AskDefine | Define Amish

Dictionary Definition

Amish n : an American follower of the Mennonite religion

User Contributed Dictionary



From the name of the Swiss preacher Jakob Amman (1645-1730).


  • /ˈamɪʃ/

Proper noun

  1. A strict Anabaptist sect living mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.


A strict Anabaptist sect


  1. Relating to this sect.

Extensive Definition

The Amish (Amisch or Amische, ) are an Anabaptist Christian denomination, formed in 1693 by Swiss Mennonites led by Jacob Amman. They live in the United States and Canada and are divided into several major groups. The Old Order Amish use horses for farming and transportation, dress in a traditional manner, and forbid electricity or telephones in the home. Church members do not join the military, apply for Social Security benefits, take out insurance or accept any form of financial assistance from the government. Beachy Amish and New Order Amish groups have fewer limitations; some permit cars and electricity, and members may be difficult to distinguish from the general North American population, whom they refer to as "English".
At home, most Amish speak a dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, Pennsylvania German, or Deitsch. Children learn English in school. The Amish are divided into separate fellowships consisting of geographical districts or congregations. Each district is fully independent and has its own Ordnung, or set of unwritten rules. Old Order churches may shun or expel members who violate these rules.

Population and distribution

The geographic and social isolation of Amish communities makes it difficult to determine their total population. In 2000, there were approximately 198,000 Old Order Amish in the United States, according to calculations based on the number of church districts and average district size in Raber's Almanac. This number includes young people who have yet to be baptized, so the number of people who are actual baptized members would be significantly smaller. The Amish are among the fastest-growing populations in the world, with an average of 6.8 children per family. Old Order Amish groups include the Byler group, Nebraska Amish in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, the Reno group, and the Swartzentruber Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.
There are Old Order communities in 21 states; Ohio has the largest population (55,000), followed by Pennsylvania (39,000) and Indiana (37,000). The largest Amish settlements are in Holmes County, Ohio, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and LaGrange, Indiana. 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. Notable Amish communities are located in Kent County, Delaware and Montgomery County, New York. A sizable Old Order community has been increasing in number in St. Lawrence County and Franklin County, New York. Some Beachy Amish have relocated to Central America, including a large community near San Ignacio, Belize.
Most Old Order and conservative Amish groups do not proselytize, and conversion to the Amish faith is rare but not unheard of. The Beachy Amish, on the other hand, do pursue missionary work.


The Amish are united by a common Swiss-German ancestry, language, and culture, and they marry within the Amish community. The Amish therefore 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 to live an Amish lifestyle and join the church are no longer considered Amish, just as those who live the plain lifestyle but are not baptized into the Amish Church are not Amish. Certain Mennonite churches were formerly Amish congregations. In fact, although more Amish immigrated to America in the 19th century than during the 18th century, most Amish today descend primarily from 18th century immigrants, since the Amish immigrants of the 19th century were more liberal and most of their communities eventually lost their Amish identity.
In some circumstances, Mennonites of Amish descent may still consider themselves Amish, especially in Canada. The former Western Ontario Mennonite Conference (WOMC) was made up almost entirely of former Amish who reunited with the Mennonite Church in Canada. The author Orland Gingerich, for instance, wrote a book entitled The Amish of Canada which devoted the vast majority of its pages not to the Beachy or Old Order Amish (although it dealt with them too), but to congregations in the former WOMC.


Like some 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 "Anabaptism" means "baptised twice"; once as a young child, and again as an adult. 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 Switzerland.
The Amish movement takes its name from that of Jacob Amman (c. 1656 – c. 1730), a Swiss-German 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 expecting a spouse to refuse 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 colony of Pennsylvania in the 18th century, and were part of a larger migration from the Palatinate and neighboring areas. They came, along with their non-Anabaptist neighbors, largely to avoid religious wars and poverty, but also to avoid religious persecution. 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 Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Maine, and Canada. The Amish congregations left in Europe slowly merged with the Mennonites. The last Amish congregation to merge with the Mennonites was the Ixheim Amish congregation which merged with the neighboring Mennonite Church in 1937. Some Mennonite congregations, including most in Alsace, are descended directly from former Amish congregations. No Old Order movement ever developed in Europe; these communities are all 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. As the non-Amish world's usage of electricity and automobiles increased, a tourist industry sprang up around the Amish in places such as the Pennsylvania Dutch Country and Wayne County, Ohio and Holmes County, Ohio.

