Safed's narrow streets a threat
Photo: 'Science News,' Channel 8
Breslov services attract many
Photo: Breslov Portal Israel
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.
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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."