Women: Stay off the main road in Mea Shearim during Sukkot

Ultra Orthodox Jew walks through Mea Shearim, Jerusalems Orthodox quarter. (Photo by Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Mea Shearim, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Jerusalem established in 1874, often makes the headlines, and seldom for anything good.

Just before the Sukkot holiday, posters were hung in the area warning residents and visitors to avoid the main streets of the neighborhood throughout the week-long holiday of Sukkot – unless they are male.

Yes, you read that correctly.

“And a special request to the women – residents of the area as well as passersby – try to minimize as much as possible crossings of the main street of Mea Shearim in Hol Hamoed night times,” the posters read. “Only go through side streets, and in general minimize visits in the (Mea Shearim) neighborhood in those hours.”

This prejudicial prohibition against women in the small ultra-Orthodox enclave of Israel’s capital can be explained by delving into the community’s history.

The name Mea Shearim comes from Genesis 26:12, found in the weekly Torah portion that was read the week the settlement was birthed. Mea Shearim literally means “one hundred gates,” but contextually the name describes Isaac’s sowing in the land as he “reaped one hundred fold.”

The Haredi and Hasidic residents of all streams adhere to an extremely strict and traditional dress code. With various clothing styles including black hats and frock coats for men, and severe modest clothing for women year round, Mea Shearim offers a surreal glimpse into a bygone era. Visitors to the suburb might think they were walking the streets of an Eastern European shtetl.

Even though Mea Shearim was the first neighborhood in Jerusalem to get electricity, the community shuns any form of 21st century technology. Without TV, radio, computers or internet, the community uses pashkevils – the Luddite equivalent to social networking: posters of all sizes plastered onto the enclave walls. These anonymous notices, mostly religious in nature and some older than 100 years, get their name from an Italian word meaning ‘targeted libel.’ Ideas, views, news, classifieds and plenty of material deemed libelous are expressed via the pashkevil method.

At each of the suburb’s “100 gates” are also modesty posters prescribing strict dress code for anyone entering the neighborhood. The pashkevils aimed at women during Sukkot are in addition to those.

Bearing in mind, until six years ago when the High Court Justice got involved, this district had “modesty ushers” patrolling the streets and sidewalk partitions to keep male and female pedestrians apart. Hence this new edict is no surprise.

Rabbi Uri Regev, the CEO of Hiddush, an organization that advocates for separation of religion from state, made an official inquiry shortly before Yom Kippur.

“It cannot be that in the main street of a city, even in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, women will find themselves outcast from the public square,” Regev said.

A spokesman at Jerusalem municipality said the city would take care of by the issue according to the law.

Hag Sukkot Sameah to all our readers – male and female.