Chareidi or Haredi Jerusalem refers to the part of Jerusalem which is mainly and to a large extent exclusively populated by Chareidi Jews (also known under the less politically correct title 'ultra-Orthodox').
Chareidi Jerusalem is composed of nearly the entire northwestern part of the city, above Jaffo Street and HaNevi'im (The Prophets) Street. It has a population of some 250,000 people, circa a third of the entire population of Jerusalem. More than 55% of Jewish youth in Jerusalem are ultra-Orthodox. The center, which is located directly north of the secular-Israeli center of the city (Ben Yehuda, King George, Jaffo Street etc.), can be reached on foot from there or with numerous buses. From the junction of Jaffo Street and King George Street, follow the latter in northern direction, passing Bikur Cholim hospital and crossing HaNevi'im (The Prophets) Street. The street name now becomes Strauss Street. Follow it up the hill and down again, slightly bowing left, until you reach a chaotically busy small traffic junction with traffic lights. This small and very busy square is known as Kikar Shabbat (or Kikar Shabbos), meaning 'Sabbath Square'. On the right is Meah Shearim Street leading into Meah Shearim (described below); on the left is Malchei Yisrael Street (also described below); continuing straight is Yechezkel (Ezekiel) Street. During Shabbos (the Sabbath), from Friday at sunset until Saturday at nightfall, Strauss Street is closed for vehicular traffic from the highest point on.
From the Central Bus Station, take bus 1 towards the Kotel (Western Wall) for about 5 stops, when the bus enters a very busy shopping district. This is Malchei Yisrael Street. The bus will continue straight and cross Kikar Shabbat into Meah Shearim Street.
Rules of behavior
Ultra-orthodox Rabbis put up signs in Mea Shaarim, which announce that girls and women are expected to follow the following rules:
- Women and girls (young girls as well) should wear a skirt that goes beyond the knees, and clothing that covers the shoulders and a closed neckline, and sleeves that go at least until the elbows.
Yet, for visitors it is sufficient to wear clothes that cover the shoulders and upper legs until the knees. Tourists and Israeli women in mini skirts have been attacked by residents throwing stones at them.
Moreover, there are several rules of behavior:
- Tourists are asked not to travel in large groups.
- Residents should not be photographed and certainly not filmed without asking for permission, especially on the Sabbath. But taking photographs of random street scenes is fine in most neighborhoods, except in some parts of Meah Shearim.
- During the Jewish Sabbath, known as 'Shabbos' or 'Shabbat' (from sunset Friday until it is completely dark on Saturday night, i.e., 25 hours long), refrain from violating the Shabbat in these areas. That means: no mobile phones, no cigarettes, no (photo or video) cameras, and perhaps somewhat more respectable dress. These items should not only not be used, but they should also not be visibly carried around. If they must be taken along, carry them in a bag, and don't forget to turn off your mobile phone.
- Avoid wearing Christian symbols, such as crosses or religious shirts. Also, since many residents are anti-Zionist, some of them very strongly so, wearing pro-Israel shirts and the like may lead to uncomfortable looks.
On several bus lines in Jerusalem, certain rabbis attempted to introduce a strict gender-separation with the front and back of the bus designated for men and women respectively. The Egged bus company initially supported this step as a business model that catered to the Chareidi market. This separation is enforced sometimes violently by men who take the law into their own hands, and, although their actions are not legal according to Israeli law, local police are rarely on hand and relatively unresponsive when contacted. On other lines that serve Chareidi neighborhoods, the general custom is that Chareidi men and women (except, sometimes, family members) do not to sit next to each other, although there is no specific part of the bus designated by gender.
On those buses on which men and women sit in separate areas, women enter and exit through the back doors, and men through the front doors. These lines are: 10, 36, 40, 56, 49A. Next to the back door there is a device for women to punch holes in multiple-fare tickets. When a woman needs to buy a ticket, she will probably walk forward after all men in front have sat down. This has changed now that fare payments on Egged buses are transacted using the Rav Kav magnetic card, which must be processed at the front of the bus.
- Malchei Yisrael Street is a vibrant shopping street which forms the bouncing heart of Chareidi Jerusalem. Especially around sunset (the early evening) on Thursday nights, on summer nights and on the eves of major festivals such as Sukkos (Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles), it is one of the busiest areas of the city. The street, with its narrow sidewalks and chaotic traffic, is lined with stores of all types, ranging from kosher music to modest ladies clothing, from household appliances to pizza stores.
Visit Rebbes' tishen
A Rebbe is the supreme leader who reigns like a king (monarch) over a Chassidic Jewish movement. Many Chassidic movements are now based in Jerusalem. On many Friday nights, as well as on many other nights, there is a special Chassidic celebration known as a tish. Hundreds or even thousands of chassidim come to celebrate Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath, with their Rebbe. Non-Chassidic guests are always welcome. If you do not speak Hebrew, it might be useful to go together with someone who does speak Hebrew, since few chassidim speak English; most speak only Hebrew and Yiddish.
Below a list of some Chassidic groups with tishen (plural of tish).
