(photo credit: Chabad)
Responding to haredi pressure, Chabad blocked the participation of women in its Succot celebrations in Jerusalem's Shikun Chabad neighborhood Tuesday night.
Chabad's rabbinical leadership acquiesced to a call by heads of the most important hassidic sects - Ger, Belz, Sanz, Sadigora and Viznitz - to restrict the music and dancing to indoors, effectively preventing women from participating.
Last year Chabad ignored a call by the Lithuanian rabbinic leadership to tone down its festivities.
However, this year for the first time hassidic leaders joined the call.
Chabad, a hassidic sect that is known for its outreach work with assimilated or unaffiliated Jews all over the world, traditionally celebrates outdoor concerts and dancing that targets the wider Jewish population.
Chabad's last rabbinic leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - who passed away in 1994 - vigorously encouraged holding Succot festivities outdoors in the most visible locations possible.
Rabbi Menachem Brod, spokesman for Chabad in Israel, said that Schneerson, known as "the rebbe," directed his followers to "take the Torah from the study halls to streets" on Succot.
"We will continue to follow the rebbe's orders in all locations except Jerusalem, where the local public specifically requested that we respect their sensitivities," he said.
Chabad events at other venues during the holiday will take place outdoors. Both men and women, separated by partitions, will be allowed to participate.
Rabbi Mordechai Bloi, a senior member of the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, an organization based in Bnei Brak that enforces what it sees as normative haredi behavior, praised Chabad.
"The rebbe of Chabad told his hassidim to spread the joy in the streets, but he was not talking about haredi areas," said Bloi. "Let them do what they want in secular areas.
"The Talmud teaches that even in the time of Temple men and women were strictly separated and this was called 'the big tikkun.' I am happy that this year we will have this tikkun in Jerusalem."
Brod said that Chabad respected the call by the rabbis to maintain strict codes of modesty. However, he added that the increasingly stringent demands by haredi rabbis that have effectively brought about a total ban of outdoor concerts might be counterproductive.
"If haredim are not given a kosher option for musical entertainment they might end up turning to non-kosher options," he said. "As a result of the changes we made this year in Jerusalem, women who came to our annual event in the past will be forced to stay home.
"Only time will tell whether or not this is the best policy to adopt," he said.
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