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Cape Board's says no to ‘women singing’ proposal

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The Cape Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies issued a terse letter at the end of last week regarding the case against them by claimants who want the ban to be lifted preventing women from singing at Jewish communal events, particularly at this week’s Yom Hashoah memorial service at Pinelands Cemetery in Cape Town.
by ANT KATZ | May 04, 2016

In their statement, the Cape Council stated: “Contrary to media reports, no acceptable compromise from the applicants has ever been suggested notwithstanding false reports linking Judge Albie Sachs to mediation.”

Two Capetonians, Gilad Stern and Sarah Goldstein - later joined by SACRED, an organisation affiliated to the SA Union of Progressive Judaism in the person of Progressive Rabbi Julia Margolis, lodged the complaint in the Equality Court.

SAUPJ itself said in a statement it was not joining the court action, although its national chairman Alvin Kushner acknowledged that the SAUPJ does “share the frustration felt by women who are prohibited from singing” at communal events.

Cape Board Chairman Eric Marx did, however, confirm that the Cape SAJBD had proposed that a colloquium be held within two months for all interested parties "to meet and try to find a workable solution”. However, he says, no changes have been considered for this week’s event.

Papers were originally lodged on April 1 in the Equality Court by Advocate Anton Katz SC on behalf of the two Orthodox Cape residents.

Marx said last week Thursday that the Board is “a body, elected by the Jewish community to protect the religious and civil rights of the community”. While the SAJBD “recognises the heterogeneous nature of our communities and works hard to balance the needs and requirements of our differing constituencies, our challenge is to be as inclusive as possible,” Marx added.

Kol IshaAn element of Orthodox Jewish law, or halacha, said Marx, “is that of the prohibition of men hearing a woman singing as a solo voice (Kol Isha). The SA Orthodox Rabbinic leadership and many members of their communities are unified in their adherence to this law and would effectively be excluded from attending the ceremony, were it to be contravened.”

With regard to the offer from the claimants that the women could sing at the end of the service (allowing those who object to it to leave), Marx said that “to require those affected to leave the ceremony is exclusionary, disruptive and impolite”.

He said that “it has long been the accepted practice of the SAJBD to run the memorial service so as to ensure that all members of the community feel comfortable to attend”. Women do play a prominent role in the ceremony, Marx maintained.



'Damage to community on national TV' 

Marx said that the applicants “have unfortunately exacted maximum exposure and damage to our community in the media and this has regrettably been the case culminating in an extremely insulting and derogatory outburst against Orthodox rabbis on national TV on April 21”.

This action, he said, “will have the certain result of causing an implosion of what is a unifying ceremony”. It would also “exacerbate the divisiveness and disunity already created by the applicants’ ill-considered court action”.

In a clear hint of an impending court case, Marx said that the Cape Board is committed “to ensuring participation of all in Yom Hashoah and will continue to vigorously defend this and any other action which seeks in any way to undermine any Jewish individual’s right to freely practise his or her chosen form of Judaism. Not to do so would undermine the very reason for the SAJBD’s existence.” 

But he concluded with a reconciliatory offer: “We are willing to engage at any time to find a solution.”

In response, the South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) said this week that it renews its request to the Board of Deputies to remove its ban on the voices of women singing at the ceremony. 

In a statement the SAAPR said: “Silencing women does not increase the inclusivity of this ceremony, it makes what should be a tribute to those who died in the Holocaust an instrument of repression.  

“Recognising that there are those in the community who hold that the voice of a woman is nakedness, we believe that there are numerous ways to accommodate those who should attend without their religious practice being compromised, and we call upon the Board to use the options available to them to ensure that all can participate.”


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