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Sunday, February 17, 2013 

It's time to speak out against silencing women's voices

A woman writing for The Jewish Week addresses the case of Ophir ben-Shetreet:
We in the Orthodox Women’s Leadership Project deplore the attempt to prevent her from utilizing her talents and pursuing her dreams because she’s female. Israel is not a totalitarian country, true, and she could choose to attend a different school. Our problem is not with the school’s actions, but with a system that insists that a young woman cannot share her passion for singing in a public forum.

Rabbi Zvi Arnon, of Ophir’s moshav, said, “There is not a single rabbi who will permit a woman to sing in front of men.” As an empirical statement, this is false. More importantly, poskim [religious decisors] throughout the generations have known that different individuals sometimes need different answers. Whatever the general ruling ought to be, perhaps when faced with a young woman with such talent and passion for song, the opinions that allow such singing (a popular view among some rabbinic sages), should be invoked. [...]

The pressing need of our community is to get our women’s voices heard from positions of leadership. When our rabbinic leadership discusses whether something is halachically legitimate, or communally desirable, women are by definition not participating. To effect change, we need to restructure our communal institutions and make systemic changes so that female leaders are represented across the board. Beyond debating whether a ritual practice may be open to women, our male leaders need to be partners in promoting our women as thought leaders.
I think she's got a point. Orthodox sects have to start reviewing their positions and ask not only whether their position on women's singing is really supported by the Torah, but whether they've stuck to an antiquated notion that women have no place in leadership, and if it's time to start modifying that to suit modern times. And those parents who were demanding ben-Shetreet be penalized have to start asking if they're interfering in someone else's personal affairs, and whether they're giving a good impression of how religious people think and act. In a time when more people actually are getting in touch with Judaism, it'd be strongly advised not to do things that can give the wrong impression of what it's like.

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