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Y-Love, Rinat Gutman and Kol Isha

The power of a Woman’s voice?

Rinat Gutman is a rapper. based in Jerusalem, she’s a tireless performer, extremely talented, very entertaining and committed to her craft. She’s also a practicing Orthodox Jewess. In a field full of men, like Matisyahu, Y-Love and almost everyone associated with Shemspeed, she stands out as lone female voice sanctifying Judaism through rap. But there’s a problem and the problem is called Kol Isha, literally “the sound of a woman’s voice.”

Kol Isha is a religious Jewish prohibition against hearing a woman’s voice singing. Based on King Solomon’s Song of Songs (2:14) where he writes “let me hear your voice because your voice is pleasant and appearance attractive,” a thus prohibition against a man hearing a woman’s voice in song was established. The idea was that men would find such a sound alluring and it would distract them and lead them to think impure thoughts. The parameters of this prohibition are complicated and Rabbis often disagree with each other. For instance some hold that a woman singing into a microphone is permissible, whereas others hold that even hearing a woman singing on the radio is impermissible.

There has been a massive discussion on Y-Love’s Facebook profile about this issue, generating over 70 comments – about an incident that occurred when he was last in Israel a few weeks ago and had occasion to perform with Rinat at a jam in Mayanot, a Chabad run educational center. Rinat got up to rap and a few minutes later was asked (politely) to get off the stage by the supervising Rabbi. My comment in that thread is after the bump. Discuss!

Sigh. The divisiveness. I’m not going to weigh in on the miracle of the Haskalah and all the awesome stuff it’s done for the Jews. Lets just get to brass tacks.

I read the following opinion whereby a strongly restrictive position on Kol Isha was advocated – the microphone heter was dismissed out of hand and even listening to a woman’s voice on the radio was prohibited. The Rabbi in question concluded

“In today’s promiscuous society where outrageous behavior is deemed acceptable, a woman’s singing voice appears innocuous. Moreover, the general culture views this prohibition offensive and demeaning to women. We are challenged to hold firm to our beliefs against the flow of the general cultural tide. This is one of the issues that we must part company with the rest of society, just as Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu parted with their two servants on the road to Akeidat Yitzchak. Rav Yehuda Amital told me that we should strictly observe the Kol Isha prohibition today precisely because of the deterioration of the moral standards of western society.”… See More

What this implies is that moral standards in Western society were higher in the past – a past that didn’t allow a woman to vote or to have her own bank account, a past whereby racism and antisemitism were institutionalized, a past where life was cheap and human rights were non existent. Do we really want to follow the societal standards that were prevalent in Poland in the 1700s? Are we incapable of incorporating societal norms that are not negative into Torah Judaism?

Even the most hard core Haredi lets his wife vote. Even the most hard core Haredi incorporates positive Western values into his or her daily life to one extent or another.

Kol Isha… “liberal” interpretations ought not be disparaged. I fully support Rinat’s rapping/singing – all the more so because I know her to be deeply soulful, modest, a practicing Orthodox Jewess and a great friend. I am also looking forward to her performance at the next Jewlicious Festival. I’ve heard her new stuff, including the aforementioned collaboration with Y-Love, and it’s both inspiring and just plain awesome.

If someone wants to be uh… machmir on this issue, I respect their right to hold that way. The most important thing is to not hate or quarrel. One love…

In any case, we fully plan, God willing, on having Rinat perform at the Jewlicious Festival. If you want to check it out, get your tickets today!

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3 Comments

  1. frumsatire

    12/9/2009 at 12:05 am

    Totally cool – thanks for this find

  2. DK

    12/9/2009 at 6:08 pm

    It’s sweet to see reasonable people within Orthodoxy. And you can take solace that though you will never change your community in a serious way, your cultural contributions will be celebrated disproportionate–almost inverted– to your tiny numbers.

    And I say that even though I am a “snotty string player.”

    Anyway, back to Radiohead and Beethoven. All that rapping…I don’t pretend to understand what draws you crazy kids to this stuff, but I do admire your passion and positive energy.

  3. Michael Makovi

    2/8/2010 at 10:52 am

    I see you quote Rabbi Howard Jachter’s article. It’s an excellent article, and a very useful one, to which I am indebted. But it’s rather amusing to see him discuss Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg at length, and then conclude that no posqim (decisors) have allowed hergel (habituation) to mitigate the prohibition of kol isha. Excuse me??!! Isn’t that exactly what Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg did?? Rabbi Jachter discusses Rabbi Weinberg, but by the end of the article, he seems to have entirely forgotten all about him.

    Rabbi Weinberg, like the rishonim, used hergel (habituation) as a principle to mitigate kol isha. This is something the other aharonim have failed to do. Rabbi Saul Berman makes exactly this argument, that the aharonim forgot what the prohibition of kol isha is. The rishonim would be lenient on kol isha based on societal norms, and Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg did this too, but the other aharonim, especially the Ashkenazi ones, refuse to do the same.

    You say, “Even the most hard core Haredi lets his wife vote.” In fact, women’s suffrage is something the majority of Ashkenazim protested against, saying it was feminist and illegitimate and violated the Torah. The Sephardim, however, disagreed, and held that women’s suffrage was perfectly alright, if not a mitzvah. See here. Why, then, do the Haredim let women vote? Perhaps they’ve forgotten that women’s suffrage is feminist. More likely, however, they are unwilling to let their religious principles and the halakhah interfere with their political activities in Israel. The hypocrisy is astounding, and Rabbi Avraham Shammah, in a wonderful article on kol isha, put the matter excellently:

    “… It seems to me, and this should be said as a generalization, that what is being considered is not really a matter of [women’s] modesty. Rather, halakha is being used as a religious marker. That is to say, in a situation where it is quite impossible to be stringent, such as distancing oneself from women very, very much, people aren’t careful. But it is very easy to be stringent in forbidding hearing a woman’s voice, while – in the best case – the added value of an internal sense of religiosity is great. In a less positive light, it is a minute effort for a huge return of being able to externally demonstrate one’s religiosity. This phenomenon, that generally is quite widespread, is worthy of penetrating criticism, and the words of the prophets are brimming with such [criticism].”

    But returning to my original point, that the aharonim – with the exceptions of the Sephardim and Rabbi Yehiel Weinberg – forgot what kol isha was according to the rishonim, and forgot the role of hergel (habituation) in defining the meaning of the laws of tzniut, see:

    Michael Makovi, A New Hearing for Kol Ishah, Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, 1 February 2010.

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