Simchat Beit Hashoeva: A Time of Joy - and Segregation

The wall of the great beit midrash (study house) of the Bratslav Hasids in Mea Shearim is adorned with a clock, which also bears a sobering reminder: "There is no man whose hour does not come."

This is a time of joy, as is traditionally said about Sukkot, with bands blasting during every evening of the holiday, with hundreds of Hasids moving in circles, taking part in the ancient tradition of Simchat Beit Hashoeva. The Bratslavs' beit midrash stands right in the middle of the "casbah" of this ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, near the intersection which, during the past months, has been the site of innumerable clashes between thousands of young residents and the police.

There's nothing very surprising about how life in Mea Shearim still rushes along, with hours of hostility and hours of joy rapidly replacing each other. There's nothing strange about the fact that the "holy wars" of the summer - against the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat, and against the indictment of a mother who ostensibly starved her child - have been replaced with the holy joy of Simchat Beit Hashoeva, celebrated in most of the Hasidic courts in the neighborhood.

There's nothing unusual about the thousands of protesters turning into thousands of revelers.

Uriel, a student at the Hazon Ovadia yeshiva, says there's nothing odd about the recent succession of events, about the fact that a month ago he was pushing through throngs of demonstrators, and now he's standing on the same street playing an official role - that of a hired usher. Uriel is supposed to keep the peace, and peace this week in Mea Shearim means separating the women from the men.

Anyone who has not witnessed the segregation of Beit Hashoeva has never seen segregation in his life. The sexes are separated not at places of worship, but also on the streets: There's one pavement for the women, one for the men; furthermore, to cross one of the streets, the men walk along a metal bridge, while the women walk below.

Mea Shearim doesn't care this week about pashkevils and wars as much as it does about recreating the joy at the Temple 2,000 years ago, when water was poured upon the altar. Meanwhile, the Hasids keep moving in circles under the great clock. "Don't look for a revolution here," one tells me, "life is circular."