The Hebrew for “a hundredfold” is me’ah she’arim. These words literally mean “a hundred gates”, and of course the Me’ah She’arim section of Jerusalem is a popular tourist attraction. (Not that the pious locals who live there are impressed at the sometimes inappropriately-dressed, camera-touting tourist who comes to gawk.)
The area never had a hundred gates, but originally there were 140 dwellings with the outer buildings forming a surrounding wall with five gates. The early settlers moved there to get away from the crowded old part of the city.
Today there are over 5,000 inhabitants whose way of life is encompassed by the proverbial dalet amot shel halachah – the four cubits of Jewish law. Their religiosity is intense and inspiring, but regarded with disfavour not only by the secular but also by the Modern Orthodox.
The problem as the latter see it is not merely the Me’ah She’arim suspicion of the Zionist State, of modernist thinking and secular education, but what is seen as the ferocity of their frequent protest actions.
Everybody knows of stone-throwing demonstrations. Another weapon used is arson – torching street rubbish bins, bus shelters and even people’s homes.
Another activity which alarms many people is the so-called modesty patrols; not that immodesty is appropriate in Me’ah She’arim, but there are better ways to achieve it than vigilante patrols and heavy-handed bullying.
Some time ago two modern orthodox rabbis – Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and Jeffrey M Cohen of London – had a good-natured public difference of opinion in the pages of the “Jewish Chronicle” about whether a Modern Orthodox Jew would feel more at home in Me’ah She’arim or a secular kibbutz. Riskin preferred the former and Cohen the latter.
They are probably both right – and both wrong. The secular kibbutz can break your heart, but so can Me’ah She’arim.
Both, with respect, should be asking themselves some questions: the one, about giving God the benefit of the doubt, the other, about greater chessed and love for other fellow beings.