Mea Shearim (Hebrew: מאה שערים, lit., "hundred gates"; contextually, "a hundred fold") is one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem outside of the Old City. It is populated by Haredi Jews, and was built by members of the Old Yishuv.
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.
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.
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.
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, which opposes Zionism, as well as the movement from 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.
The oldest Sephardic Haredi dynasty, Levi Kahana of Spain, has a religious cultural center in the neighborhood.
"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.
Incidents in the neighborhood
Some 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 Haredi party United Torah Judaism were attacked in Mea Shearim, after they had visited the Slonim rabbi and had entered his synagogue to pray. When they emerged, they were set upon by young men 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 Aryeh Deri as "an act of terror".
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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".
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- 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.
- "Haredi MKs attacked in Mea Shearim". The Jerusalem Post. 24 June 2010. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
- IDF officer attacked in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim Archived 2015-04-25 at the Wayback Machine The Times of Israel, 24 April 2015
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