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').
The Mea Shearim Neighborhood is the home of the world's strictest Orthodox Jews.
Haredi Jerusalem is composed of a large northwestern chunk of the city, north of Jaffa Street and HaNevi'im (The Prophets) Street, west of Derekh Shechem (Nablus Road), and south of Yigal Yadin Blvd. It includes neighborhoods such as Mea Shearim, Sanhedriya, Mekor Barukh, and Kiryat Belza (named after the Chassidic dynasty that originated in Belz, modern Ukraine). 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, meaning "Sabbath Square." On the right is Mea Shearim Street leading into Mea Shearim (described below); on the left is Malchei Yisrael Street (also described below); continuing straight is Yechezkel Street. During Shabbat, from Friday night at sundown to Saturday night at sundown, Strauss Street is closed for vehicular traffic from the highest point onward.
From the Israeli Central Bus Station on Jaffa Street, take bus 1 towards the Western Wall for about 5 stops, when the bus enters a very busy shopping district. This is Malchei Yisrael Street. Alternately, take the Jerusalem Light Rail to King George St and Jaffa St, and walk north on King George/Strauss.
Rules of behavior
Mea Shearim has "Modesty Signs" in Hebrew and English at all their entrances, and everyone is expected to abide by the following rules:
Moreover, there are several rules of behavior:
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. The Egged bus company initially supported this step as a business model that catered to the Haredi market. This separation is often enforced 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 Haredi neighborhoods, the general custom is that Haredi men and women 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 Haredi Jerusalem - especially around sunset on Thursday nights. On summer nights and on the eves of major festivals, such as 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 Jewish music to modest ladies clothing, from household appliances to pizza stores.
Visit Rebbes' tishen
A Rebbe is the supreme leader who reigns like a monarch over a Hasidic Jewish movement. Many Hasidic movements are now based in Jerusalem. On many Friday nights, as well as on many other nights, there is a special Hasidic celebration known as a tish (Yiddish: "table"). Hundreds or even thousands of Hasidim come to celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, with their Rebbe. Non-Hasidic 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 Hasidim speak English - most speak only Hebrew and Yiddish.
Below a list of some Hasidic groups with tishen (plural of tish).
Visit the Belzer Rebbe's tish on Friday night. The best time to be there is around 10 PM. Belz is a large Hasidic group originating in Poland. If you are not religious, do not be scared off by the huge crowd of Hasidic 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 kippah (head covering). Men and women are separated from the entrance to the building. The entrance to the Belzer building is on: [a] Dover Shalom 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 Shabbat Mevorchim, the last Sabbath of the Jewish month on Friday night at 9PM in the winter and Saturday afternoon in the summer around the time of candle lighting. There are also tishen 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 all Orthodox Jewish gatherings, men and women sit separately and wear modest dress. Besides the many hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Hasidim there are always less religious people visiting the Boyaner tish. In the Boyaner headquarters, there are many people who speak English. 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 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 Mea 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 10 PM and ends at about 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 Mea Shearim Street. The tish starts around 10 PM and ends at about 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 9 PM and ends around 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 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 9:30PM and ends around 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.
If you plan to visit Mea Shearim, it's best to go with someone. Traveling alone in this neighborhood can be dangerous - especially if you're female.
Due to the rabbinical ban on usage of the Internet, there are no Internet cafes in Haredi Jerusalem, but many people do have a computers 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.