Bnei Brak is a city located on the central Mediterranean coastal plain in Israel, just east of Tel Aviv. A center of Ultra Orthodox Judaism, Bnei Brak covers an area of 709 hectares (1752 acres, or 2.74 square miles), and had a population of 182,799 in 2015. It is one of the poorest and most densely populated cities in Israel.
Bnei Brak takes its name from the ancient Biblical city of Beneberak, mentioned in the Tanakh (Joshua 19:45) in a long list of towns of ancient Judea. The name is also cited by some as continuing the name of the Palestinian village of Ibn Ibraq ("Son of Ibraq/Barak") which was located 4 kilometers (2.5 mi) to the south of where Bnei Barak was founded on June 13, 1924.
Bnei Brak was founded as an agricultural village by Yitzchok Gerstenkorn and a group of Polish chasidim. Due to a lack of land, many of the founders turned to other occupations and the village began to develop an urban character. Arye Mordechai Rabinowicz, formerly rabbi of Kurów in Poland, was the first rabbi. He was succeeded by Rabbi Yosef Kalisz, a scion of the Vurker dynasty. The town was set up as a religious settlement from the outset, as is evident from this description of the pioneers: "Their souls were revived by the fact that they merited what their predecessors had not. What particularly revived their weary souls in the mornings and toward evening, when they would gather in the beis medrash situated in a special shack which was built immediately upon the arrival of the very first settlers, for tefilla betzibbur (communal prayer) three times a day, for the Daf Yomi shiur, and a Gemara shiur and an additional one in Mishnayos and the Shulchan Oruch."
In the 1931 census of Palestine, the population of Benei Beraq was 956, all Jewish, in 255 houses. Bnei Brak achieved city status in 1950.
Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (the Chazon Ish) settled from Belarus to Bnei Brak in its early days, attracting a large following. Leading rabbis who have lived in Bnei Brak include Rabbi Yaakov Landau, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky ("the Steipler"), Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (Ponevezher Rov), Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach and Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. Notable rabbis who reside in Bnei Brak today are Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Rabbi Shmuel Wosner and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. In the early 1950s, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, founded a large neighborhood in Bnei Brak which continued to serve as a dynastic center under his son, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, and under his grandsons, Rabbi Yisrael Hager and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager.
Beginning in the 1960s, the rebbes of the Ukrainian Ruzhin dynasty (Sadigura, Husiatyn, Bohush), who had formerly lived in Tel Aviv, moved to Bnei Brak. In the 1990s, they were followed by the rebbe of Modzhitz. Unlike the former four Gerrer rebbes, who lived in Jerusalem, the current rebbe was a Bnei Brak resident until 2012. The rebbes of Alexander, Biala-Bnei-Brak, Koidenov, Machnovke, Nadvorne, Premishlan, Radzin, Shomer Emunim. Slonim-Schwarze, Strykov, Tchernobil, Trisk-Bnei-Brak and Zutshke reside in Bnei Brak. Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Landau is the Rabbi of Bnei Brak and a respected authority on Jewish law and kashrut supervision. The "Rav Landau" hechsher (kosher supervision) is widely accepted. Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, chief Rabbi (av beis din) of the Lithuanian Haredi community, heads a beth din of Lithuanian and Hasidic dayanim, called She'eris Yisroel.
According to figures from the municipality of Bnei Brak, the city has a population of over 181,000 residents, the majority of whom are Haredi Jews. It also has the largest population density of any city in Israel, with 25,540/km2 (66,100/sq mi). In the 2013 Israeli legislative elections, 85% of the voters chose Haredi parties.
One of the landmarks of Bnei Brak is the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kahaneman St. It is owned by the Central Bottling Company (CBC), which has held the Israeli franchise for Coca-Cola products since 1968. It is among Coca-Cola's ten largest single-plant bottling facilities worldwide. According to Dun's 100, "CBC's dedication to excellence and innovative technologies in all areas of its operations has won it prizes from the US-based Coca-Cola Company, as well as recognition and accolades from various public institutions for its environmental-friendly operation and ongoing community service".
Two major factories which dominated the center of Bnei Brak for many years were the Dubek cigarette factory and the Osem food factory. As the town grew they found themselves in the middle of a residential area; both left the area. Osem's main factory is now located on Jabotinsky Road in Petah Tikva, just next to Bnei Brak.
A business district is being built in Bnei Brak as of 2011, which will include 15 office towers.
Culture & Lifestyle
Until the 1970s, the Bnei Brak municipality was headed by religious Zionist mayors. After Mayor Gottlieb of the National Religious Party was defeated, Haredi parties grew in status and influence; since then they have governed the city. As the Haredi population grew, the demand for public religious observance increased and more residents requested the closure of their neighborhoods to vehicular traffic on Shabbat. In a short period of time, most of Bnei Brak's secular and Religious Zionist residents migrated elsewhere, and the city has become almost homogeneously Haredi. The city has one secular neighborhood, Pardes Katz. Some names of streets with a Zionist connotation were renamed for prominent Haredi figures, for example, the part of Herzl St. south of Jabotinsky Street was changed to HaRav Shach St. Bnei Brak is one of the two poorest cities in Israel.
Bnei Brak is home to Israel's first women-only department store, only one example of gender segregation in what is viewed as an ultra-orthodox city. Bnei Brak was home to one of the original gender-segregated bus lines that Israel's courts ruled were illegal. Mehadrin bus lines (Hebrew: קו מהדרין) were a type of bus line in Israel that mostly ran in and/or between major Haredi population centers and in which gender segregation and other rigid religious rules observed by some ultra-Orthodox Jews were applied until 2011. In these sex-segregated buses, female passengers sat in the back of the bus and entered and exited the bus through the back door if possible, while the male passengers sat in the front part of the bus and entered and exited through the front door. Additionally, "modest dress" was often required for women, playing radio or secular music on the bus was avoided, and advertisements were censored.
The Bnei Brak municipality set up an alternative water supply, for use on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. This supply, which does not require intervention by Jews on days of rest, avoids the problems associated with Jews working on the day of rest at the national water company Mekorot. Most of the streets are closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Bnei Brak received national attention when it lost a battle to have female candidates' photos removed from advertisements for Likud's campaign. In the city's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, women are usually absent from advertisements and billboards because pictures of women are viewed as “sexually provocative.” The city's representatives claimed they had been ordered to remove signs picturing Likud contenders such as Miri Regev and Gila Gamliel in spite of the fact that the photos showed them in modest dress. The police were summoned and they informed city officials the signs could not be removed. City officials protested that they were only trying to protect the sensitivities of religious residents. On the other hand, Orly Erez-Likhovski, head of the legal department at the Israel Religious Action Center, said this was a victory for gender equality: “I am very happy that the officials from the Likud didn’t give up, fought the municipality, and the police who first arrived on the scene. It shows that the message is starting to penetrate on every level that the exclusion of women is illegal and unacceptable. It doesn't always translate to the people on the ground but we see that great progress is being made – even in Bnei Brak, even in the ultra-Orthodox sector. This is an important message.”