Jerusalem Syndrome

Each year millions of tourists descend on Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of the prophets, and a handful come away from the journey thinking they are the prophets. This medically recognised ailment, called Jerusalem Syndrome, occurs when visitors become overwhelmed by the metaphysical significance of the Holy City.

The ailment was first documented in the 1930s by Jerusalem psychiatrist Dr Heinz Herman. Sufferers of all faiths have been documented, with cases spiking around Passover and Christmas. Their symptoms tend to begin with anxiety and disorientation, culminating with delusions of divine purpose. Over recent years, visitors have believed they were the biblical Samson, a pregnant Virgin Mary and too many horsemen of the Apocalypse to count.

Most sufferers are harmless, occupying themselves with impromptu sermons and erratic behaviour. But in 1969, in the most serious case so far, a mentally ill Australian Christian set fire to Al Aqsa Mosque, believing he was on a mission from God to clear Temple Mount/Al Haram Ash Sharif of non-Christian buildings to prepare for the Messiah’s Second Coming.

Doctors estimate that Jerusalem Syndrome affects more than 50 people each year. Many have mental health conditions but some – referred to as 'type III' – have no recorded history of mental illness.

Most of the afflicted are taken to the state psychiatric ward, Kfar Shaul, on the outskirts of West Jerusalem. Patients are monitored and usually sent straight home, provided they are no risk to themselves or others.

The time-trapped quality of Jerusalem's Old City is thought to act as a trigger, imparting a sense of profundity in visitors passing through. Neuroscientists explain the phenomenon as an overstimulated limbic system, where the emotional centre of the brain goes into overdrive. The syndrome usually subsides as quickly as it arose, usually with the patient's departure from Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox Attire

Wearing 'modest' (non-revealing) clothing is a central tenet in the lives of the Haredi community, commonly referred to as 'ultra-Orthodox' Jews (though some prefer the term 'traditional Orthodox'). Women wear long skirts or dresses (never trousers) and shirts or blouses with long sleeves. Men commonly wear black suits and white shirts with no tie. Married Haredi women cover their heads, usually with a wig, snood or scarf. All Haredi men wear some type of head covering, such as the following:

Kippa (yarmulke in Yiddish, skullcap in English) Worn by all Jewish men in synagogues and at holy sites, and by most observant Jewish men all of the time, the kippa is a reminder that God is constantly above the wearer. Knitted or crocheted kippot are worn by modern Orthodox or religious Zionist men; Haredi men tend to wear black velvet or cloth kippot, often under a hat, though some groups, such as the Braslavers, prefer white. In recent decades, women members of the Reform and Conservative movements have begun wearing kippot.

Shtreimel Said to be of Tartar origin, these large round fur hats are worn by married Hassidic and ‘Yerushalmi’ Jews (those belonging to the old-line Ashkenazi community of the city) on Shabbat and other holidays. Traditional fox- or marten-fur shtreimels can cost thousands of dollars, which is why their owners sometimes cover them in huge plastic shower caps when it rains.

Spodik Another fur hat worn by some Haredim on Shabbat or holidays, and also of Eastern European origin, but taller and thinner than the shtreimel.

Fedoras Haredi men and boys wear black hats during the weekdays. These usually take the form of a wide-brimmed fedora made using rabbit fur, or a round, wide-brimmed hat.

Other regularly worn religious clothing includes the tallit katan, a four-cornered undershirt with knotted tassels called tzitziot (usually the only part you can see). The knots are tied according to a formula spelled out in the Talmud and some are coloured with a special blue dye called t'chelet (Numbers 15:38).

The side curls that many Hasidic and traditional Yemenite men and boys wear are called payot (peyes in Yiddish). These reflect an interpretation of the biblical injunction against shaving the 'corners' (payot) of one's head (Leviticus 19:27), interpreted by the Mishnah as incumbent only on men.