A short account of Me’a She’arim, given by your Israel & Jerusalem private tour guide
Me’a She’arim (meaning hundred–fold in English) is a neighborhood in Jerusalem located near the city center. Today, it is considered the center and stronghold of the Ultra-Orthodox groups of Jews. However, it wasn’t always like this.
Because of the poor conditions in the old Jewish Quarter, Jews had to overcome their fears of living outside of the city walls. In the 1860’s, new neighborhoods were built to the west of the city. An association of 100 members with very low incomes managed to buy eight acres in a more remote and cheaper area. Gradually, they built their homes there. In order for them to have a sense of security, they built their homes around closed courtyards with external walls, which looked like one long defense wall.
By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of apartments were built, and the population swelled to thousands of Jews, due to significant immigration from Eastern Europe. Me’a She’arim became a mixture of various Ultra-Orthodox groups, who belonged either to the Hassidic movement or to the Lithuanians. Each of the groups had its own synagogue, school, yeshiva and other facilities. This meant that life is and has been focused solely on the group, ignoring what happens in the outside world.
Is it okay to walk through Me’a She’arim?
On the main streets, you can see large signs asking ladies to respect their neighborhoods and dress properly when visiting – long sleeves and long skirts (no pants!), shirts and blouses closed all the way to the neck. If you respect that and behave politely, there should be no trouble.
As you walk in the streets and through the courtyards, you can see how poor this society is. As the ideal of this society is studying and becoming extremely knowledgeable in the Scriptures, they rely heavily on donations and on the meager salaries of their wives, who are teachers. Many of the men spend their time focused on studying, to the exclusion of everything else.
The most interesting times to visit are before the High Holidays and the Sabbath. It is a very hectic, frantic and crowded time that gives you the feeling of being in a completely different world.
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