Amish speak an Alemannic German dialect that they call "Swiss". Beachy Amish, especially those who were born roughly after 1960, and more progressive groups tend to speak predominantly in English at home. Amish children learn German first and are taught English later. There are dialectal variations between communities, including Lancaster County and Indiana speech varieties. The Amish themselves are aware of regional variation, and occasionally experience difficulty in understanding speakers from outside their own area.
DressEditDress code for some groups includes prohibitions against buttons, allowing only hooks and eyes to keep clothing closed; other groups allow members to sew buttons onto clothing. In some groups, certain articles can have buttons and others cannot. The restriction on buttons is attributed in part to their former association with military uniforms, and also to their potential for serving as opportunities for vain display. In all things, the aesthetic value is "plainness": clothing should not call attention to the wearer by cut, color or any other feature.
Men typically wear dark-colored pants and a dark vest or coat, suspenders, and broad-rimmed straw hats. Women usually wear long dresses in a solid, plain color such as blue, a white apron, plain sneakers such as Keds, and a small bonnet. In most groups, unmarried women wear white bonnets and married women wear black bonnets.
Typically, single Amish men are clean-shaven and married men grow a beard. In some communities, however, a man will grow a beard after he is baptized. Mustaches are generally not allowed, because they are seen as symbols of both pride and the military, a custom with origins in the religious and political persecution in 16th and 17th century Europe. Men of the nobility and upper classes, who often served as military officers, wore mustaches but not beards. The wearing of beards, however, is largely based on the same prohibition against shaving that leads Hasidic Jews and conservative Muslims to not shave their beards.
The Amish are afflicted by numerous heritable genetic disorders, including dwarfism (Ellis-van Creveld syndrome), and are also distinguished by the highest incidence of twinning, in a known human population, various metabolic disorders and unusual distribution of blood-types. Since almost all of the current Amish descend from the same few hundred founders in the 18th century, genetic disorders among the Amish are from founder effects exacerbated by a degree of inbreeding. Some of these disorders are quite rare, or even unique, and serious enough that they increase the mortality rate among Amish children. The majority of the Amish accept these as "Gottes Wille" (God's will) and reject any use of genetic tests prior to the marriage to prevent the appearance of these disorders and refuse genetic tests to the fetus to discover if a child has any genetic disorder.
There is an increasing consciousness among the Amish of the advantages of exogamy. Genetic diseases which are common in one community will often be absent in another, and genetic disorders can be avoided by choosing spouses from unrelated communities. For example, the founding families of the Lancaster County Amish are unrelated to the founders of the Perth County Amish community in Canada.
Because they lack insurance, the Amish sometimes encounter difficulty receiving medical care in the United States, where universal health insurance is not available. A handful of American hospitals, starting in the mid 1990s, created special outreach programs to assist the Amish. The first of such programs was instituted at the Susquehanna Health System in central Pennsylvania by James H. Huebert. The program has earned national media attention in the United States and has spread to several surrounding hospitals.  Treating genetic problems is the mission of Dr. Holmes Morton's Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, which has developed effective treatment for such problems as maple syrup urine disease, which previously was fatal. The clinic has been enthusiastically embraced by most Amish and has largely ended a situation in which some parents felt it necessary to leave the community to care properly for their children, which normally would result in being shunned.
A second research and primary care clinic, patterned after Dr. Holmes Morton’s clinic, DDC Clinic for Special Needs Children, is located in Middlefield, Ohio. The DDC Clinic began treating special needs children with inherited or metabolic disorders in May 2002. The DDC Clinic provides treatment, research and educational services to Amish and non-Amish children and their families. The DDC Clinic is open to all children.
The Amish do not educate their children past the eighth grade, believing that the basic knowledge offered to that point is sufficient to prepare one for the Amish lifestyle. Almost no Amish go to high school, much less to college. In many communities, the Amish operate their own schools, typically one-room schoolhouses with teachers from the Amish community. In the past, there have been major conflicts between the Amish and outsiders over these matters of local schooling. But for the most part they have been resolved and the educational authorities allow the Amish to educate their children in their own ways. Sometimes there are conflicts between the state-mandated minimum age for discontinuing schooling and the younger age of children who have completed eighth grade. This is often handled by having the children repeat eighth grade until they are old enough to leave school.
On May 19, 1972, Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller of the Old Order Amish and Adin Yutzy of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church were each fined $5 for refusing to send their children, aged 14 and 15, to high school. The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court concurred, finding that the benefits of universal education do not justify violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court quoted sociology professor John A. Hostetler (1918-2001), who was born into an Amish family, wrote several books about the Amish, Hutterites, and Old Order Mennonites, and was then considered the foremost academic authority on the Amish. Donald Kraybill, Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, is likely the most important scholar studying the Amish today.
Relations with the outside worldEditThe Amish as a whole feel the pressures of the modern world. Child labor laws, for example, are seriously threatening their long-established ways of life. Amish children are taught at an early age to work hard. Amish parents will supervise the children in new tasks to ensure that they learn to do it effectively and safely. The modern child labor laws conflict with allowing the Amish parents to decide whether or not their children are competent in hazardous tasks.
Contrary to popular belief, the Amish vote, and they have been courted by national parties as potentially crucial swing-constituencies: their pacifism and social conscience cause some of them to be drawn to left-of-center politics, while their generally conservative outlook causes others to favor the right wing. They are nonresistant and rarely defend themselves physically or even in court; in wartime, they take conscientious objector status; their own folk-history contains tales of heroic nonresistance.