Religious practices

The Old Order Amish do not have churches, but hold their prayer services in private homes. Thus they are sometimes called "House Amish." This practice is based on a verse from the New Testament: "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands..." (Acts 17:24). In addition, the early Anabaptists from whom the Amish are descended were religiously persecuted, and it was safer to pray in the privacy of a home.

Hochmut and Demut

Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut or "humility" and Gelassenheit (German, meaning: calmness, composure, placidity) — often translated as "submission" or "letting-be," but perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, self-promoting, or to 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 Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on community; 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 that has little practical use for farm life but may awaken personal and materialistic ambitions. The emphasis on competition and the uncritical assumption that self-reliance is a good thing — both cultivated in American high schools and exalted as an American ideal — are in direct opposition to core Amish values.

Separation from the outside world

The Amish often cite three Bible verses that encapsulate their cultural attitudes:
  • "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light 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)
Both out of concern for the effect of a parent's absence on family life, and in order to minimize contact with the "English" (the Amish term for "non-Amish," without reference to actual English ancestry or language), the Amish prefer to work at home. 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 shopwork and 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 a display of vanity can easily develop.
Amish lifestyles vary between (and sometimes within) communities. These differences range from profound to minuscule. Beachy Amish drive black automobiles, while in some communities various groups differ over the number of suspenders males should wear, if any, or how many pleats there should be in a bonnet, or if one should wear a bonnet at all. Groups with similar policies are held to be "in fellowship" and consider each other members of the same Christian church. Groups in fellowship can intermarry and have communion with one another, an important consideration for avoiding problems that may result from genetically closed populations. Thus minor disagreements within communities, or within districts, 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 ("White-top" Amish), Troyer Amish, the Swartzendruber Amish. Nearly all Old Order groups, besides the "Swiss Amish", speak Deitsch in the home, while more progressive Beachy Amish 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 shunning

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 who had already been baptized as children). 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 God and the community.
Rumspringa (German/Deitsch, "running or jumping around") is the general term for adolescence and the period leading up to serious courtship during which rules may be relaxed a little. 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 encouraged nor overlooked. At the end of this period, Amish young adults are expected to find a spouse and be baptized. A small number choose not to join the church, but to live the rest of their lives in wider society. Some Amish communities will actively shun those who decide to leave the church after having been baptized, 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, even after baptism. Some communities have split in the last century over how they apply the practice of shunning, as in the case of Swartzendruber Amish who split from the wider Amish community over the strict-shunning issue. 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 confess before the congregation.

Religious services

The Old Order Amish have worship services every other Sunday at private homes. Since the average district has 169 members, they are often seated in several different rooms,


The Amish practice of adult baptism is part of the admission into the church. Admission is taken seriously; those who choose not to join the Church can still visit their friends and family, but those who leave the church after joining are shunned by the entire Amish community. Those who come to be baptized sit with one hand over their face, to represent their submission and humility to the church. Typically, a Deacon will ladle water from a bucket into the Bishop's hand, and the Bishop will sprinkle the head three times, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, after which he blesses each new male member of the church and greets each into the fellowship of the church with a holy kiss. His wife similarly blesses and greets each new female church member.


Weddings are typically held on Tuesdays and Thursdays in November to early December, after the harvest is in. The bride wears a new blue linen dress that will be worn again on other formal occasions. She wears no makeup, and will not receive an engagement or wedding ring because the Ordnung prohibits personal jewelry. The marriage ceremony itself may take several hours, followed by a community reception that includes a banquet, singing and storytelling. Newlyweds spend the wedding night at the home of the bride's parents. Celery is one of the symbolic foods served at Amish weddings. Celery is also placed in vases and used to decorate the house instead of flowers. Rather than immediately taking up housekeeping, the newlywed couple will spend several weekends visiting the homes of friends and relatives who attended the wedding.


