Gur Hasidic sect followers were told the day before Simhat Torah that adults would no longer be allowed to dance with children on their shoulders, including their own children, to avoid awakening "the evil inclination."
Jews traditionally dance with Torah scrolls on Simhat Torah, and it is common practice for children to sit on their fathers’ shoulders during the dancing.
It was not immediately clear whether the instruction was a sign of increased conservatism, a recognition of the prospect of sexual abuse or, as Gur rabbis told ultra-Orthodox blogger Haim Shaulson, a safety issue.
The rabbis said the new instruction - which Shaulson said was described as the will of the Gur rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter - was issued due to the fear that children might fall and get injured during the sometimes raucous dancing.
But an unofficial source said the announcement signified a growing recognition that sexual abuse can happen in ultra-Orthodox communities. There have been several cases in recent years in which Haredi men have been accused of sexual abuse, a problem ultra-Orthodox leaders had long failed to address.
Even if the ban on dancing with children on the shoulders “sounds terrible from the outside,” the source said, “from within it is a sharp message to those who sexually abuse children, even if they are only a handful.”
If the directive is an attempt to tackle a previously taboo issue like sexual abuse, it can be seen as a sign of progress. Yet it is also in line with severe restrictions on virtually any aspect of life seen as relating to sexuality.
The Hasidim generally complied with the new order, but sources said some men in the community appeared surprised that dancing with their children on their shoulders could be construed as possibly leading to sexual arousal.