Like many Mennonites, Amish rely on their church and community for support, and thus reject the concept of insurance. An example of such support is barn raising, in which the entire community gathers together to build a barn in a single day.
In 1961, the United States Internal Revenue Service announced that since the Amish refuse United States Social Security benefits and have a religious objection to insurance, they need not pay these taxes. In 1965, this policy was codified into law.  Self-employed individuals in certain sects do not pay into, nor receive benefits from, United States Social Security, nor do their similarly-exempt employees. Amish employees of non-exempt employers are taxed, but they do not apply for benefits. A provision of this law mandates that the sect provide for their elderly and disabled; one visible sign of the care Amish provide for the elderly are the smaller Grossvatihaus ("grandfather house") often built near the main dwelling. The Amish are not the only ones exempt from Social Security in the U.S. Ministers, certain church employees and Christian Science practitioners may qualify for exemption under a similar clause. Otherwise, the Amish pay the same taxes as other American citizens. The Amish therefore likely pay more in taxes, especially real estate taxes, than it costs for the minimal government services they receive.
The Amish have, on occasion, encountered discrimination and hostility from their neighbors. During the World Wars, Amish pacifism sparked many incidents of harassment, and young Amish men forcibly inducted into the services were subjected to various forms of ill-treatment. In the present day, anti-Amish sentiment has taken the form of systematic harassment, particularly claiping, the act of pelting the horse-drawn carriages used by the Amish with stones or similar objects as the carriages pass along a road, most commonly at night. A 1988, made-for-TV film, A Stoning In Fulham County, is based on a true story involving one such incident, in which a six-month-old Amish infant girl was struck in the head by a rock and died from her injuries. In 1997, a young Amish woman in Milverton, Ontario, Canada, was struck in the face by a beer bottle believed to have been thrown from a passing car; she required thousands of dollars' worth of surgery to her face (which was paid for by an outpouring of donations from the public). It was later found that this was not a case of 'claipping'; the bottle had been thrown by another group of Amish youth in a passing buggy.
Groups sometimes confused with the AmishEdit
As Anabaptist religious groups that avoid automobiles and live apart from the outside world, Old Order Mennonites, Hutterites, and Old German Baptist Brethren are sometimes considered the same as the Old Order Amish by outsiders. However, all were distinct groups before immigrating from Europe, with different dialects and separate cultural and religious traditions.
Despite the vast differences between them, the Amish are sometimes confused with Mormons since they are arguably the two most prominent Christian sects in North America. The French version of the film Witness mistranslated "Amish" as "Mormon."
Several recent high-profile cases have brought attention to sexual abuse of children among the Amish, which has been called "almost a plague in some communities."  Bishops and preachers of Old Order groups settle conflicts and mete out punishment for sins (generally shunning), and sexual abuse is therefore never reported to law enforcement. Those who feel they are mistreated have little recourse and may be shunned for seeking outside help. Mary Byler was raped over a hundred times between the ages of 8 and 14 by her brothers; she had to leave the Amish community to have them prosecuted . David Yoder, who grew up in a conservative Swartzentruber Amish family, recalls one man who committed incest with his daughter and was punished with 90 days of shunning . Yoder's girlfriend was also repeatedly raped by her brother-in-law, who was ultimately shunned for two and a half months . Some groups have also been accused of tolerating severe physical abuse of children . There is no evidence that physical or sexual abuse is more frequent among the Amish than in the general population, but popular perceptions of the Amish make abuse more striking.
- Igou, Brad, The Amish in Their Own Words: Amish Writings from 25 Years of Family Life, Herald Press (PA), 400 pages, 1999.
- Die Botschaft (Lancaster, PA 17608-0807; 717-392-1321). Magazine for Old Order Amish published by non-Amish; only Amish may place advertisements.
- The Budget (P.O. Box 249, Sugarcreek, OH 44681; 330-852-4634). weekly newspaper by and for Amish.
- Family Life printed entirely in English
- Garret, Ottie A, and Garret R Irene, True Stories of the X-Amish: Banned, Excommunicated and Shunned, Horse Cave, KY: Neu Leben, 1998.
- Garret, Ruth Irene, Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life, Thomas More, 1998.
Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture. Rev. ed.: Baltimore, Md.; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 397 pp.
Steven M. Nolt, A history of the Amish. Rev. and updated ed.: Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 2003. 379 pp.
Amish Culture and Tourism
- Amish 101 - Amish Beliefs, History & Lifestyle
- Amish links
- "Amish Series & Articles" - from Amish Country News
Amish, Government and the Law
Donald B. Kraybill, ed. The Amish and the State. Foreword by Martin E. Marty. 2nd ed.: Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. 351 pp.
Amish Genetic Disorders
- Genetic Disorders Hit Amish Hard - from 60 Minutes, CBS News
- "Family Ties" - Article from University of Miami "Medicine" magazine, Spring 2004 During a lifetime of studying the Old Order Amish in central Pennsylvania, University of Miami professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences Janice Egeland, Ph.D., discovers the genetic clues behind the mystery of bipolar disorder and helps generations of families cope with the devastating disease.
Amish and Technology
- Look Who's Talking - Wired article about the Amish's selective and not technophobic use of technology
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