Academic journal article Manitoba History

Yossi Katz and John Lehr, Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Yossi Katz and John Lehr, Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States

Article excerpt

Yossi Katz and John Lehr, Inside the Ark: The Hutterites in Canada and the United States. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center Press, University of Regina, 2012, 472 pages. ISBN 978-0-88977-282-3, $39.95 (paperback)

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This is a revised and expanded English version of a text originally published in Hebrew. Yossi Katz is a professor of Geography at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, while John Lehr is a professor of Geography at the University of Winnipeg. The authors come to their task with impressive credentials, having done extensive field work over several decades at Manitoba Hutterite colonies. In a dozen chapters, sandwiched between a prologue and epilogue, the authors provide an informative and insightful overview of the world of Hutterites. Enhancing the text is a variety of materials in appendix form and sixteen pages of illustrations in full colour.

Hutterites in North America are traditionally divided into three tribes. The most conservative are the Lehrerleut found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana. Situated mostly in these same territories are the Dariusleut who are somewhat less conservative. The more "liberal" are the Schmiedeleut colonies found in Manitoba, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. But the diversity between the tribes and even between colonies within a particular group--particularly Darius colonies that can span the spectrum from very conservative to very liberal--makes generalizations about Hutterites more difficult. Most importantly, the Schmiedeleut underwent a significant schism in the early 1990s, dividing into Group One, a more liberal branch led by Jacob Kleinsasser, the Senior Elder from Crystal Spring Colony in Manitoba, and Group Two, a more traditional majority group that broke away from Kleinsasser. It is Group Two that is recognized as orthodox by the other two tribes, while Group One is considered to be out of the church. In effect we now have four branches of Hutterites. Despite the wide scope suggested by the title of this book, the authors admit in the prologue that their field work is almost completely confined within Group Two Schmiedeleut colonies in Manitoba.

The first chapter on the religious foundations of Hutterite life is not a particularly readable overview, but it does make the central point that the persistence of the Hutterite way of life and the future survival of it are dependent on the religious foundations upon which the whole edifice is built. Hutterites do not believe in the value of socialism or economic collectivism in a secular sense. Their system of communal living depends on the recognition of a supernatural realm of existence, and on the belief that the colony is an ark of salvation floating in an evil world doomed to destruction.

The next chapter is a nicely written summary of Hutterite history in Europe and subsequently in North America, including several maps depicting the spread of the colonies. The authors assert that by 2010 the Hutterite population in North America had grown to over 40,000 people in 484 colonies (p. 27). It may be that the authors have underestimated the population, because the leading contemporary text on Hutterites asserts that the Hutterite population currently exceeds 49,000. (1) Appendix 1 of the Katz and Lehr text contains a helpful list of all the Hutterite colonies in North America organized by province/state, year of establishment, mother colony and leut affiliation. Unfortunately the Schmiedeleut list does not tell you whether the colony is in Group One or Group Two. (2)

In Chapter 3 the authors outline the basic organizational and legal structure of the three levels of the church: the constitutional level where all three groups are brought together to deal with common issues; the conference level of each separate leut; and then finally the colony level. The norms of collective property and the renunciation of any entitlement to a share by expelled or departing members is repeatedly enshrined in the legal documents at all three levels. …

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