Haredi or Chareidi Jerusalem refers to the parts of Jerusalem which are overwhelmingly populated by Haredi (or 'ultra-Orthodox') Jews. About a third of Jerusalem's population (250,000 people), and more than 55% of Jewish youth in Jerusalem, are Haredi.
Haredi neighborhoods make up much most of the northwest of the city. With a few exceptions, neighborhoods north and west of the light rail line are Haredi, while neighborhoods south and east are not. Many of these neighborhoods used to have a mixed Haredi-secular population, but as the Haredi population has grown they have become more homogeneous. However, the large Ramot neighborhood in the northwest of the city still has a mixed population. Also, there are two significant Haredi-populated neighborhoods outside the area covered in this article - Bayit Vegan near Mount Herzl, and Neve Yaakov in the far northeast of the city. Tourists are unlikely to be interested in these outlying neighborhoods, though.
The center of Haredi Jerusalem is 1 Kikar HaShabbat (or Kikar Shabbos according to their Yiddish-influenced pronunciation), a road intersection about 700 meters north of the secular-Jewish downtown. From the Jaffa Center light rail stop, walk north on Strauss street (which is the northern continuation of King George street). After about 10 minutes you will reach Kikar HaShabbat, a cramped five-way intersection. On the right is Meah Shearim street leading into Meah Shearim (described below); on the left is Malchei Yisrael street (also described below). Numerous bus routes also go here, including route 1 which passes here on its way from the Central Bus Station to the Western Wall.
During the Sabbath (Shabbos in local pronunciation), from Friday at sunset until Saturday at nightfall, it is impossible to drive to or through Haredi neighborhoods, as most streets are closed to traffic.
The Haredi sector in Israel has a very high rate of usage of public transportation. Within Jerusalem, it is particularly easy to get a bus between any two Haredi areas, as long as you know which route to take. See Egged's city bus map for directions.
Haredi society is very conservative, and often considers itself to be under siege by the permissive modern world. To be considerate of them, you should follow the following rules while visiting their neighborhoods:
- Women and girls must wear clothing that covers the shoulders, knees, and everything in between (except hands and forearms). Necklines should be closed. In Me'ah Shearim, tourists and Israeli women in miniskirts have been attacked by residents throwing stones at them.
- Tourists are asked not to travel in large groups.
- Do not photograph or film residents without asking for permission, particularly on the Sabbath. (But taking photographs of random street scenes is fine in most neighborhoods, except in some parts of Meah Shearim.) There are religious reasons for this: residents do not want to be part of Sabbath violation, and some of them may consider human photographs forbidden as images that could be used for idolatry. But beyond that, like any other people, they don't want to be seen as a spectacle.
- Do not publicly violate the Sabbath. That means: no mobile phones, cigarettes, or 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.
These rules are most important in the oldest neighborhoods, particularly Me'ah Shearim and its neighbors, which are located closest to the Old City. As you get further away from Meah Shearim, the population becomes more willing to "live and let live". In the newer suburban neighborhoods, they won't be happy that you are ignoring their communal rules, but they won't confront you about it either.
- 1 Me'ah Shearim (Along and around Me'ah Shearim street). This neighborhood is perhaps the closest the 21st century can get to the shtetl Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Minimally influenced by the modern world, the Hasidic residents of Me'ah Shearim continue to dress like their great-grandparents and speak Yiddish conversationally. The walls are often plastered with pashkevilim - posters with social or political announcements, by communal leaders or sometimes random activists. For tourists, the main roads are lined with shops selling Judaica.
- 2 Malchei Yisrael street. A vibrant shopping street which forms the bouncing heart of Haredi Jerusalem. Especially on the evenings preceding the Sabbath and major holidays, and on summer nights, 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. On Thursday nights you can get hot cholent (the traditional Sabbath stew) to eat, and there are stores selling traditional Ashkenazi dishes like kugel and herring.
- 3 Tombs of the Sanhedrin. A freely accessible park with impressive rock-carved tombs from the 1st century. The most impressive tombs are deeper (further north) in the park.
