The Ordnung and Its Importance To The Amish


By Tobin Dimmitt


The Amish, (or to give them their full name: The Amish Mennonites), were formed as an off-shoot of the Mennonite Church, which was itself a radical faction of the Christian Church created during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The Mennonites took their name from their founder, a Dutch Priest called Menno Simons.




Mennonites were Anabaptists, the name given to the category of religions that practice adult baptism. In 1693 an Anabaptist leader called Jakob Ammann, (a native Swiss man), founded a new breakaway religion, which, named after his surname, became known as the Amish. The Amish are renowned for their simple code of life and lifestyle, and are known for their plain clothing, and for their resistance to adopt/accept many of the modern day trends and conveniences of latter day life. The Ordnung is in essence their behavioral guide.



The origins of the word “Ordnung” hail from the German language, the meaning being: “it’s all good”. It is in no way a religious document. In terms of their Protestant Christian roots, they use the Bible to worship from. But the Ordnung is their behavioral code. It has been passed down by word of mouth since the Amish community first formed way back in the late 17th century.




There are in actual fact 2 different types of Ordnung. One deals with all of the important official decisions that have taken place since the beginning of the movement and this one is written down. The other (and the one which is not written down) is the behavioral code. It is this which determines exactly what it is to be Amish.




Although the Ordnung is unwritten, it nonetheless wields great authority and respect, and Amish communities all over the world live their lives by its rules. The sort of things that it holds influence over include: 



  • ·         Dress Code
  • ·         Business ethics
  • ·         Occupational activities
  • ·         Acceptable leisure time activities



Like most social working practices, the Ordnung has evolved over time, although any changes that are permitted take great time and much consideration before they are allowed. Whilst it is generally accepted, revered, and respected by the global Amish community, the rules do change slightly from community to community, reflecting different social practices and circumstances dependent on geographic/social environments.



The Amish do not wish to be considered “worldly”. They want to remain more insular from the rest of society, and for the most part stay within their community. They develop a sense of separateness, and the Ordnung is the vehicle through which they seek to achieve this separation from the outside world.


Dress Code and Appearance


One of the ways that they show their separateness is through their dress code. This is one of the important aspects that the Ordnung governs. It sees to it that their clothes are self-made, in the style of 17th century peasant folk. It specifies that men’s shirts must be made from soft colored material (often blue in color), their pants should be dark broad-fall style with suspenders, and their jackets are to be without lapels, and should fasten with hooks and eyes.


The Ordnung goes onto say that men (and boys) should wear broad rimmed black hats, and if married, they should wear a beard, but no moustache. Jewelry is frowned upon.



For women the Ordnung advises that they should wear bonnets, (young girls too); that they should wear full length dresses and that they should have a cape about their shoulders. They are forbidden to ever cut their hair, (it is to be worn in a bun), and like the men-folk, they must refrain from wearing jewelry.


Behavior and Belief


The Ordnung also governs the way that an Amish person should behave, and what they should believe in. They are encouraged to farm for sustainable living, but can sell any surplus crops if they so wish. They should not allow their portraits to be photographed as this could be seen as being vain, and contravenes the second Commandment. Recreational games are permitted as long as they are played solely for enjoyment without any sprit of competitiveness. Divorce is strictly forbidden.


Doing without Modern Conveniences


The Ordnung is also responsible for dictating what is and isn’t allowed in terms of modern conveniences. Motorcars are prohibited. Instead they house a pony and cart (the color of the cart also being closely specified – they are often black but can be other light colors too to identify their particular community), or pushbikes. Air travel is forbidden.


Health and Politics


The Ordnung teaches that the Amish must not get involved in any politics, local or national; neither are they allowed to enlist in the armed forces. They are not permitted to join in with any medical insurance, being told instead to help each other as a community, and to pool resources for any necessary visits to doctors, and dentists.


Community Life


Amish communities are relatively small affairs, usually numbering no more than about 75 people. The principle reason for this is the fact that they do not have any churches. Instead, their prayers meetings take place in their homes, so it’s important to limit the congregation accordingly.


Each community is headed by a bishop, and it is his job to ensure that the Ordnung is preserved, and that its rules and directives are followed by one and all.


Amish communities are quiet purposeful places where the inhabitants seek to act out the word of God and lead simple lives. The Ordnung is their key to attaining that goal.

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