Bnei Brak (or Bene Beraq) (Bəne Bəraq) is a city located on Israel's central Mediterranean coastal plain, just east of Tel Aviv, in the Dan metropolitan region and Tel Aviv District. It is the only large city in Israel whose population comprises predominantly Haredi Jews.
Bnei Brak's jurisdiction is 7,088 dunams and according to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), as of September 2006, the city's population stood at 147,100, growing at an annual rate of 2.0%. Its small physical size and large number of inhabitants make it Israel's most densely-populated city. Bnei Brak is also the poorest city per capita in the Tel Aviv District.
Bnei Brak was founded as an agricultural settlement in 1924 by Rabbi Yitzchok Gerstenkorn and a group of Polish chasidim. Due to a lack of land many of its founders turned to other occupations, and the village began to develop an urban character. Its first rabbi was Rabbi Arye Mordechai Rabinowicz, a descendant of the Yaakov Yitzchok Rabinowicz, known as Yid Hakodosh, and formerly the rabbi of Kurów in Poland. He was succeeded as rabbi of Bnei Brak 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:
Bnei Brak gained official recognition as a city in 1950.
The famous 20th century rabbi, Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (known as the Chazon Ish) settled in the village (at the time), and many owe the town's rapid increase in numbers due to his presence. Many see the efforts of Rabbi Yaakov Landau, who served as the chief rabbi of Bnei Brak between 1936 and 1986, as instrumental in the fact that Bnei Brak developed into an important religious city. Other famous rabbis who have lived there include Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky ("the Steipler"), Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (Ponevezher Rov) and Rabbi Elazar Menachem Mann Shach. Currently famous rabbis who reside in Bnei Brak are Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, Rabbi Shmuel Vozner, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz.
Bnei Brak is also a major hasidic center. Already in the early 1950s, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Meir Hager, founded a large neighborhood in Bnei Brak, which continues to serve as the center for the chasidus under his son, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager (the present Vizhnitzer Rebbe). Beginning in the 1960s, the rebbes of the 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, its present rebbe (since 1996) is a Bnei Brak resident. Numerous other rebbes live in the city, among them the rebbes of Alexander, Biala-Bnei-Brak, Koydanov, Machnovke, Nadvorne, Premishlan, Radzin, Shomer Emunim. Slonim-Schwarze, Strykov, Tchernobil, Trisk-Bnei-Brak, Zutshke — to name only some of them.
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 neighbourhoods to vehicular traffic on the Shabbat. When they demanded the closure of a main street (HaShomer St. now Kahaneman St.), the non-religious residents protested but the town's religious inhabitants won the battle. Since then, their influence in the city was has been in the ascendant.
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 neighbourhood, Pardes Kats. Names of streets that had had a Zionist connotation were changed and named after prominent Haredi figures, the most recent and final change being the renaming of Herzl St. to HaRav Shach St. The Israeli flag is barely seen in Bnei Brak, since the State of Israel is seen as a secular entity; however, it is certain to be seen flying atop the Ponevezh yeshiva, as the practice was originally instituted by Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. Bnei Brak is one of the two poorest cities in Israel.
The current chief rabbi of Bnei Brak, Moshe Landa is a respected authority on Jewish law and kashrut supervision. Rabbi Moshe Landa took office after the death of his father, Chief Rabbi Yaakov Landa in 1986.
Bnei Brak is home to Israel's first women-only department store.
Bnei Brak is noted for its abundance of self-help and volunteer organizations. Several organizations help the ill, special needs population, and the poor. There are also available abudant articles to be borrowed free of charge, from extra baby beds, electric drills, paint rollers, to bridal dresses.
At the instigation of the Chazon Ish, the Bnei Brak municipality set up an alternative water supply, for use on Shabbat and Yom tov. 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.
The city has a population of about 147,100 residents (as of September 2006), the majority of whom are Haredi Jews. It also has the largest population density of any city in Israel, with . In the 2006 Israeli legislative elections, 89% of the voters chose Haredi parties, and another 7% voted for other religious parties. While the city does not have an official 'religious' status, the migration and development of the population has led to two distinct sections: The northern part of the city as well as the extremities have a significant non-religious minority population while the core of the city is almost entirely religious. While this religious population used to be mainly Religious Zionist, it is now primarily Haredi.
A large part of this religious part of the city is completely closed off to vehicular traffic during the Shabbat (from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday). Virtually all stores in the city are under some form of rabbinical supervision, many having multiple supervisory organizations, and not a single store is open during the Shabbat.
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 centre 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 are now closed.