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On Saturday evening the traditional Succot celebrations organized by Chabad in a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem attracted significantly lower numbers than previous years and took place indoors due to pressure by haredi activists.
The Council for the Purity of the Camp and The Guardian of the Holy and the Educational, two haredi organizations that enforce religious norms, pressed Chabad to refrain from holding celebrations in the streets of Jerusalem, as is usually done. They insisted that festivities be held instead inside a hall where separation between men and women could be carefully monitored and maintained.
Last year, haredi activists broke glass jars full of rotten fish in the middle of Chabad's celebrations, said Rabbi Ephraim Luft of The Guardian of the Holy and the Educational.
"This year Chabad realized that they could not go against all the rabbis," he said, adding that outdoor events often deteriorated into "rock concerts with a very negative environment unfit for religious people."
In previous years Chabad's celebrations have attracted hundreds, but this year only a few dozen attended, according to haredi Internet sites.
Chabad spokesman Rabbi Menachem Brod said that the low turnout was planned in advance and had nothing to do with external pressure.
"The Rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] specifically called on us to hold Succot festivities outside where we had the potential of influencing people and fostering joy," said Brod.
"We will continue to do that. Each group has its own rabbinic leadership. I respect other haredi groups. But I expect them to respect our position as well."
Rabbi Mordechai Bloi, a member of The Guardians of the Holy and the Educational, said that while Chabad might have a mandate to operate in secular neighborhoods, their style of celebration was not appreciated in more religious neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, outside of the capital, haredi activists urged Rabbi Shalom Berger, head of the Mishkoltz Hassidic movement, to refrain from staging outdoor celebrations in Petah Tikva.
Luft said his organization had managed to prevent the advertising of the event in the haredi media - both radio and newspapers - and that haredi pressure had caused a low turnout at the Mishkoltz event.
According to Bloi and Luft, an ad for the Mishkoltz event that appeared in the haredi daily Hamevaser last Thursday was pulled. Instead, a notice signed by prominent haredi rabbis appeared on the front page of the paper, calling on the public to boycott outdoor events.
However, Rabbi Eliezer Berger, a spokesman for Mishkoltz, said he knew nothing of haredi opposition besides a few "fringe elements."
"The Rebbe of Mishkoltz's goal is to bring together diverse groups within the Jewish people", said Berger.
"Our event takes place in Petah Tikva, not in Jerusalem and not in Bnei Brak. Last night there were about 17,000 people who attended, according to police estimates.
"We reach out to all walks of society, secular and religious alike."
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