Bookended by walls of signs in Hebrew and English detailing a strict dress code and a hard-line approach to public morality, Meah Shearim can be considered the most ideologically unique neighborhood in today’s West Jerusalem. This community is populated solely by the city’s ultra-orthodox haredim – easily recognized by black suits with matching hats, full beards, and long, curling side locks known as peyes. Every apartment is within walking distance to a synagogue, and on Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath), driving through the narrow streets is not just frowned upon but illegal.
To visit Meah Shearim, one must travel in groups no larger than three or four (according to the published signs, obvious tourist groups “severely offend the residents”). The neighborhood is strictly segregated by sex, so men and women should be discreet if walking or speaking together. Women should wear dark, conservative colors, high necklines, long sleeves, and long skirts or run the risk of public chastisement. Similarly, men should cover their heads with kippas (yarmulkes). One may feel ostracized as soon as they step inside–anyone who isn’t part of the close-knit community clearly doesn’t belong – but gaining a better understanding of the ultra-religious atmosphere (not to mention picking up seriously discounted Jewish sacred texts and ritual objects, or delicious traditional baked goods) is definitely worth some stares.
Know Before You Go
Ask any taxi driver in West Jerusalem to take you to Kikkar Shabbat in Mea Shearim (don't pay more than five shekels each if you're already in the city); everyone in town knows this community.