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Sunday, November 10, 2019 

Even if the attacks on this Haredi rabbi weren't altruistic, that doesn't mean his opposition to women singing is justified

There was a story this past week or so about a Haredi rabbi named Avraham Elimelech Firer, who caused a controversy after a concert he'd arranged for charity funding with singer Shlomo Artzi excluded female singers from the contributors on stage. Granted, there was no gender segregated audience seating, and this was a non-profit outfit the rabbi's running, but honestly, this was still decidedly troubling:
Rabbi Avraham Elimelech Firer, chairman and founder of Ezra LeMarpeh, a 50-year non-profit that provides medical assistance to the needy, may lose his charity after a crucial fundraiser has been cancelled because only male singers had been invited to participate.

The fundraiser was a private event without any government support, and yet it became the target of radical Israeli feminists who complained about the absence of women singers, upon the request of the Haredi chairman. The fierce attacks on the event led several key male performers to withdraw, which eventually killed the event.
Look, I think it's a shame if the concert isn't taking place, but all the same, is this something anybody who recognizes why it's ill-advised to view women solely as sexual, or as though sex is an inherently bad thing, should be condoning? Point: if reports were accurate, and the guy wouldn't arrange for female singers to participate because he adheres to a distortion of Judaist beliefs that a man shouldn't listen to a woman sing, I honestly believe that's distasteful and does a terrible disfavor to Judaism as a whole. According to this Jerusalem Post article:
Firer, who is from the ultra-Orthodox community, had requested that no women perform at the event since Jewish law largely prohibits men from listening to women sing, especially at live performances.
Leave it to a paper like this to distort Judaism without even citing whatever Torah verses allegedly back up this viewpoint. It is ultra-Orthodox "law" which stipulates this, not Judaism in general.
Following the revelation that the organizers had asked that women not sing, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra announced it would not perform at the concert, as did Avi Singolda, Artzi’s lead accompanying guitarist, and the woman slated to host the event, Orly Vilnai.

The organizers and Artzi himself came under heavy criticism for excluding female artists from the concert, while those supporting Firer denounced what they described as “liberal terrorism” against the rabbi, noting that the charitable work he has undertaken with his organization benefits all of Israeli society.

Firer wrote a letter to the director of Ezra LeMarpe on Monday canceling the event, Channel 12 News reported, saying that “I draw my strength from Jewish law, I am proud of my lifestyle and cling to my life mission: saving lives, and loving others and those who are different.”

The Israel Women’s Network said in response to the decision that it “thanks Rabbi Firer for his work over the years” and “welcomes that he chose not to hold the event in its format without female singers.”
Let's be clear. It's wonderful if he runs a medical charity operation to help patients. But is that a defense for a religious belief system that makes female sexuality out to look bad? I'd say no. As a right-winger, I also believe this is not something anybody sane should condone, and maybe the most disappointing part of this is that Firer wouldn't modify the lineup so that a band or two who do employ a female singer in their group could participate as well. Indeed, why didn't he? It could've helped bolster his image and then the concert could continue. Should religious beliefs take precedence over medical importance? Nope.

If a Haredi rabbi wanted to exclude black/Asian singers from the lineup, most would rightly recognize that as offensive. So why shouldn't we also consider excluding ladies the same? If racism is unacceptable even under the auspices of religion, then the same must apply to sexism. And it goes without saying that charity and non-profit managers aren't saints, nor are they correct about everything.

I can say that the Israel Women's Network made a mistake by not saying it's disappointing Firer wouldn't abandon the petty issue he goes by, and just cancelled the concert outright. That's where you can see they may not have been altruistic, and they have some explaining to do.

Ruthie Blum said:
The carry-on began when it emerged that certain female singers would be on the program, along with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and other prominent performers. But the rabbi is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jew who adheres to the modesty directive that men may not hear women singing, as their voices can be seductive.

This tenet of kol b’isha erva (“a woman’s voice is nakedness”) has been the subject of much controversy among Israelis who consider it a sexist affront. Two recent gender-segregated music festivals that were held in public spaces catapulted this issue back into the headlines. A nationwide argument erupted over the limits of religious freedom and practice in the public sphere, particularly when involving state-funded or municipal venues. One slogan that was slung around during the battle against those events was: “We’re not Saudi Arabia."

It is thus that when the organizers of the gala honoring Artzi discovered and revealed that no female vocalists would be able to perform, incensed women artists made a stink, and their male counterparts began to announce that they couldn’t possibly appear on stage under such circumstances. You know, out of “solidarity” and in “principle."

Which actually meant that they feared being accused of chauvinism.

Thankfully, a handful of stars, including women, came out on Firer’s side. They argued that fulfilling the rabbi’s wish would be a negligible price to pay for the millions of people, including women, whom he has served and whose lives he has saved.

The iconic Artzi, dubbed by some as “Israel’s Bruce Springsteen,” was not one of them. Instead, he said that he would “do everything he could” to persuade the rabbi to suspend kol isha just this once. It was both silly and an expression of utter ignorance. Indeed, he might as well have suggested that Firer dine on pork during the concert in order to smooth ruffled feathers.
I think Blum's talented, but I'm going to have to dissent here. Yes, I do think Firer's medical charity career is admirable, but does that literally absolve him of an incredibly poor example as far as women are concerned? If it's not acceptable if and when it occurs under Islam, why should it suddenly become acceptable under Judaism? Furthermore, it could easily be argued that this is precisely what turncoats like Avigdor Lieberman have been exploiting, because Haredis are advocating positions that can be potentially damaging to women, and make for a very bad influence on people's psyches. This is not something the right-wing itself should just sit by and ignore as merely a minor issue. Indeed, it should be recognized as a serious embarrassment, especially when you consider many Haredis are hardly right-wing or capitalists themselves.

From what I know, Firer's gotten a million shekels in more donations for his charity funding since, so he may not be in that much of a troubling financial situation. Even so, it's decidedly regrettable he sticks by an unhelpful ideology, and non-profit or not, right-wingers shouldn't be quiet about these kind of elements, or act like it's even remotely acceptable. All that kind of mentality does is give religion a bad name, and if we're to combat far worse beliefs like Islam, then we can't allow this kind of thinking to go unchallenged.

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