Funeral customs appear to vary more from community to community than other religious services. In Allen County, Indiana, for example, the Amish engage Hockemeyer Funeral Home, the only local funeral director who offers a horse-drawn hearse and embalms the body. The Amish hold funeral services in the home, however, rather than using the funeral parlor. Instead of referring to the deceased with stories of his life, eulogizing him, services tend to focus on the creation story and biblical accounts of resurrection. After the funeral, the hearse carries the casket to the cemetery for a reading from the Bible; perhaps a hymn is read (rather than sung) and the Lord's Prayer is recited. The Amish usually, but not always, choose Amish cemeteries, and purchase gravestones which are uniform, modest, and plain; in recent years, they have been inscribed in English. The deceased are dressed by family members of the same sex: men and unmarried women in white clothing, and married women in their wedding outfits. After a funeral, the community gathers together to share a meal.


Having children, raising youngsters, and socialization are the greatest functions of the Amish family. The main purposes of ‘family’ can be illustrated within the Amish culture in a variety of ways. The family has authority over the individual, not only during infancy and in youth, but throughout life. Loyalties to parents, relatives, and grandparents may change over time, but they will never cease. A church district is measured by the number of families (households), rather than by the number of baptized persons. Families take turns hosting the bi-weekly preaching service. Once a couple has married, it is understood that the most important family function is childbearing. Parents stress their responsibilities and obligations for the correct nurture of their children. They consider themselves accountable to the Lord for the spiritual welfare of their children.

Lifestyle and culture

Amish lifestyle is dictated by the Ordnung (German, meaning: order), which differs slightly 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 color of buggies, or various other issues. The use of tobacco (excluding cigarettes, which are considered "worldly") and moderate use of alcohol are generally permitted, particularly among older and more conservative groups.

Modern technology

Electricity, for instance, is viewed as a connection to, and reliance on, "the World," the "English," or "Yankees" (the outside world), which is against their doctrine of separation. The use of electricity also could lead to the use of worldly household appliances such as televisions, which would complicate the Amish tradition of a simple life, and introduce individualist competition for worldly goods that would be destructive of community. In certain Amish groups, however, electricity can be used in very specific situations: for example, if electricity can be produced without access to outside power lines. Twelve-volt batteries, with their limited applications, are acceptable to these groups. Electric generators can be used for welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirrers. In certain situations, outdoor electrical appliances may be used: lawn mowers (riding and hand-pushed) and string trimmers, for example, are known to be used in some communities. Some 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 in order to out-compete 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, forgoing more common Amish organic farming techniques.
The Ordnung is the guide to community standards, rather than doctrine that defines sin. For example, 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. The restrictions are not meant to impose suffering. In the 1970s, for example, a farmer near Milan Center, Indiana, was ordered by his bishop to buy a conventional tractor. He had severe progressive 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.
Although most Amish will not drive cars, they will hire drivers and vans, for example, for visiting family, monthly grocery shopping, or commuting to the workplace off the farm — though this too is subject to local regulation and variation. The practice increases the geographic reach of the Amish, and decreases isolation: a horse can travel only about , and then it must rest for a considerable period, restricting the Amish to a radius of from home. Moreover, a horse and buggy can only sustain over an extended distance, and thus is impractical for emergencies. Regular bus service between Amish communities has been established in some areas, and train travel is accepted. Hiring a taxi is forbidden on Sundays, as is any transfer of money.
The avoidance of telephone technology is also often misunderstood. The Amish dislike the telephone because it interferes with their separation from the world: it brings the outside world into the home, it is an intrusion into the privacy and sanctity of the family, and it interferes with social community by eliminating face-to-face communication. However, some Amish, such as many of those in Lancaster County, use the telephone primarily for outgoing calls, but with the added restriction that the telephone not be inside the home, but rather in a phone "booth" or shanty (actually just a small out-building), placed far enough from the house as to make its use inconvenient. Commonly, these private phone shanties are shared by more than one family, fostering a sense of community. This allows the Amish to control their communication, and not have telephone calls invade their homes, but also to conduct business, as needed. In the past, the use of public pay phones in town for such calls was more common; today, with dwindling availability of pay phones because of increased cellphone use by the non-Amish population, Amish communities are seeing an increase in the private phone shanties. Many Amish, particularly those who run businesses, use voicemail service. The Amish will also use trusted "English" neighbors as contact points for passing on family emergency messages. Some New Order Amish will use cellphones and pagers, but most Old Order Amish will not.


