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I hereby launch the Woman’s Voice movement

Those of you who haven’t been following closely may not be aware but in recent months there have been a number of public incidents in Israel where women have been asked to stop or avoid performing songs in public. There have been incidents where women have been removed from advertising campaigns and even advertisements. There have been incidents at IDF events where men have left performances where women appeared.

Why?

Well, I don’t really know why. It’s some warped version of a Jewish custom prohibiting women from participating on par with men in Jewish life. If you look at medieval synagogues, you can see that women sat in the back or upstairs, hidden from the men. If you consider historic Jewish traditions generally, you find that women may not become rabbis, are not supposed to spend their days studying Torah or Talmud, must wear garb that covers their bodies from head to toe (and in some denominations the head part means a wig) and are considered women of valor when their primary efforts are directed at maintaining households.

Now these customs are about the differences between men and women. However, the custom of avoiding kol isha (the voice of a woman) appears to stem from a deep concern that men will focus on the woman’s sexuality instead of whatever it is they should be thinking of at that moment. It used to be that this concern was predominantly the province of ultra-Orthodox men who avoided kol isha in prayers and holy places. In fact, about 5 years ago I wrote a post about how the ultra-Orthodox were attempting to control the very entrance to the Western Wall plaza by separating men and women. You can see it in all its prescient glory right here. Yup, I called it “Is That a Torah in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me.” Really, do read it, it’s a good post and conversation.

In that conversation, one of the key arguments made is that this is a problem that only applies to other Jews. In other words, all the good Modern Orthodox Jews were trying to convince little ol’ secular me that it is the ultra-Orthodox who are meshugana, not the cool, hip and with-it modern Orthodox.

Well, times have changed. These days, it’s the kippot srugot (knitted yarmulkahs – a signature of the modern Orthodox in Israel) crowd who are doing the ostracizing along with the ultra=Orthodox who are well past that and have taken to putting their women and all women on the back of their buses while they sit at the front. I guess these days modern Orthodox men, too, are concerned that should they hear a woman’s voice, impure thoughts might drown their fragile little minds that are so busily focused on important matters such as which car they’d like to own, which video game they’d like to play, which meat they should have with their hummous and which color socks best match their pants.

I could go on and predict how in five years modern Orthodox men will be putting their women at the back of the bus too, but I don’t really want to. I would like to propose a simple solution:

WOMEN EVERYWHERE IN ISRAEL, PLEASE HUM AND SING WHENEVER and WHEREVER YOU ARE OUT IN PUBLIC.

I mean, all the time. Unless, of course, there are no men around in which case there’s no point since there’s nobody around who might get an accidental erection.

That’s right, you only want to sing around people who might get an erection. I am willing to bet that they won’t. Don’t be insulted by this, I don’t mean to suggest that you’re not attractive and sensual, I’m sure you are. However, I believe that most men don’t think of sex when they hear a woman sing and one way to prove this is to sing around them and then sing some more and if you’re tired of singing then purse those luscious red lips of yours and HUM!

Do not rest silent until the ones who can’t control themselves leave the bus, auditorium, line, cinema, restaurant, supermarket or office!

Let them leave. Who needs them?

Sing away O Women of Israel, sing away! Fill the country with song and beauty and do away with the ugliness that is trying to trample you underfoot. I look forward to hearing your lovely voices.

11 Comments

  1. Nathan

    11/14/2011 at 9:42 am

    While I personally am not at a level where I care about listening to a woman’s voice, I think you need to respect that point of view.

    It obviously has it sources in the Talmud, and if you believe that the Talmud is the truth, it would make sense.

    Now whether you believe or not, you ought to respect the views of those who do.

  2. David Schraub

    11/14/2011 at 9:49 am

    I fail to see why this is such a big issue. If the problem is that Orthodox Jewish men can’t hear or see women without being plagued by impure thoughts, then the solution is that Orthodox Jewish men shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.

    Boom, problem solved.

  3. themiddle

    11/14/2011 at 1:23 pm

    Oh Nathan, of course, I take it all back! If the Talmud says that we’re not allowed to hear women sing, hum or appear in advertisements, why would I even think to challenge this idea?

    I mean, there were plenty of women rabbis who participated in all those discussions compiled in the Talmud, right?

    There are these humans called women, Nathan, and if you believe that women are simply sexual objects then it makes sense to shut down their voices and images within your society.

    However, there are those of us who don’t view women merely as sexual beings and you ought to respect our views.

  4. Rabbi Yonah

    11/14/2011 at 1:34 pm

    I often note on this issue that the prohibition is on men listening to women sing and NOT on women’s ability to sing or not.

    It is often misconstrued by both proponents and detractors.

    Women being barred from singing or expressing themselves musically is totally unacceptable Jewishly and in a democratic and equitable society.

  5. themiddle

    11/14/2011 at 4:02 pm

    Rabbi, you’re talking about generalities and I’m talking about what’s happening on the ground in Israel. As I recall, there is also no prohibition whatsoever on sharing bus seats or at least on sitting in the same general area on a bus, and yet…

  6. rabbi yonah

    11/15/2011 at 12:04 am

    TM – I endorse your piece entirely! (strange huh?)

    I can also comment that bus seats and streets and any other separation of the sexes in a public setting are ridiculous and not based on improving our connection with Gd but on much deeper problems than I can get into tonight.

  7. Roee Salem

    11/15/2011 at 2:08 am

    AMEN SISTA
    Absolutely love this piece. I was thinking about this the other day. If a man has a problem hearing a woman’s voice, then the man should remove himself from the situation. I dont understand why the burden is put on the women. A man should deal with his MIDOT. Its that simple. If the man is so sexually aroused around a singing woman, which I dont believe is the case (especially nowadays) he should deal with his own PERSONAL issue and not force the woman to stop singing. IF YOU CANT HANDLE THE HEAT THEN GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN.

    PREACH ON HOLY SISTA IM SO WITH YOU ON THIS ONE.

  8. themiddle

    11/15/2011 at 2:36 am

    Well Roee, spread the word!

  9. Ornella

    11/15/2011 at 6:47 am

    couldnt have said it better!

  10. rpvee

    6/4/2012 at 4:54 pm

    AMEN TO THIS. This rule is so ridiculous.

    I was listening to my area’s local weekly Jewish music program, and there was this really cool Middle Eastern sounding song with a woman singing. I looked it up on Youtube, and it turned out the singer was Orthodox; only the instrumental version was available. The vocal one was for women only, with a password. So. Idiotic.

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