Ahead of the Jewish new year, when thousands of Jews will converge on the Ukrainian city of Uman, the final resting place of the Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, followers of the revered 18th-century luminary issued an “urgent” decree Wednesday banning women from the area surrounding his gravesite.
In a letter whose stated purpose is “to preserve the modesty and holiness of the holy congregation in Uman on Rosh Hashanah,” the Bratslav rabbis also called on visitors not to buy from shops or stay at hotels that employ women.
On the days of the Jewish New Year itself, September 20-22, the letter says that “no women will be found” in the area surrounding his gravesite, including female residents of the area.
Each year in the lead-up to Rosh Hashanah, Uman sees an influx of thousands of Jewish pilgrims from Israel, the United States and Europe.
They congregate there for the holiday to honor the 18th-century founder of the Bratslav sect. Nachman chose to be buried there because in 1749 and 1768, thousands of Jews were murdered there in pogroms.
He promised his followers that he would save anyone who visited his grave on Rosh Hashanah from punishment in the afterlife.
The pilgrimage has generated friction between the predominantly Israeli arrivals and locals, many of whom resent the police cordoning off neighborhoods for the pilgrims.
Some Bratslav visitors to Uman have garnered a bad reputation. In 2016, it was revealed that one hotel in the city refused to rent rooms to Jews.
An administrator at Uman City Plaza told Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, that the policy was in place because the last time that Jews were allowed to stay at the hotel, it required repairs.
Also that year, two Israelis were arrested by Ukrainian police in Uman after shooting a local man in the face with a BB gun, leading to a brawl between locals and visiting Israelis.
The letter represents a heightening of restrictions against women in the area surrounding the gravesite, whose entrance, as of 2016, featured a sign saying women were prohibited from loitering there “even for photographs!!!”
Ukrainian authorities are preparing for a record pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Jews to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
Authorities are expecting up to 40,000 pilgrims ahead of the Jewish New Year, the Ukrainian Government Press office told the ZN news website Tuesday.
In previous years, local authorities estimated that the annual pilgrimage brought 25,000 to 30,000 visitors to Uman. Rescue forces are carrying out exercises at the main congregation points of the visitors to be able to respond effectively to any emergency, the Unian news agency reported.
Authorities in Ukraine have improved access to Uman in recent years, with plans underway for reopening a disused military airport near the city for direct flights. Uman is located in central Ukraine, 150 miles south of Kiev and 200 miles south of Odessa.
Amid an increase in the popularity of the pilgrimage, Uman has seen several far-right rallies against the presence of Jews there. Street brawls between visitors and locals are not uncommon.
Local media report of provocative and disorderly conduct by some pilgrims, who are predominantly foreign.
Last year, a synagogue that is part of the gravesite complex was sprayed with red paint and desecrated with a pig’s head with a swastika carved into its forehead.