In addition to English, most Amish speak a distinctive High German dialect called Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch, which they call Deitsch ("German"). It is not descended from the Dutch language, but is closest to the German dialect Schwäbisch, the dialect of German spoken by the Donauschwaben (Danube Swabians). The English term "Dutch" originally referred to all forms of the German language, whose own name for itself is Deutsch.
Although now limited primarily to the Amish, and to the Old Order Mennonites, Pennsylvania German was originally spoken by many German-American immigrants in Pennsylvania, especially by those who came prior to 1800. The so-called Swiss Amish speak an Alemannic German dialect that they call "Swiss." Beachy Amish, especially those who were born roughly after 1960, tend to speak predominantly in English at home. All other Amish groups use either Pennsylvania German or "Swiss" German as their in-group language of discourse. There are small dialectal variations between communities, such as 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.
Deitsch is distinct from Plautdietsch and Hutterite German dialects spoken by other Anabaptist groups.


Dress code for some groups includes prohibitions against buttons, allowing only hooks and eyes to keep clothing closed; others may allow small undecorated buttons in a dark color. In some groups, certain articles can have buttons and others cannot. The restriction on buttons is attributed in part to their association with military uniforms, and also to their potential for serving as opportunities for vain display. Straight-pins are often used to hold articles of clothing together. In all things, the aesthetic value is "plainness": clothing should not call attention to the wearer by cut, color, or any other feature. Prints such as florals, stripes, polka-dots, etc., are not allowed in Amish dress, although these styles have been adopted by fellow Mennonites.
Women wear calf-length plain-cut dresses in a solid color, such as blue. Aprons are often worn at home, usually in white or black, and are always worn when attending church. A cape, which consists of a triangular piece of cloth, is usually worn, beginning around the teenage years, and pinned into the apron. In the colder months, a long woolen cloak is sported. Heavy bonnets are worn over the prayer coverings when Amish women are out and about in cold weather, with the exception of the Nebraska Amish, who do not wear bonnets. When a girl becomes available to be courted, she wears a black bonnet . These unmarried women also wear a white cape.
Men typically wear dark-colored trousers and a dark vest or coat, suspenders (Brit. braces), broad-rimmed straw hats in the warmer months, and black felt hats in the colder months. Single Amish men are clean-shaven; if they are available to court women, they will put a dent in their hat. Married men grow a beard. In some more traditional communities, a man will grow a beard after he is baptized. Moustaches are not allowed, because they are associated with the military, and because they give opportunity for vanity. The avoidance of military styles has 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 moustaches but not beards, and the pacifist Amish avoid moustaches because of this association. The wearing of beards, however, is largely based on the same beliefs against shaving that lead Hasidic Jews and conservative Muslims not to shave their beards. (Amish men who wear beards do not abhor shaving: some men grow a fringe of beard around the edge of the face while shaving the hair off the front of the face, including the moustache. These men refrain from shaving the throat.)
During the summer months, the majority of Amish children go barefoot, including to school. The prevalence of the practice is attested in the Pennsylvania Deitsch saying, "Deel Leit laafe baarfiessich rum un die annre hen ken Schuh." (Some people walk around barefooted, and the rest have no shoes.) The amount of time spent barefoot varies, but most children and adults go barefoot whenever possible.

