Meah Shearim, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in west Jerusalem, Israel, built by the original settlers of Yishuv haYashan and even today populated mainly by Haredi Jews.
The name “Mea Shearim” is derived from a verse in the Bible – Genesis 26:12. Isaac sowed in that land, and in that year he reaped “a hundredfold”; God had blessed him. The residents hoped that like Isaac, they, too would prosper and enjoy God’s blessings. Some interpret the name literally, as "100 Gates.
Meah Shearim was established in 1874 as the second settlement 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. Very few dared to leave the protection of the walls in those days. The terrain was rocky and uncultivated, and Arab marauders roamed freely.
Conrad Schick, a German Christian architect and missionary, drew up a plan for Meah Shearim in 1846. Joseph 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.
The quarter 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. Meah Shearim was the first quarter in Jerusalem to have street lights.
Meah Shearim StreetToday, Meah Shearim remains an Old World enclave in the heart of Jerusalem. With its overwhelmingly Haredi population, the streets retain the flavor of an East European shtetl. Life revolves around strict adherence to Jewish law, prayer and the study of Jewish texts. Traditions in dress may include black frock coats and black or fur-trimmed hats for men (although there are many other clothing styles, depending on the religious sub-group to which they belong), and long-sleeved, modest clothing for women. In some groups, the women wear thick black stockings all year long, including summer. Married women wear a variety of headcoverings, from wigs to headscarves. The men have beards and some grow long sidecurls, called peyos.
Chasidic groups with a large number of followers in Meah Shearim include Breslov, Slonim and Toldos Aharon. Meah Shearim is also the stronghold of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta movement. The Edah HaChareidis, which supervises kashrut certification and runs a Jewish religious court, has its headquarters in Meah Shearim.
Modesty sign in Meah Shearim"Modesty" posters in Hebrew and English are hung at every entrance to Meah Shearim. When visiting the neighborhood, women and girls are asked to dress modestly (knee-length skirts or longer, no plunging necklines or midriff tops, no sleeveless blouses or bare shoulders) and tourists are requested not to arrive in large, conspicuous groups. During the Shabbat (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night), visitors should refrain from smoking, photography, driving or use of mobile phones. When entering synagogues, men should cover their heads.