A walk through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah She’arim is a rare opportunity for immersion in a fascinating religious and cultural experience that contrasts sharply surrounding modernity.
It was an auspicious day in 1874 when a small group of Jerusalem Jews resolved boldly to build this neighborhood in the nearly empty lands outside the walled city. They sought a promising name to symbolize their dream: In that week’s Torah portion were the words: meah she’arim – one hundred fold, the bumper crop Isaac reaped (Gen. 26:12), showing divine favor.
Its original buildings are still there: built in pairs, facing each other across narrow, bustling courtyards, accessed by gateways from the street. As visitors* browse the fruit and vegetable market, Judaica and religious bookstores, they will notice the variety of dark suits among the men, indicating their specific Hassidic or non-Hassidic allegiance, the women’s modest dress – and many, many children! An added attraction on a Thursday-night visit is the quarter’s bakery, at its busiest churning out challahs for the Sabbath.
*Residents require visitors to dress modestly (skirts for women with knees and elbows covered), and do not like to be photographed.