Thursday, August 28, 2008

"I know! Let's Lock Up The Women!"--What were the Breslov Thinking???


Look, I really like the Breslover Hassidim. They have a really nice, joyful, clear-eyed attitude about Jewish worship, but sometimes even the best of us make a really serious error in judgement.

First, I have to say that some of this story just doesn't pass the "smell test." For example, Ynet saying that the new dress code for women was "Meah Shearim" standards. Hello! The dress code is hardly "
Meah Shearim standards" if it is, as Ynet reports, requiring long sleeves, a skirt, stockings and a head covering. That means, technically, I could go there dressed in a long-sleeved t-shirt, jean skirt with slits, pantyhose, and a baseball cap. Believe me, if I wore that in Meah Shearim I wouldn't be allowed in the synagogue. Pleeze.

If Ynet wants to report on this, they don't need to get into bashing the religious in whatever way they can. The story itself is very upsetting, without the added drama that Ynet tries to add on--especially if you have ever been to the synagogue in question.

Even on a winter's day, the women's section is hot, crowded (standing room only usually), with absolutely no ventilation. From the women's section you can hardly know what is going on on the Bimah anyway, let alone tell when the last prayer is coming on.

Imagine being stuck in a crowded elevator on a humid summer's day, and I think you might get an idea of what it must be like to be locked in that women's section for 15 minutes at the end of services so that the men can leave.

Yes, the street is congested, yes, everyone stands around there like so many sheep, and yes, people probably get pushed up against each other--but why is the answer to lock up the women? This is such a hillul Hashm! What are we, the Talliban??

How about respectfully suggesting that the men say an extra 20 minutes for study? Then, it becomes a Kiddush Hashm! Maybe all the men wouldn't stay, but it would limit the number who were leaving and relieve the congestion somewhat.

It would also give the women enough time to get home and get lunch on the table before their husband comes home while still staying until the last prayer is said. The way they are doing it now, the men stay to wait for their wives (out of respect), and the women have to walk out into a crowd of waiting men--which is probably more immodest than the original problem!

Women locked inside Breslov synagogue
New guidelines imposed by Safed's Breslov community determine women must leave Shabbat service before final prayer or they are locked inside gallery until men make their exit; women undecided as to whether rule is respectful or degrading,7340,L-3587545,00.html
Pnina Geffen
Published: 08.28.08, 07:22 / Israel Jewish Scene

Guests that have recently stayed in cabins in Safed owned by the city's Hasidic Breslov community were surprised to discover that a new list of guidelines was being imposed: Women had to dress according to Meah Shearim standards (meaning long sleeves, long skirt, stockings, and a head cover for married women).

But apparently this was not enough for the community to meet its own modesty requirements, and recently a new rule was implemented, requiring different exit times from the synagogue following Shabbat prayers.

According to the new rule, women must leave the synagogue before the 'Aleinu Leshabeach' prayer is recited, after which the women's gallery is locked for 15 minutes, during which the men make their exit. The women's gallery is then reopened to allow those who didn't make it out in time to leave.

The Breslov community's synagogue in Safed is a popular spot for Saturday services due to its old-world architecture and authentic Hasidic dances. It is owned by Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Koenig, whose father was a student of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's closest pupil.

The decision to separate between women and men exiting the synagogue stems from Safed's structure, known for its narrow alleyways and streets. The synagogue opens onto one such street, forcing the people coming out after services to crowd together, and forcing the men to restrict the women's exit.

"In the beginning we thought someone had locked the women's gallery from outside by mistake, but as time went on we realized we had been locked in purposefully, without being informed," said Noa, a guest who attended Shabbat services.

"It was horrible; dozens of women banging on the door trying to get out. In the men's gallery someone yelled to the manager 'the women have been locked in!' The men didn't know about it either, and many of them stood helplessly outside waiting for their wives."

Degrading or respectful?
Avital, resident of Safed and the wife of a yeshiva student, was also surprised. "We've been praying here for years, I'm pretty shocked. It's really degrading to lock up women like that," she said.

Maya, a member of the community, had a different opinion. "They're degraded that boys aren't crowding and pushing between them? This separation doesn't degrade me, just the opposite, it respects me. I can leave in peace a little before the end of prayers without all of the pushing outside," she explained.

Her husband Ofer agrees with her. "The Torah commands us to maintain holiness not just inside the home but also outside, in the public sphere," he claims. "It's true that it's not natural, but the Torah isn't natural, it wants to correct our nature and make us better people.

"Today urges have become natural, like you have to accept it unconditionally. I want to curb the urge rather than have it curb me. Today the situation is, urges are fine and the Torah is not." Regarding the lack of notification about the locking of the women's gallery Maya said a sign had been hung, "but perhaps they didn't see it."


  1. Locking up women is not the answer. It seems that we are always the ones who must pay for men's urges (real or supposed). Why do you suppose that is?


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