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Cape Board invites applicants to colloquium




Four years ago WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) members, SACRED and other groups and individuals held the above, rowdy, placard-wielding protest outside the entrance to Beyachad – the Raedene campus that houses most of Johannesburg’s major secular Jewish organisations. The protest was held prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut in and this video was published on 24 Aug 2012

With this in mind the Cape Board on Tuesday decided to invite the applicants in the matter to attend as well. The Board will also decide later on Wednesday whether to open the meeting to the media.

Kol Isha tallThe colloquium’s objective, Cape Board Chairman Eric Marx told Jewish Report is “to find a way to continue to keep the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration as inclusive as possible, and not split the community”.

The matter arose after the Cape Board was served papers on April 6 by two Orthodox Capetonians – later joined by SACRED – to sue the Board in the Equality Court for “discrimination of women on the basis of gender”. The claimants are brother and sister pair Gilad Stern and Sara Goldstein. The charges emanated from women not being allowed to sing solo in front of men at secular events – or the halachic doctrine of kol isha.

The brouhaha has been smouldering over at least a decade, as traditional SA Orthodox Jews such as Stern and Goldstein joined secular Jews in protest against the country’s apex secular communal organisations – The SA Jewish Board of Deputies and The SA Zionist Federation – who have been applying religious restrictions at secular events they host.

Two letters in this week’s Jewish Report, one by court applicant Sarah Goldstein and another by Dianne Fine of Johannesburg, sum up a belief that the Board may be planning a “whitewash” of the issue. “The title of ‘community colloquium’ is misleading,” suggests Fine in her letter, “as it suggests inclusion of the whole Jewish community.”

Kol Isha documents

Interested in the legal arguments? Jewish Report Online has the PDF documents of the two sides’ latest affidavits. Click below fto read, download to your computer, print as a Shabbos read, or copy and sent to friends and family

Marx disagrees. While only the Cape Board’s 70-odd affiliates were invited to send delegates, he says: “They are all independent. They do not fund us and we do not fund them.” The Cape Board affiliates include all shuls, youth groups, communal organisations, etc.

“I can assure you that many of them have completely divergent views,” says Marx. The colloquium is being chaired “by a totally independent person, Bobby Godsell, and he is setting the rules”.

Godsell, says Marx, has personally invited all of the affiliates and all submissions are being sent directly to him at his private e-mail address. Marx also invited “the entire community database to make submissions either directly to us or through any of our affiliates”. This, he says, has resulted in a large number of submissions on the matter.

Marx admitted to Jewish Report on Wednesday that “(The Cape Board) understands that the status quo can’t remain”.

Kol IshaThe community, he says, “do not want this to play out in court” which is why the Cape Board this week agreed to invite the applicants in the matter (but not their legal representatives).

The SAJBD hosts the annual Yom Hashoah commemoration throughout the country, while the SAZF hosts all the local Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut events nationally.

In the Cape High Court sitting as the Equality Court, only the arguments before it will be adjudicated on, allowing, in effect, the parties to mitigate any risk of the matter evolving into the bigger question of whether religious rights trump constitutional rights or vice versa, or, in fact, if such questions should be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

However, there is a strong likelihood that whoever loses the first round may well go further up the legal rung and appeal, either to the Supreme Court of Appeal or directly to the Constitutional Court (should the Court agree to hear it directly).

The applicants insist that this not a matter of religion and that they are not suing on religious grounds. The Board is only using a religious ground to defend its case, they maintain.

“This matter is not going to (be put to) a vote” at the colloquium, says Marx. And, while the Board believes that the colloquium will be as representative as it can be, its purpose is to give the Board “an opportunity to listen to the community”.

While the matter has been ring-fenced to the Cape community and the Cape Board (as against the national community and including the SAZF), Marx says the Cape Board “can’t do more than that. We can’t argue on behalf of the Orthodox community”.

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  1. alan

    Jun 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    ‘Gilad and co are a disgrace to the community. Yom Hashoa is not a time to be creating divisions and looking for \”political\” points. Even if they \”win\” the right for women to sing then automatically a significant section of the community will not be able to attend. Women currently participate in many leadership capacities at Yom Hashoa. Stern and co are selfish, self-centred and having chosen Yom Hashoa as their grandstanding event, they have shown their true colours – they should be ashamed.’

  2. Nadya, Esther and Julia

    Jun 21, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    ‘Reply to Alan 16/06/16:
    \nWhy are Gilad and co a disgrace to the community? Because they and others (including SACRED) have spent years attempting to address this issue of Kol Ishah, which sadly led to no progress, no solution. In fact the SAJBD should be ashamed for endorsing this prohibition and then repeatedly attempting to sweep the fallout under the carpet. We should in fact be grateful to Gilad and co for having the courage to take such a bold stand that has at last resulted in this matter of discrimination being taken seriously. It takes conviction, integrity and stamina for a small handful of individuals to speak out and stand-up against the power of the SAJBD.  Indeed it is sad, that it has had to come to this; the possibly of litigation. However, from an email forwarded to many, it has become apparent that the Board did not once speak to or respond directly to Gilad. They have not attempted to engage in dialogue with him at all.
    \nWhy is it so comfortable and so acceptable to censor and silence women, who constitute 50% of the community, to appease a handful, who have embraced a flawed re-interpretation of the Halachah? Up until 2005, it was acceptable for women to participate with song in the Yom Hashoah events.  It is also (currently) considered acceptable for women to sing at Yom Ha’zicharon and Yom Ha’atzmaut? Or do you wish to propose women are silenced at these events too? 
    \n Perhaps Rabbi Goldstein will demand that married women all wear a sheitl at such public events.  Will those who protest against this also be condemned as selfish and self-centered? There are a multitude of restrictions that could be drawn upon to limit, control and silence women in communal Jewish spaces. These are secular gatherings, where Orthodox restrictions should not be imposed.  Enough is enough.
    \nGilad and co’, Kol Ha’Kavod, you should be proud of what has been stirred and precipitated in our community, the residue swept under the carpet is now being acknowledged. Gilad and co’ you speak for many many women and men in South Africa. Thank you.’

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