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The recent abduction and return of two New York Amish girls has once more brought focus on America's "Plain People," whose shunning of technology and seemingly simple lives have long fascinated outsiders. For instance, in the New York case, police had to use a sketch artist to produce an image of one of the girls because of the sect's prohibition on photos. Here are 10 things to know about the fascinating lives of these Americans, also known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.

History
The Amish have been in America for a long time. The first ones arrived in the early 18th century to escape religious persecution in Europe and to find land to farm. The sect arose from a late-17th century schism in the Anabaptist church by followers of Jakob Amman, a Swiss minister who believed that adherents should "conform to the teachings of Christ and His apostles" and "forsake the world" in their daily lives. The word "Amish" derives from his name.

Language
The Pennsylvania Dutch are not Dutch at all. The word Dutch is a corruption of "Deutsch" or German, of which they speak an ancient dialect. Because of its isolation, the language has a very different pronunciation than current German and has been influenced by the English of surrounding populations. Some Amish, notably in Indiana, speak a version closer to Swiss-German.

Where they live

With farming at the center of their lives and their population rapidly expanding due to large families, the Amish, anxious not be influenced by modern ways, are always seeking out new land away from urban areas. After initially settling in Ohio, they are nowfound in 30 states as well as Canada. Ohio has the largest Amish population, followed by Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Growth
The Amish are one of the fastest-growing population groups in America. According to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster, Pa., their population has risen from about 5,000 in 1920 to almost 300,000 today. And much of that growth has occurred in the last three decades. The center estimates there were just 84,000 Amish in 1984, meaning the population has more than tripled during that time. The population explosion is due to a belief in large families, seen as a blessing from God. The large number of children also provide labor for their farming enterprises.

Work, taxes and military service
Traditionally, farming of all kinds has been at the center of Amish work life. However, in the past century, according to the Young Center, increasing numbers have become involved in business enterprises, most notably in carpentry and sales of farm products. They also form construction crews that build houses and other buildings for non-Amish and sometimes work at "English"-owned factories and workshops, such as those in Indiana that manufacture recreational vehicles.

They are taxed on their earnings. According to the Young Center, "They pay all the taxes — income, property, sales, estate, corporate, school — that other people do. In fact many of them pay school taxes twice — for both public and private Amish schools." They do not, however, pay — or collect — Social Security, having been exempted by Congress in 1965 because the Amish viewed it as a form of commercial insurance. Instead, they believe that members of the church should care for one another's physical and material needs. In some states, according to the Young Center, the Amish have also been exempted from workers compensation for the same reason. Amish also are exempt from military service due to their belief in non-resistance, a term they prefer over pacifism. This applies not only to war, but also law-enforcement, politics and legal actions.

Technology
Amish life is governed by the "Ordnung," a German word for order. The rules vary from community to community. According to the Young Center, "Most Amish groups forbid owning automobiles, tapping electricity from public utility lines, using self-propelled farm machinery, owning a television, radio, and computer, attending high school and college, joining the military, and initiating divorce." Photos are banned because they might cultivate personal vanity, which runs against the church's prohibition of "hochmut," a word meaning pride, arrogance and/or haughtiness.

According to the Young Center, the Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but believe that it has the potential to bring about assimilation into the surrounding society. "Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture," says an article on the Young Center's website. "By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base." Some of the rules are seemingly contradictory — for instance, 12-volt car batteries are permitted by many communities while 120-volt electricity is not. In addition, most Amish are not permitted to drive motor vehicles but are allowed to hire outsiders — known as "English" — to drive them.

Schooling
Amish children typically only attend school through eighth grade, mostly at private schools, but about 10% in public schools, according to the Young Center. Their right to end school at age 14 was confirmed by a 1972 ruling of the United States Supreme Court. Instruction is in both English and their German dialect.

Diversity
The Amish are not a single unit. There are four main groups — the Old Order, the New Order, the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites — with many subgroups and different rules within these categories. For instance, the Beachy Amish and Amish Mennonites often drive cars and use electricity while the others use horse-drawn buggies.

Dress
Plainness is the governor of Amish clothing. Some groups are restricted to black and white while others allow muted colors. Buttons are frowned upon because of their potential for ostentation, and such things as Velcro and zippers are banned. Instead, clothes are fastened by pins or hook-and-eye closures. Slightly smarter clothes, such as capes, are used for religious services.

Dating
Perhaps the most famous aspect of Amish social life is "Rumspringa," which means "running around" in the Pennsylvania German dialect. According to the Young Center, it is the time, beginning at about age 16, when youth socialize with their friends on weekends. Rumspringa ends with marriage. Apart from introducing young men and women to one another, this period is an important time when Amish youth need to decide if they will be baptized and join the church, which usually occurs between 18 and 21, or leave the Amish community.

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