This house, in Rabbi Akiva Street, stands in the ultra-orthodox town of Bnei Brak, north-east of Tel Aviv. Rabbi Mendel Tobias lives with his wife in its four rooms. He came here with his family in 1963 after his father, the renowned rabbi Shmuel Tobias, had been tortured in Romania by the secret police of the Securitate. His living room, like most of those in Bnei Brak, contains countless religious texts.
17,000 men come to pray every day at the nearby Izkovitz synagogue. Hundreds of Talmudic schools, including the renowned Ponevezh Yeshiva, are crowded together, just a few paces from each other. Like almost every house here, this one has four storeys, so on the Sabbath, when it’s forbidden use the lift, mothers have to carry their children around in the homes.
The average number of children per family is seven, and double this number is not unusual. On the streets you see women in wigs and black-clad men pushing convoys of prams. For the town’s 180,000 inhabitants, space is in short supply. More and more apartment buildings are being split into smaller units. There are houses with 48 families living in them rather than 12. Rabbi Mendel Tobias and the other residents of Bnei Brak have a relaxed view on all this. Their eyes are on higher matters.