Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Neighborhood Has Other-Worldly Feel

Mea Shearim - Jerusalem

We hopped a taxi from the Old Quarter of Jerusalem to Mea Shearim, one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods in the city, established in 1874. Shockingly, the neighborhood is claimed by the Palestinian Authority as part of a two-state solution, but good luck getting the most faithful of the Orthodox to either move out of the neighborhood or to accept PA governance. Not. Going. To. Happen.

Our goal was to find a place to dine with the locals, and observe Orthodox customs and culture. Called “ultra-orthodox” by more secular Jews and goyim, they don’t like the term and consider it an insult, diminishing what they consider to be their faithfulness to Jewish religious law. A more respectful term is Haredi Jews, and covers a wide variety of the most orthodox sects. They strictly reject modern secular culture. Males generally wear black suits, white shirts,  black Fedoras, Homberg hats or skull caps, and are rarely clean-shaven. Females ascribe to modest, colorless dress and wear some sort of head covering, not unlike Muslims.

Israeli society faces much conflict over how much power and leverage to give the Haredi and their uncompromising, rigid ideas about the role of women in society, and whether Haredi men should be drafted into the army. Most Haredi men decline to work because they want to study the Torah; they have large families of six to eight children, and their families receive subsidies from the Israeli government.

For dinner, after walking several blocks, we discovered not too many choices in Mea Shearim, and feared that an Orthodox restaurant might not allow women inside, or would not allow men and women to sit at the same table. We were pleasantly surprised about that. But the one tiny diner we found had only six tables, with all 12 chairs facing the same direction, toward the cook. The waiter almost immediately recognized us as foreigners and nodded for us to sit down for a bland but hearty meal of dumplings. Lucia’s observations?

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