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.
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.