- 4 Lifta. An abandoned Arab village near the western entrance to Jerusalem. The place is full of spacious, multilevel, half-ruined buildings. Some of the houses are rebuilt and Jewish families live in these. It's easy to find wild opuntia (cactus fruit) and almond trees there. The must-see spot in Lifta is a long, very narrow tunnel going from the bricked-in ancient pool at the bottom of the village. The pool is mentioned in the Bible. Take off your shoes before entering it, because water can reach knee-level. The simplest way to get there is to take a walk from the main bus station towards the nearby hill where you enter the city from Tel Aviv, take the foot bridge over the highway and a downhill hike from behind the gas station, which takes about 15 minutes. Be careful: the pool is about 2 meters deep when full but has no stairs or ladder out, and while sometimes people pile stones at a corner for a step up to get out, you need to be strong enough to exit with a full pullup and hand press from the high edge or wait for a friend to pull you out. Especially on Friday and even more so before major Jewish holidays, many religious male youths will be found at Lifta performing ritual purification by immersion, and they may become irritated should a female bather show up to swim, potentially forcing large numbers of males wishing to use the ancient ritual mikveh pool for what they consider a non-recreational ritual away from the area.
- 5 Nabi Samwil. The traditional burial site of the prophet Samuel, who chose Saul and David to be kings. Over the centuries this has been a pilgrimage site for Christians, Muslims, and Jews. It is one of the highest points in the Jerusalem area, and has a stunning view in all directions. A number of bus routes from Jerusalem to Givat Ze'ev or Modiin Ilit stop here. The best place to board them is along the main road of Ramot (the most northwestern neighborhood in the city, closest to Nabi Samwil).
- 6 Nebi Akasha Mosque. The tomb of one of the disciples of the prophet Muhammad, and next to it a mosque. Currently they are inactive and you cannot enter them.
- 7 Ramot Polin. Blocks of residential buildings which are built from prefabricated dodecahedral units, resembling a beehive.
Visit Rebbes' tishen
Chassidim are a subset of Haredim with a distinct culture. There are many different Chassidic movements, each one led by a different Rebbe, who reigns like a spiritual king over the movement. On many Friday nights (and other special occasions), there is a Chassidic celebration known as a tish. Hundreds or even thousands of Chassidim come to celebrate Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath, with their Rebbe. This live encounter with Chassidic culture may be much more interesting or uplifting than visiting museums.
Non-Chassidic guests are always welcome; there are usually some less religious people around the tish 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). 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. Only men and boys participate in the tish, but often there is a women's gallery where women can observe the action.
Below a list of some Chassidic groups with tishen (plural of tish) in Jerusalem. Schedules may vary, and in particular may be an hour later in the summer.
- 1 Belz. One of the largest chassidic groups, originating in Poland. The Belzer Rebbe holds a tish on Friday night and on holidays. The best time to arrive is around 22:00. 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.
- (Ruzhin-)Boyan. The Boyaner Rebbe's tish is held on Shabbos mevorchim (last Sabbath of the Jewish month) on Friday night (9PM) in the winter, Shabbos afternoon in the summer (around the time of candle lighting), and 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.
- 2 Dushinsky. Dushinsky headquarters on Shmuel HaNavi Street, about halfway between the roundabout close to the light rail, and the intersection 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 and ends at about midnight. There is a tish almost every Friday night, as well as on holidays.
- 3 Toldos Avraham Yitzchak. 22:00-04:00. From Meah Shearim St., turn down Shmuel Salant St. (by the Breslov Shul), then right through the arch to Oneg Shabbos St.; Toldos Avraham Yitzchak headquarters is right there. 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.
- 4 Toldos Aharon. 22:00-01:00. On Meah Shearim St. just west of Shivtei Yisrael St. 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.
- Slonim. 21:00-23:00. 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. 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. 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.
- Spinka. 21:30-23:30. You will find the Spinka synagogue of Jerusalem on Shmuel Salant Street, across the street from the Slonim Yeshivah. 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.
Due to the rabbinical ban on usage of the internet, there are no internet cafes anywhere in Haredi Jerusalem. Despite the rabbinical ban, many people do have a computer with internet access; however, this is a very delicate subject in the Haredi world. For internet cafes, you will need to go to secular-Israeli Jerusalem. There are a lot of public pay phones in Haredi Jerusalem. Most can only be used with Bezeq cards. Pay phones are cheap in Israel.