Mea Shearim (Hebrew: מאה שערים, lit. "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 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 (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.
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. 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.
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.
Incidents in the neighborhood
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).
On 24 June 2010 politicians Uri Maklev and Moshe Gafni of the Haredic United Torah Judaism were attacked after they had visited the Slonim rabbi and had entered his synagogue to pray. When they emerged, they were set upon by young extremists affiliated with Neturei Karta who spat at them and physically assaulted them..
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".
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 would have 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 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.
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. 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-jews are requested to wear Kippahs. 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.
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- IDF officer attacked in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim Archived 2015-04-25 at the Wayback Machine The Times of Israel, 24 April 2015
- ?למה החרדים במאה שערים מדברים אידיש Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine Archived 2013-10-05 at the Wayback Machine (in Hebrew)
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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'.
- Sapir-Witz, Karmit (17 December 2006). "A step away, another world". Ynetnews. Archived from the original on 2010-09-01. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
- Halper, Jeff (1991). Between Redemption and Revival: The Jewish Yishuv of Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-7855-9.
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