A hallmark of the end of the High Holy Day season was missing yesterday from ultra-Orthodox streets: the public celebrations, known as the Second Hakafot, which have become a tradition after the end of Simhat Torah. Outdoor celebrations, such as the one in Jerusalem's Shabbat Square, which had been not only a religious celebration but a demonstration of political power, have become a thing of the past.
The national religious community held its celebrations outdoors as usual, although many were careful to separate men and women.
Ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi rabbinic leaders, among them rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Aharon Leib Steinman and Shmuel Halevi Wozner, have prohibited street events, particularly those featuring music, demanding that merrymaking be confined to closed halls or synagogues where men and women are completely separated.
To enforce gender separation, monitors in Jerusalem's Mea She'arim quarter diverted women to side streets toward separate entrances to the synagogues and halls. On the main streets, men and women were told to walk on separate sidewalks.
The rabbis' concern seems to stem from the presence of young men and women who have dropped out from ultra-Orthodox schools, and according to one street poster, or pashkavil, bring "singers or various cantors, thus causing gatherings of boys and girls who have deviated from the path."
The Chabad Movement opposed the rabbi's dictums, and last week held the mid-Sukkot Festival of the Drawing of the Water outdoors, angering pashkavilim and drawing public protests in response.
Former Agudat Israel MK Menachem Porush, who has for years organized the Second Hakafot in Sabbath Square, had to make a decision.
Sources speaking for Porush initially said the only person authorized to cancel the event was the Brisker rabbi, Yitzak Ze'ev Halevi Soloveichik, who had personally ordered Porush to hold the celebrations in public. However, the Rabbi from Brisk died in 1959.
Porush eventually gave in to pressure and decided a few days ago to cancel the public celebrations, earning high praise in the pashkavilim.
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