This week my colleague Rabbi Saar Shaked wrote his thoughts about the issue of banning women singing and I wanted to share it with you:
“We should all hope that this week’s Yom HaShoah ceremony is the last one where women are banned from singing. The continuation of this situation is an embarrassment for South African Jews.
The Board of Deputies has rejected all attempts to compromise outside of court – including the offer that a woman will sing only the anthems at the end or that an independent mediation will take place. Maybe for the first time in this country, Jews are going to have to ask the state to decide in an internal dispute. This could have been avoided if the voice of the majority of South African Jews, who are not comfortable with this kind of discrimination, was heard.
It is no secret that an ultra-Orthodox minority have managed to seize power in Jewish communities around the globe. What ten years ago was the demand of a few extremists has made its way into the mainstream. And there are other issues, too, around female dress codes: the latest case in the news is a water park where girls were asked to use the slides with their clothes on rather than with swim suits. Or the IDF memorial day in the city of Sderot where women are now, suddenly, not allowed to sing.
We still hear regularly about discrimination against women in public transport and on El Al flights. Unfortunately for EL AL, they were sued this February by Renee Rabinowitz, an 81 years old Holocaust survivor, who was asked to move seats on a Tel Aviv flight because an ultra-Orthodox man refused to sit beside her. Sadly, it is undeniable that public space in Israel has become more and more constrained for women.
We might have hoped that these methods would not infiltrate South Africa. It is sad that the rabbinic leadership is playing a divisive role rather than inclusive and uniting one. It doesn’t have to be like that. Many South African Jews remember the times of late chief Rabbi Cyril Harris who would never allow such a deterioration.
However, this struggle to allow women’s voices to be heard will not be determined in court nor by any chief rabbi. It will be sorted out finally when the silent majority have had enough of this mockery in the name of Judaism. The right “not to be offended by women’s voices” must not be allowed to overcome the right of those voices to be heard.”
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Julia Margolis
South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) – A Statement on Yom HaShoah and Kol Ishah
As we prepare to remember the tragedy of the Shoah on Thursday, the SAAPR renews its request to the Board of Deputies to remove their ban on the voices of women singing at the ceremony. Silencing women does not increase the inclusivity of this ceremony, it makes what should be a tribute to those who died in the Holocaust an instrument of repression. Recognising that there are those in the community who hold that “the Voice of a Woman is Nakedness” we believe that there are numerous ways to accommodate those who should attend without their religious practice being compromised, and we call upon the Board to use the options available to them to ensure that all can participate.