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Mea Shearim

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Subject: Jerusalem, Bab a-Zahara, Old Yishuv, Riki Gal, Howard Rosenman
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Mea Shearim

Mea She'arim Street

Mea She'arim (Hebrew: מאה שערים‎, lit. "hundred gates"; contextually "a hundred fold") is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Israel. It is populated mainly by Haredi Jews and was built by the original settlers of the Old Yishuv. The neighborhood, which lies on the Israeli side of the Green Line, is claimed by the Palestinian Authority.[1]


Toldos Aharon children in Mea Shearim, 2007

The name Mea Shearim is derived from a verse in the weekly Torah portion which was read the week the settlement was founded: "Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped a hundredfold (מאה שערים, mea shearim); God had blessed him" (Genesis 26:12). According to a tradition, the community originally had 100 gates, another meaning of mea shearim.[2]


Mea She'arim was established in 1874 as the fifth settlement outside the walls of the Old City by a building society of 100 shareholders.[3] Pooling their resources, the society members purchased a tract of land outside the Old City, which was severely overcrowded and plagued by poor sanitation, and built a new neighborhood with the goal of improving their standards of living.

Street plan

Conrad Schick, a German Christian architect and missionary, drew up a plan for Mea She'arim in 1846. Joseph Rivlin, one of the heads of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, and a Christian Arab from Bethlehem were the contractors. The work was carried out by both Jewish and non-Jewish workers.[4]

Mea She'arim was structured as a courtyard neighborhood. It was surrounded by a wall, with gates that were locked every evening. By October 1880, 100 apartments were ready for occupancy and a lottery was held to assign them to families. By the turn of the century, there were 300 houses, a flour mill and a bakery. Conrad Schick planned for open green space in each courtyard, but cowsheds were built instead. Mea She'arim was the first quarter in Jerusalem to have street lights.[4]

Haredi lifestyle

A wall plastered with pashkevilin (announcements) in Mea She'arim.

Today, Mea She'arim remains an insular neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem.[4] With its Haredi and overwhelmingly Hasidic population, the streets retain the flavor of an Eastern European shtetl.[2] Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer, and the study of Jewish religious texts. Traditions in dress include black frock coats and black hats for men (although there are some other clothing styles, depending on the religious sub-group to which they belong), and long-sleeved, modest clothing for women. In some Hasidic groups, the women wear thick black stockings all year long, even in summer. Married women wear a variety of haircoverings, from wigs to scarves and snoods. The men have beards and many grow long sidecurls, called peyos. The residents speak Yiddish in their daily lives, and use Hebrew only for prayer and religious study, as they believe Hebrew to be a sacred language only to be used for religious purposes.[5]

Hasidic groups with a large number of followers in Mea She'arim include: Breslov, Slonim, Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avraham Yitzchak, Mishkenos HaRoim, and Satmar. The Pinsk-Karlin dynasty also has its center here. The Edah HaChareidis, which supervises kashrut certification and runs a Jewish religious court, has its headquarters at the western end of Mea She'arim. Mea She'arim is the stronghold of both factions of the Neturei Karta movement, as well as the movement whence they sprang, the descendants of the original Perushim community, also known as "Yerushalmis". The late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leading posek of Litvish/Yeshivish Jewry, made his home here.

Neighborhood regulations

Modesty sign in Mea She'arim

"Modesty" posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Mea She'arim. When visiting the neighborhood, women and girls are urged to wear what is deemed to be modest dress (knee-length skirts or longer, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders) and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. During the Shabbat (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night), visitors are asked to refrain from smoking, photography, driving or use of mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men are asked to cover their heads.[6] Residents have been criticised for attacking police, and other government officials entering the area with stones, and blocking the streets, or setting fire to rubbish when they try to do so. [7] A small, violent, group called "The Sikrikim" of less than 100 families enforce censorship on bookshops, causing over 250,000NIS damage to a shop that resisted their demands.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Fatah pays respects to deceased Neturei Karta rabbi
  2. ^ a b Eisenberg, Ronald L. (2006). The Streets of Jerusalem: Who, what, why. Devora Publishing. p. 250.  
  3. ^ "About Meah Shearim". Illustrated Israel. 
  4. ^ a b c Eylon, Lili (2011). "Jerusalem: Architecture in the late Ottoman Period".  
  5. ^ ?למה החרדים במאה שערים מדברים אידיש (Hebrew)
  6. ^ Sapir-Witz, Karmit (17 December 2006). "A step away, another world".  
  7. ^ Shahar Ilan (May 11, 2010). Haaretz . 
  8. ^ Melanie Lidman (November 30, 2011). JPost . 

Further reading

  • Halper, Jeff Between Redemption and Revival: The Jewish Yishuv of Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century (Westview Press, 1991). ISBN 0-8133-7855-9

External links

  • Mea Shearim

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