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Monday, January 28, 2013 

17 year old religious girl suspended for singing on music program


The young lady on this television program with the outstanding voice was suspended from her ulpana (that's what they call a religious girl's school as opposed to a yeshiva for boys), all because she dared appear on stage in public:
We like to encourage young people to develop their natural talents and follow their dreams. Just look how far the preternaturally talented 13-year-old diva Carly Rose Sonenclar got on the “The X Factor” with the support of her family and community (not to mention millions of American television viewers).

But that’s not necessarily how things work in some sectors of Israeli society. Ophir Ben-Shetreet, a 17-year-old with a voice as outstanding as Sonenclar’s (at least to my untrained ear) is a leading competitor on Israel’s version of “The Voice.” One would think that she would be rewarded for her confidence, effort and talent. Sadly, that is not the case.

Ben-Shetreet is essentially being punished for having an exceptionally beautiful voice and wanting to share it with the world. The 12th grader has been suspended (with the agreement of her parents) for two weeks from her religious girls’ high school in the seaside city of Ashdod. Her offense? Singing in public.

As we know from news coming out of Israel in the past few years, enforcing kol isha, the prohibition against a woman’s singing in public (particularly in front of men), seems to be a top priority of the religious establishment.
It's a very stupid thing they're doing, and noticing one of the reports they linked from Alison Kaplan Sommer from last year, I'm beginning to lose respect for Bnei Akiva if they're going to dictate how women will attend a public ceremony.

Ben-Shetreet has fortunately gotten some backing from people in her neighborhood, although a local rabbi who spoke about this isn't helping much:
Back at home at Nir Galim, a religious moshav near Ashdod, many in the community are reportedly fully behind Ben-Shetreet. On the other hand, Rabbi Zvi Arnon, the moshav’s rabbi, said he was understanding of Ben-Shetreet’s situation and praised her for being “a girl with strong morals,” but he reiterated the Halakhic prohibition against her singing. “There is not a single rabbi who will permit a woman to sing in front of men, especially on television. It is simply not permissible by Jewish law,” he said in an interview with Channel 7.

In terms of the punitive action taken by Ben-Shetreet’s school, the rabbi basically said the school, which deals with hundreds of girls and their families, had to do what it had to do.

But is that really the case? Could the school have handled the situation differently and avoided singling out Ben-Shetreet? At the very least, the Jewish educators running the school must know that the Talmud teaches, “One who shames his neighbor will have no place in the World to Come.” Rabbi Arnon himself hinted that the school’s approach wasn’t optimal. “In my opinion, we don’t have to wage a war on this issue, we just have to give our opinions as rabbis” he said. “We need to try to bring everyone closer [to the faith]. We don’t excommunicate and we don’t punish.”

As infuriating as it is for me to learn of yet another case of kol isha-based discrimination against women, I am buoyed by the fact that it doesn’t sound like Ben-Shetreet is going to cave to pressure from the religious authorities. She knows she’s talented. Even better, she’s determined, and has shown that she can think and choose for herself.
Good! As far as I know, it's only around a synagogue that even Maimonides thought women's singing doesn't apply, but in any case, it's the fault of the detractors if they can't handle it. Why all of a sudden are some figures in the religious public all so up in arms about something biblical scholars had no issue with outside of prayer services and such and trying to make a big fuss over something that's never killed a male who listened to it? Even Naftali Bennett has come out in her favor.

So I wish the girl a good career in song. As for the fools who suspended her over a molehill, they might want to take into consideration the very poor impression they're giving themselves. Singing in itself is not wrong for a woman to do.

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