Visit the Belzer Rebbe's tish on Friday night. The best time to be there is around 22:00 (10 PM). Belz is a large chassidic group originating in Poland. If you are not so religious, do not be scared off by the huge crowd of chassidic (ultra-Orthodox) Jews; there are always some less religious people around as well. Dress respectably, preferably in neat pants and a nice shirt (and a jacket, if you want), and wear a yarmulke (kippah, head covering). Men and women are strictly separated from the entrance to the building onwards. (This is mainly a men's event and might not be very interesting for women.) The entrance to the Belzer building is on: [a] Dover Sholom Street [b] Divrei Chaim Street [c] Binat Yissachar Street or [d] Kedushat Aharon Street, all in Kiryat Belz. These streets are about 20 minutes from the Central Bus Station on foot (though there will not be any buses, considering that it is on Friday night). Though this is only for men, it is very interesting since it gives you a very interesting encounter with Jerusalem's 'ultra-orthodox' Jews, which may be much more interesting than visiting some museums. There is also a tish on every holiday.
Visit the Boyaner Rebbe's tish on Shabbos mevorchim (last Sabbath of the Jewish month) on Friday night (9PM) in the winter and Shabbos/Saturday afternoon in the summer (around the time of candle lighting). There are also tishin on all Jewish holidays. You will find the Boyaner headquarters in the Mekor Baruch neighborhood at the beginning of Malchei Yisrael st. (a 10 minutes walk from the central bus station). The large building is easily recognizable by its size and dome on top of the synagogue.
Like in all Jewish-orthodox gatherings, men and women sit separately and modest dress is required. Besides the many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of chassidim there are always less religious people visiting the Boyaner tish. In the Boyaner headquarters there are many people who besides Yiddish and Hebrew also speak English fluently. Visiting the Boyaner rebbe's tish is definitely a spiritual uplifting experience to feel the warmth and holiness of Judaism and the leaders of the Jewish people in this era.
You will find the Dushinsky headquarters on Shmuel HaNavi Street, about halfway between the roundabout close to the Grand Court Hotel and Novotel and the crossing of Shmuel HaNavi Street with Yechezkel Street. It is on the northwestern side of the road, in a low, long building. In front of the building, facing the square, are steps going up to a hall where the tish is held. During the winter, the tish starts at about 22:00 (10 PM) and ends at about midnight. There is a tish almost every Friday night, as well as on holidays.
Toldos Avraham Yitzchak
You will find the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak headquarters on 32 Chevrat Shas St. From Rechov Meah Shearim turn down Rechov Shmuel Salant (by the Breslov Shul), then through the arch to Rechov En Yaakov, into Rechov Chevrat Shas. The tish starts around 22:00 (10 PM) and ends at about 04:00 (4 AM). There is a tish almost every Friday night, as well as holidays, and Saturday afternoon around sunset. The tish is very spirited with a lot of singing and dancing, with a lot of catchy tunes, many from Viznitz and Chabad, and is probably one of the best in Jerusalem for newcomers to experience. The ladies' section is open during the tish as well.
You will find the Toldos Aharon headquarters on the corner of Shivtei Yisrael St. and Meah Shearim St. The tish starts around 22:00 (10 PM) and ends at about 01:00 (1 AM). There is a tish almost every Friday night, as well as holidays, and Saturday afternoon around sunset. The tea in the coffee room is especially tasty.
You will find the Slonim headquarters on the corner of Shmuel Salant st. and Avraham MiSlonim st., behind the Toldos Avraham Yitzchak synagogue on Chevrat Shas st. The tish starts around 21:00 (9 PM) and ends around 23:00 (11 PM). After the tish there is a "Zitzen", where the Hasidim sit in the dark and meditate while singing slow, spiritual melodies without words. This lasts until around 01:00 (1 AM). This is conducted in the cafeteria downstairs and is an amazing experience. There is a tish almost every Friday night, and there is a "zitzen" even on weeks when there might not be a tish.
You will find the Spinka synagogue of Jerusalem on Shmuel Salant Street, across the street from the Slonim Yeshivah. The tish starts around 21:30 (9:30PM) and ends around 23:30 (11:30PM). It is a very small tish, and it is nice to experience because you can receive "shirayim" of kugel directly from the Rebbe's hand. There is a tish most Friday nights.
- Judaica, such as a Chanukiah (Chanukah candalebra).
- Jewish books, on all subjects, in all languages.
- Doctor Toast (formerly "Doctor Pizza"; there is a "Doctor Pizza" further up on Bar Ilan Street) on Shmuel HaNavi (Samuel the Prophet) Street, close to Bar Ilan Junction, towards Yechezkel Street. Excellent grilled sandwiches with a variety of cheeses and veggies available as toppings. Expect the small storefront to be congested with strollers. Ask for pizza sauce. English speaking personnel.
There are several Chareidi hotels in Jerusalem. Among the more known is the Ramat Tamir Hotel in Har Chotzvim, which is however located at about half an hour's walk away from the center of the city, on the road to Ramat. It is located very close to Ezras Torah (stronghold of the Satmar and Sadigura Chassidic movements), Kiryas Slonim (home to the chassidic movement Slonim-Jerusalem) and Kiryas Belz (home to the Belz chassidic movement).
Due to the rabbinical ban on usage of the internet, there are no internet cafes anywhere in Chareidi Jerusalem. Despite the rabbinical ban, many people do have a computer with internet access; however, this is a very delicate subject in the Chareidi world. For internet cafes, you will need to go to secular-Israeli Jerusalem. There are a lot of public pay phones in Chareidi Jerusalem. Most can only be used with Bezeq cards. Pay phones are cheap in Israel.