amish ordnung

You may have heard that the Amish have their own stringent laws that they live by, called the Ordnung. But what is it, what is its purpose, and how do the Amish feel about it? 

Many misunderstandings have surrounded this issue, largely due to misrepresentation in popular movies. But it is far from being a curse that all Amish live in fear of. These rules are the glue that has held the community together for centuries.

In our guide to Amish Ordnung, we separate fact from fiction. The rules of the Ordnung are examined, as well as the reason they exist. 

What this article covers:

Ordnung - What It Is and What it Isn’t

amish rule book

Before we examine the rules the Ordnung contains, let’s look at the word and what it means. Ordnung is a German word, which when translated into English means ‘order’ or ‘discipline’. 

When used in the context of Amish life, it refers to rules (written and unwritten) that govern the behavior of the Amish community.

It Is a Guide to the Amish Interpretation of a Good Christian Life

These rules are passed down to each new generation. The Ordnung is the compass by which community members navigate their life of simple devotion in a complicated world. It is there to serve the community. As such, certain rules differ in their interpretation from one settlement to another.

Yet while each Amish settlement may have its own interpretation of these principles, the Ordnung’s duty is to enable the continuity of Amish faith, culture, and tradition. 

It Isn’t Just a List of Forbidden Behaviors with Punishments

The Ordnung forbids certain behaviors while encouraging others, but the aim is always the same. The maintenance of the Amish culture, and building a better Christain life based on the principles of God’s word. 

This set of rules covers all aspects of Amish life, yet isn’t rigid nor unyielding. Ordnung exists as a guide for a pious life and helps community members live better lives. It’s not intended to oppress them. Therefore, the Ordnung is regularly reviewed and, if deemed necessary, revised. 

The Amish Rulebook

The rules in the Ordnung can be broadly categorized into the following categories.

Rules for Men 

ordnung amish definition

The men are the heads of their households, and the older men are the elders of the community. As such, they’re expected to behave under the Ordnung’s guidance for men. Much of this is derived from Old Testament rules. 

The Amish are a Christian denomination and take their faith very seriously. The Bible is their ultimate book of rules by which to live. The reason why men aren’t allowed to cut or shave their beards is rooted in the biblical text of Leviticus 19:27. Many other religious groups adhere to this rule, not only the Amish.

Men are required to work and support their families and be faithful to their wives while living modestly and dressing simply. Under Amish rules, tobacco and alcohol use is forbidden.

Rules for Women

Amish women often draw scrutiny from outsiders and their simple, modest attire may be seen as strange, but this, too, is related to the Amish community's reverence for the Bible’s teachings. 

The Bible encourages modesty in one’s style of dress, particularly for women. This is one of the rules Amish women must follow, irrespective of age or marital status.

The plain, simple dressing is required for another reason too. It is a sign of separation from the vanity of modern living. The women wear plain colored dresses that cover them completely, although capes and aprons may also be worn. Bonnets called kapps cover their hair. No make-up or jewelry is worn.

Women are required to maintain their households, care for their families, and be faithful to their husbands. They are further required to dress simply, and refrain from ostentatious, worldly adornments.

Rules for Courtship & Marriage

 amish ordnung rulebook

The Ordnung has set out guidelines for courtship rituals that precede marriage. While marriages aren’t necessarily ‘arranged’, it’s true that Amish folk cannot court or marry outsiders.

However, should an outsider show that they’re genuinely interested in joining the Amish community, this changes things. They must be baptized into the Amish faith to be accepted as one of the community.

Amish bedroom rituals also fall within the scope of the Ordnung, and also to the dating or courtship phase. These may be interpreted slightly differently depending on the particular Amish settlement. Dating is allowed, and young people are encouraged to get to know each other’s parents, as well as each other.

Do Amish sleep together before marriage? No, not in the modern sense of that term. During courtship, the more conservative Old Order Amish communities practice something called bundling. This entails the couple sleeping together in the same bed, yet fully clothed. Ordnung stipulates that they may talk, but touching is not allowed. 

Rules for Religious Observance

The Ordnung is closely tied to religious observance in the Amish community. The Amish’s devout faith is the guiding principle behind many of the rules in the Ordnung. Most rules contained therein are designed to nurture and support a life of humility and obedience before God.

The Ordnung, therefore, supports religious observance, yet does not require a special church building for Amish rituals related to their faith. The Amish believe that the church consists of the body of believers, rather than a structure. 