Health issues

Some Amish are afflicted by heritable genetic disorders, including dwarfism (Ellis-van Creveld syndrome), and are also distinguished by the highest incidence of twins in a known human population, various metabolic disorders, and unusual distribution of blood-types. Since almost all of the current Amish descend primarily from about 200 founders in the 18th century, some genetic disorders from a degree of inbreeding do exist in more isolated districts. However, Amish do not represent a single closed community, but rather a collection of different demes or genetically-closed communities. Some of these disorders are quite rare, or even unique, and they are serious enough that they increase the mortality rate among Amish children. The majority of the Amish accept these as "Gottes Wille" (God's will); they reject any use of genetic tests prior to marriage to prevent these disorders as well as genetic testing of unborn children that would discover any genetic disorder.
There is an increasing consciousness among the Amish of the advantages of exogamy. A common bloodline 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.
Amish do not carry private commercial health insurance. The Amish of Lancaster County, however, do have their own informal self-insured health plan, called Church Aid, which helps members with catastrophic medical expense. About two-thirds of the Amish there enroll. A handful of American hospitals, starting in the mid-1990s, created special outreach programs to assist the Amish. The first of these programs was instituted at the Susquehanna Health System in central Pennsylvania by James Huebert. This 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 treatments 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, an action which normally might result in being shunned.
A second research and primary-care clinic, patterned after Dr. Holmes Morton’s clinic, the DDC Clinic for Special Needs Children, is located in Middlefield, Ohio. The DDC Clinic has been treating special-needs children with inherited or metabolic disorders since 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.
Most Amish do not practice any form of birth control, hence their large families, and are against abortion. They also find "artificial insemination, genetics, eugenics, and stem cell research" to be "inconsistent with Amish values and beliefs".
Suicide rates for the Amish of Lancaster County were 5.5 per 100,000 in 1980. The overall suicide rate in 1980 in the USA was 12.5 per 100,000.


The Amish do not educate their children past the eighth grade, believing that the basic knowledge offered up 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, which are typically one-room schoolhouses with teachers from the Amish community. These schools provide education in many crafts, and are therefore eligible as vocational education, fulfilling the nationwide requirement of education through the 10th grade or its equivalent. There are Amish children who go to non-Amish public schools, even schools that are far away and that include a very small Amish population. For instance, there have been some Amish children who have attended Leesburg Elementary School in Leesburg, Indiana (about from Nappanee, Indiana), because their families lived on the edge of the school district. 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 the eighth grade. This is often handled by having the children repeat the eighth grade until they are old enough to leave school. However, in the past, when comparing standardized test scores of Amish students, the Amish have performed above the national average for rural public school pupils in spelling, word usage, and arithmetic. They performed below the national average, however, in vocabulary.
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. In Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned the conviction, and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this, finding that the benefits of universal education do not justify a 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 one of the most active scholars studying the Amish today.

Relations with the outside world

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 Grossdaadi Heiser or Daadiheiser ("grandfather house"), often built near the main dwelling. The Amish are not the only ones exempt from Social Security in the United States. Ministers, certain church employees, and Christian Science practitioners may qualify for exemption under a similar clause. The Amish pay other taxes the same as other American citizens.
The Amish have, on occasion, encountered discrimination and hostility from their neighbors. During the World Wars, Amish nonresistance 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 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 girl was struck in the head by a rock and died from her injuries. In 1997, Mary Kuepfer, 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).

Portrayal in popular entertainment

Some comic movie portrayals of the Amish include Randy Quaid’s Amish character "Ishmael Boorg" in Kingpin, directed by the Farrelly brothers in 1996, and the 1997 For Richer or Poorer, starring Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley, also about city folk hiding among the Amish. Rob Reiner's 1994 comedy, North, includes a short vignette sequel to Witness, with two of the original actors, Kelly McGillis and Alexander Godunov, portraying what might have happened to their characters after the end of Witness. The 1968 comedy The Night They Raided Minsky's is the story of an Amish girl who goes to New York in the 1920s to be a dancer, and ends up as a burlesque stripper.

Similar groups

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 by outsiders to be the same as the Old Order Amish. However, all were distinct groups before emigrating from Europe, with different dialects and separate cultural and religious traditions. The Hutterites, who live communally, come from the same broad Anabaptist background, but were never Mennonites. They use the most modern farming methods on their colonies' farms, including extended- and crew-cab pickup trucks for personal transportation.
Quakers are unrelated to the Amish, although the early Quakers were influenced to some degree by the Anabaptists, and were also "plain people" in manner and lifestyle. Most modern Quakers have since abandoned their traditional dress.
Despite the vast differences between the two groups, the French version of the film Witness mistranslated "Amish" as "Mormon."

