Mea Shearim in West Jerusalem

Monday, 11 January 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Union for the Mediterranean

Shabbat Square © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0

Shabbat Square © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0

Mea Shearim (“hundred gates”; contextually, “a hundred fold”) is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. It is populated by Haredi Jews, and was built by members of the Old Yishuv. The oldest Sephardic Haredi dynasty, Levi Kahana of Spain, has a religious cultural center in the neighborhood. The name Mea Shearim is derived from a verse from Genesis, which happened to be part of the weekly Torah portion that was read the week the settlement was founded: “Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year, he reaped a hundredfold; God had blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). According to a tradition, the community originally had 100 gates, another meaning of Mea Shearim.

Meir Auerbach, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Jerusalem, was one of the founders of the neighborhood. Conrad Schick, a German Christian architect, drew up the first blueprint for Mea Shearim in 1846. Mea Shearim, one of the earliest Jewish settlements outside the walls of the Old City, was established in 1874 by a building society of 100 shareholders. Pooling their resources, the society members purchased a tract of land outside the walled city, which was severely over-crowded and plagued by poor sanitation, and built a new neighborhood with the goal of improving their standards of living. Yosef 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. Mea Shearim 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 Shearim was the first quarter in Jerusalem to have street lights.

Modesty sign © wilrob.org - Lisa Mathon/cc-by-sa-3.0 Shabbat Square © Djampa/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Levi Clancy © Levi Clancy © Levi Clancy © Levi Clancy © flickr.com - RonAlmog/cc-by-2.0 Mea Shearim Street © ProtoplasmaKid/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Modesty sign © wilrob.org - Lisa Mathon/cc-by-sa-3.0
Today, Mea Shearim remains an insular neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem. With its Haredi, and overwhelmingly Hasidic, population, the streets retain the characteristics of an Eastern European shtetl, as it appeared in pre-war Europe. 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 hair coverings, from wigs to scarves, snoods, hats, and berets. The men have beards, and many grow long sidecurls, called peyot. Many 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. Hasidic groups with a large number of followers in Mea Shearim include: Breslov, Slonim, Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avraham Yitzhak, Mishkenos HoRoim, 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 Shearim. Mea Shearim 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”. Some Neturei Karta members have asked to live under Arab rule. The late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leading posek of Litvish / Yeshivish Jewry, made his home here.

“Modesty” posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Mea Shearim. 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); men and boys are urged to avoid wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts; tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups; and in some of the older signs, even non-Jewish men are requested to wear kippas. During Shabbat (from Friday night at sundown to Saturday night at sundown), visitors are asked to refrain from smoking, photography, driving, or using mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men are asked to cover their heads.

Read more on GoJerusalem.com – Mea Shearim and Wikipedia Mea Shearim (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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