A Brief History of the Amish: Background information when reading Rumspringa

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To Be or Not to Be Amish

by Tom Shachtman

Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman X
Rumspringa by Tom Shachtman
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 304 pages
    May 2007, 304 pages


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A Brief History of the Amish

This article relates to Rumspringa

Print Review

The Amish are direct descendants of the Anabaptists of 16th century Europe who rejected infant baptism and believed in the separation of church and state (which were entirely conjoined at the time). They became known as Mennonites after the Dutch Anabaptist leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). In the late 17th century there was a schism over the issue of how and when to enforce the "meidung" (shunning of non-confirming members) which led to a group breaking away under the leadership of Jakob Ammann, which became known as the Amish.

The first significant group of Amish arrived in America in about 1730 and settled in Pennsylvania. At the turn of the 20th century there were believed to be about 5,000 Old Order Amish in the USA but by 1970 there were about 100,000, and today there are about 200,000. The growth is due to large families (an average of 4-7 children per family) and high retention rates. There are believed to be as many as eight different orders within the Amish population but most are affiliated with one of five groups, of which the Old Order Amish are the largest, and the Swartzentruber Amish (an offshoot of the Old Order) are the most conservative. There are about 333 Amish church districts across 28 USA states, with other groups in Canada and Central America; about 80% are concentrated in Pennyslvania, Ohio and Indiana. According to Rumspringa, a new settlement is seeded every 5 weeks in either the USA or Ontario).

All aspects of Amish life are dictated by the written or oral rules, known as Ordnung, which vary by community. The Ordnung dictates everything from dress and hair length to buggy style and farming techniques. While many of the rules of the Ordnung are logical, others have lost their relevance, for example, few, if any, Amish men sport moustaches because in the 17th century moustaches were worn by military men who used swords and the Amish are pacifists. The Amish aversion to technology stems from the belief that such things will weaken the family structure and create inequality. However, the evel of technological acceptance varies by order; electricity is sometimes used in some communities, but rarely if ever will Amish take electricity from the national grid because their beliefs restrict them from being dependent on non-believers.

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

This "beyond the book article" relates to Rumspringa. It originally ran in August 2006 and has been updated for the May 2007 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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