Abuse controversy

Several recent high-profile cases have brought attention to sexual abuse of children among the Amish in some of the smaller more isolated communities, 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 in the form of shunning), and sexual abuse may therefore be less-often reported to law enforcement. Those who 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 was excommunicated and shunned for reporting her abusers. 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. Another young woman was repeatedly raped by her brother-in-law, who was eventually punished by being shunned for two-and-a-half months. Some groups have also been accused of tolerating severe physical abuse of children. Although the rate of physical or sexual abuse does not appear to be higher in the Amish community than in the general public, their physical and social isolation from the outside world makes it difficult for victims to seek help.
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based Intelligencer Journal published a four-part series on domestic abuse, child abuse, and child sexual abuse inside Amish (and Mennonite) families from the heart of PA Dutch country. These articles suggested that abuse may be systematically silenced inside Amish (and Mennonite) churches, because of the emphasis on Gelassenheit and male authority in the church. The series, published on August 4, 2004, won a state-wide award for Best Public Service reporting in Pennsylvania. It began with an article entitled "Silenced by Shame: Hidden in Plain Sight," and ended with an article entitled "The Ties That Bind Can Form the Noose." As the article "Beliefs, Culture Can Perpetuate Abuse in Families, Churches" makes clear, child and spousal abuse is often concealed and denied in the service of other church ends. One reaction from an Old Order woman was the following: "They made Plain women look too stupid and ignorant to know how to get help."
The Amish community recently has started to address the issue of abuse awareness. The Amish publisher Pathway Publishers, for example, has run several series in its magazine Family Life that touch on the subjects of sexual and physical abuse. Pathway Publishers has also distributed free-of-charge resources for the abused and their families. Some Amish communities have objected to the articles, preferring that the subject not be raised, and claiming that these problems exist only among the "English".


Further reading

  • 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.
  • The Diary (P.O. Box 98, Gordonville, PA 17529). Monthly newsmagazine by and for Old Order Amish.
  • DeWalt, Mark W. Amish Education in the United States and Canada. Rowman and Littlefield Education, 2006. 224 pp.
  • Garret, Ottie A and Ruth Irene Garret. 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.
  • Good, Merle and Phyllis. 20 Most Asked Questions about the Amish and Mennonites. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1979.
  • Hostetler, John A. ed. Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. 319 pp.
  • Hostetler, John A. Amish Society, 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. 435 pp.
  • Igou, Brad. The Amish in Their Own Words: Amish Writings from 25 Years of Family Life, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999. 400 pp.
  • Johnson-Weiner, Karen M. Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. 304 pp.
  • Keim, Albert. Compulsory Education and the Amish: The Right Not to be Modern. Beacon Press, 1976. 211 pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Rev. ed.: Baltimore, Md.; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 397 pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. ed. The Amish and the State. Foreword by Martin E. Marty. 2nd ed.: Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. 351 pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. and Marc A. Olshan, ed. The Amish Struggle with Modernity. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1994. 304 pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. and Carl D. Bowman. On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. 330pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B. and Steven M. Nolt. Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004. 286 pp.
  • Kraybill, Donald B., Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. New York: Jossey-Bass, 2006. 256 pp.
  • Nolt, Steven M. A history of the Amish. Rev. and updated ed.: Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books, 2003. 379 pp.
  • Nolt, Steven M. and Thomas J. Myers. Plain Diversity: Amish Cultures and Identities. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 256 pp.
  • Schachtman, Tom. Rumspringa: To be or not to be Amish. New York: North Point Press, 2006. 286 pp.
  • Schlabach, Theron F. Peace, Faith, Nation: Mennonites and Amish in Nineteenth-Century America. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1988. 415 pp.
  • Schmidt, Kimberly D., Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Steven D. Reschly, eds. Strangers at Home: Amish and Mennonite Women in History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002. 416 pp.
  • Scott, Stephen. The Amish Wedding and Other Special Occasions of the Old Order Communities. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1988. 128pp.
  • Stevick, Richard A. Growing Up Amish: the Teenage Years. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. 320 pp.
  • Umble, Diane Zimmerman. Holding the Line: the Telephone in Old Order Mennonite and Amish Life. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. 192 pp.
  • Umble, Diane Zimmerman and David L. Weaver-Zercher, eds. The Amish and the Media. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. 288 pp.
  • Weaver-Zercher, David L. The Amish in the American Imagination. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 280 pp.

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