Jerusalem Old City's Jewish Quarter Almost Entirely Haredi, Study Finds

Neighborhood has resumed the ultra-Orthodox character it had before the 1948 War of Independence.

Prof. Daniel Sperber, a resident of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City and an Israel Prize laureate in Jewish studies, has noticed a demographic and sociological change in the Jewish Quarter over time, from a diverse neighborhood of secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews to one that is almost entirely Haredi (ultra-Orthodox ).

Sperber also serves as a rabbi of the neighborhood's Menachem Zion synagogue, a congregation he describes as "a nature reserve" for religious Zionists. "Once the synagogue was crammed full," he said. "Now, unfortunately, there are a lot of empty seats."

old city - Tomer Appelbaum - June 10 2011
Tomer Appelbaum

Sperber's sense of the Jewish Quarter's transformation is born out by new research on developments in the quarter since Jews returned to it following the 1967 Six-Day War.

"Maybe there is justice in this development," said Doron Bar, who co-authored the study with Rehav Rubin, alluding to the neighborhood's ultra-Orthodox past. Their findings appear in the latest issue of the journal "Zmanim."

The pair conducted a historical and geographic study of the changes the neighborhood has experienced. They concluded that from a religious Zionist standpoint, the Jewish Quarter's development since 1967 has been a failure. But from a historical perspective, the neighborhood has resumed the ultra-Orthodox character it had before the 1948 War of Independence.

In the years following that war, while the Jewish Quarter was under Jordanian rule, it lay largely in ruins. After Israel's capture of the Old City, which reunified Jerusalem, one proposal was that the Jewish Quarter be converted into a large archaeological park.

Ultimately, however, the decision was made to turn the quarter back into a residential area. Efforts were also made to establish institutions and symbols that would underline Israeli sovereignty over the area.

For example, the study said, Yigal Allon, who was deputy prime minister at the time, decided to locate his official residence in the quarter. "The symbolism of this move by Allon, a commander of the Palmach [the strike force of the prestate Haganah militia] and a completely secular leader, was great," the researchers commented.

A center for modern Hebrew literature was also established in the neighborhood, and the Israel Defense Forces opened an information center there. But these institutions gradually ceded their place to ultra-Orthodox institutions.

Rubin and Bar also noted that finds from archaeological digs carried out in the Jewish Quarter are displayed to the public in ways that highlight the area's Jewish history at the expense of its Christian and Muslim history. A sign in the Jewish Quarter designating the location of a Crusader-era church, for example, has been replaced with one that simply labels the location an archaeological park.

Bar characterized Israel's post-1967 efforts as an attempt to transform the Jewish Quarter into a place that was as Israeli as it was Jewish. "It's an effort that in my opinion stood no chance," he said.

He expects the trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy in the Jewish Quarter to continue despite the Jerusalem municipality's efforts to stop it. But he doesn't necessarily see this as a negative development, noting that historically, the city's Jewish community was ultra-Orthodox.