Amish Sunday rules dictate that church attendance be practiced every second Sunday in the home or barn of a community member. The Sundays in between are dedicated rest days, meant for family life and community socializing.

Rules for Interaction with Outsiders

rules amish ordnung

This is the area where most of those misunderstandings promoted by Hollywood films, creep in. The Amish are a peace-loving group of people. They don’t dislike outsiders, and many engage in business and social interactions with non-Amish people.

The Ordnung doesn’t forbid interaction with the rest of the world, but rather the spirit of worldliness. What this means, is that any activity or interaction that challenges the Amish faith, or conflicts with other rules in the Ordnung, is prohibited.

So while Amish folk may interact with outsiders for work purposes, they must avoid being influenced by contemporary behaviors.

The Exception to the Rule

During a time called Rumspringa, unbaptized teenagers over the age of 15 may leave the community briefly to have a taste of outside life. The purpose is to help them make a sincere decision to be baptized into the faith and community. Should they decide to do so, they will be expected to abide by the Ordnung.

Rules for Work and Leisure

While a great emphasis is placed on work, leisure activities are allowed. Many Amish enjoy singing and even sports. The main thing is that these activities should not require modern technologies, nor break other rules of Ordnung.

amish ordnung rules

Modern conveniences such as electrical appliances may seem indispensable to non-Amish people, but they are avoided by the Amish, as they may come to rely on such things and be swayed to try other more worldly pursuits.

Television, in particular, is seen as a negative influence, and therefore not allowed in Amish settlements. Rather than a means to deny them any fun, it’s a way to protect their faith and culture. 

And what an interesting culture it is. The Amish have passed down many trades and crafts from one generation to the next.

Amish Culture Is for Everyone

One of these time-honored traditional crafts is the art of weaving wicker baskets by hand, and can enjoy these gorgeous handmade creations with a purchase from Amish Baskets. Appreciate Amish culture and contribute to the livelihood of this humble Christian community.

You don’t have to be one of the Amish to appreciate these high-quality homewares. Storage is made simple with under-bed baskets and innovative stair baskets. And farmhouse-style kitchens are given the extra touch of rustic charm with an egg basket or vintage bread box.

amish rulebook

What Happens When a Rule Is Disobeyed?

Once again, we have popular culture to blame for misconceptions surrounding what occurs when Amish folk break the rules. 

Old Order communities, as the most conservative, uphold these rules of the Ordnung, and disobedience of these rules will be dealt with through shunning and ex-communication. 

Let’s discuss what these terms mean.

Shunning

Engaging in the prohibited behaviors, or not engaging in the required behaviors, above are grounds for shunning (referred to by the Amish as Meidung). However, this isn’t a step that’s taken lightly, and it isn’t necessarily permanent. 

First Warning

If a member of the community violates the rules of the Ordnung, they’ll receive a visit from an elder. They will ask the transgressor to behave in line with the Ordnung. Failure to comply after such a warning may result in shunning. 

Shunning Period

That doesn’t mean they’re banned from the community for life. Amish shunning rules are meant to encourage wrongdoers to repent. They can rejoin the church and community after a sincere confession, and a waiting period determined by the elders of that community. 

If, however, the transgressor refuses to repent, and continues to disobey the Ordnung, they may face ex-communication (called being in the Bann). 

Excommunication

The Bann is only instituted when all other attempts to reconcile the offender to the Ordnung and the community have failed. Yet, even this can be reversed in some communities if the excommunicated person later regrets their behavior and seeks reconciliation.

amish ordnung rule book

Prohibitions

Amish Ordnung forbids the use of public electricity, military service, divorce, suing in a court of law, owning technology like televisions, owning and driving cars (unless as a passenger for work or to respond to a medical emergency), and running for public office or any political appointment. 

Universally Understood Rules

Negative behaviors that are universally understood to be bad, such as dishonesty of any kind, and adultery, are not specifically mentioned in the Ordnung. This doesn’t mean they’re allowed. It means that the Amish should know not to indulge in such behaviors. 

Exceptions

Certain leniencies may be present in New Order Amish communities regarding electrical appliances or technologies that make their work easier. 

Conclusion

Most rules in the Ordnung, whether written or unwritten, haven’t changed since its inception. However, like secular laws, these rules are not set in concrete. Over time, Amish people revise and adapt Ordnung when it‘s necessary.

Amish way of life entails more than just following a set of rules, under threat of punishment. This community has a rich culture and a deep love of life and God. It is these biblical principles, and their desire to live by them, which led to the Ordnung. Their faith guides them in all that they do.

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