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 by Haredi Jews, and was built by the Old Yishuv. The oldest Sephardic Haredi dynasty, Levi Kahana of Spain, has a religious cultural center in the neighborhood.



Toldos Aharon children in Mea Shearim, 2007

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 (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.[1]



Conrad Schick, a German Christian architect and missionary, drew up a plan for Mea Shearim in 1846. Mea Shearim was established in 1874 as one of the earliest Jewish settlements outside the walls of the Old City by a building society of 100 shareholders.[2] 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.

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.[3]

Street plan in 1927.

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.[3]

Incidents in the neighbourhoodEdit

Residents have been criticized 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 (otherwise known as Hafganahs).[4]

A small, violent group called "The Sikrikim", of less than 100 families, enforce censorship on bookshops, causing over 250,000 NIS damage to a shop that resisted their demands.[5]

In April 2015, an IDF officer was attacked by men and women of Mea Shearim who allegedly threatened to kill him, while children blocked his exit. The incident received national attention. The attack was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as "outrageous", and by Shas leader Arye Deri as "an act of terror".[6]

Haredi lifestyleEdit

A wall plastered with pashkevilin (announcements) in Mea Shearim.

Today, Mea Shearim remains an insular neighbourhood in the heart of Jerusalem.[3] With its Haredi and overwhelmingly Hasidic population, the streets retain the characteristics of an Eastern European shtetl[1] as it would have appeared in pre-revolutionary Russia. 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 and snoods. 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.[7]

Hasidic groups with a large number of followers in Mea Shearim 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 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 residents have asked to live under Arab rule.[8] The late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leading posek of Litvish/Yeshivish Jewry, made his home here.

Neighborhood regulationsEdit

Modesty sign in Mea Shearim

"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, and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. 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.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Eisenberg, Ronald L. (2006). The Streets of Jerusalem: Who, what, why. Devora Publishing. p. 250. ISBN 1-932687-54-8.
  2. ^ "About Meah Shearim". Illustrated Israel. Archived from the original on 2007-06-13.
  3. ^ a b c Eylon, Lili (2011). "Jerusalem: Architecture in the late Ottoman Period". Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  4. ^ Shahar Ilan (May 11, 2010). "The Mea She'arim mob". Haaretz. Archived from the original on 2012-12-26. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
  5. ^ Melanie Lidman (November 30, 2011). "Mea She'arim shop accedes to vandalist demands". JPost. Archived from the original on 2012-09-28. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
  6. ^ IDF officer attacked in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim Archived 2015-04-25 at the Wayback Machine The Times of Israel, 24 April 2015
  7. ^ ?למה החרדים במאה שערים מדברים אידיש Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine (in Hebrew)
  8. ^ The Jerusalem Quarterly, Issues 17-20. Middle East Institute. 1981. p. 58. On the other hand, the leaders of the sect have recently published a manifesto calling for 'the laws of the autonomy in Arab territories to be applied in our neighbourhood (Me'a Shearim) too, without dependence on the Zionist regime'.
  9. ^ Sapir-Witz, Karmit (17 December 2006). "A step away, another world". Ynetnews. Archived from the original on 2010-09-01. Retrieved 28 August 2011.

Further readingEdit

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

External linksEdit