Don’t expect to see a bearded lady at the April 8 performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York. But there should be plenty of other beards in the stands.
In an effort to accommodate the religious sensibilities of many ultra-Orthodox circus fans, on the third day of Passover the “Greatest Show on Earth” will feature only male performers. The show, organized with the help of the charitable organization Chol Hamoed Events, will also feature performances by several stars of the Orthodox music scene and include other concessions to the audience at Madison Square Garden.
Chol Hamoed Events is run by Refael Wallerstein, who said he created the organization to raise funds for the boys’ yeshiva Ohr Yitzchak. He added that Chol Hamoed has run Orthodox-geared events at amusement parks and other such locations, and has similar plans for the future.
Wallerstein said that in coordinating the event, he worked with several rabbis to make the content appropriate for an ultra-Orthodox audience. Everything, he said, is done “Al pi Halacha” — according to rabbinic law. For example, Wallerstein said, “The high-wire man is not allowed to cross himself,” because doing so would “expose the children to avoda zara,” or idol worship.
This is the first time that Chol Hamoed Events has worked with Ringling Bros., though some circuses have in the past put on special performances that included female performers in long skirts as a concession to Orthodox audiences.
Wallerstein emphasized that the circus performance should not be mistaken for a “religious event” and refused to identify the rabbis who had assisted him in organizing it. But, he said, the unnamed rabbis were adamant that religious services not take place during the circus because the purpose of the event “is only to have fun.”