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Colloquium: Parties eagerly seek solution




The colloquium was called to try to resolve the divisive issue of whether women should be allowed to sing solo at annual Holocaust memorial events, run under the auspices of the Board.

While no decision was announced at the almost three-hour discussions, it provided an opportunity for the various interest groups to air their views. The event was mediated by well-known mining executive and veteran on the labour relations landscape, Bobby Godsell.

His task was to collate the submission and opinions and present it back to the Board in a way that would help them to reach a compromise.

Kol Isha Stern quoteConspicuously absent from the forum were the two original claimants Gilad Stern and his sister-in-law Sarah Goldstein.

The pair had brought the original case against the Cape Council of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies to the Equality Court – claiming that excluding women from singing at such functions amounted to gender discrimination.

Businessman Stern taught for many years at Herzlia and is an observant Orthodox member of the Cape Town community. 

The case was later joined by the South African Centre for Religious Equality & Diversity (SACRED) – to which the SA Union for Progressive Jewry (SAUPJ) is affiliated.

The applicants were not originally invited and said that due to the late invitation to attend, they could not rearrange trips that had taken them out of town.

Stern, speaking to the Jewish Report after the colloquium, said: “Had I been invited to speak, I would have said five words: ‘Discrimination against women is wrong’, and anyone who needs that explained to them, is beyond my ability to help them.”

Various members of the Board expressed the view that whatever the outcome, the status quo – women not being allowed to sing at secular events while men are allowed – would no longer be acceptable. Jeff Katz, national chairman of the SA Jewish Board of Deputies who flew from Johannesburg to attend the colloquium, urged participants to express their true views without fear of the pending court case in the Equality Court scheduled for late August.

“The reason we are doing this is not because of the court case,” he said. “The colloquium needed to happen irrespective.” But Katz expressed regret that the applicants were unable to attend to offer their side.  

Among the many divergent arguments presented on Monday, the commonalities were passionate ideologies and a hope to find a solution that was acceptable to all.


Kol Isha colloquium
ABOVE: Participants listen as veteran community leader
Gerald Kleinman addresses Monday night’s colloquium

In a conciliatory bid to remind everyone to look for peaceful outcomes, Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who also flew down for the meeting, called on everyone to remember that they were all “brothers and sisters”. However, he urged the audience to remember that “halacha has helped preserve the Jewish people until now”, pleading with them to not give up on a halachic prescription (such as Kol Isha) now. His suggestion was that perhaps no singing at all would be a peaceful compromise.

Rabbi Greg Alexander and a colleague, representing the Progressive view, questioned the notion of whether Kol Isha was actually immovable halacha, saying: “The understanding that Kol Isha requires women not to sing is a very recent interpretation and only one of the many ways that Kol Isha has been interpreted in its 2,000-year history.

“What is clear is that whatever their interpretation, no-one up until the 19th century suggests that in order to save men from hearing a woman’s voice, it is forbidden for women to sing (at communal events).”

Kol Isha ChiefRabbi Alexander proposed various solutions including a redesign of the ceremony into three distinct sections, clearly marked on the programme, allowing attendees to stay for whichever they wish. These would include songs, music and poetry that included male and female solos and mixed choirs.

Holocaust survivor Miriam Lichterman spoke of fellow survivors at camps like Auschwitz who refused to eat bread on Passover when they were starving in order to uphold Jewish law.

She implored the attendees to find the strength to refrain from adding another item to the Holocaust programme, since the Jewish prisoners could find the strength to refrain from eating bread. “I beg you to please stop the nonsense,” she cried. “Please accept that certain things are not done.”

Among the voices of participants from the younger student generation, Julia Chaskalson, representing Habonim Dror, said: “It seems that this is a decision being made by men about women,” adding that Judaism is a system where men tend to hold the reins on decision-making.

Other comments from students at the event characterised the Board’s current stance on Kol Isha as “rape culture” and “Taliban style”. This led to passionate comments from Rabbi Goldstein and other rabbis present, that these people were perhaps misunderstanding Jewish laws.

Kol Isha documents

Interested in the legal arguments? Here are the PDFs of the two sides’ latest affidavits.  



The debate which has been smouldering for at least a decade among South African Jewry, essentially came down to the great ideological divide between those proposing to maintain the status quo and uphold their Orthodox interpretation of halacha versus those who feel it’s an infringement on women’s rights.

It is also a debate about whether the Yom Hashoah ceremony is a secular event under the auspices of a secular Jewish organisation.

Members of the Jewish Board told Jewish Report that they are determined to not let it reach the judicial system of the Western Cape while Stern, speaking for the applicants, says they are “very keen to resolve this and not let it go to the courts”. 

Fortunately, both sides seem eager to resolve the issue and say they would prefer that a decision on Jewish halacha is not left to the interpretation of a judge of the South African court system.

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  1. yitzchak

    Jun 22, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    ‘Blessed art Thou,o’ L-rd,,our G-d, King of the World,that I will be forewarned that there are reformists,progressives,women off the wall,in our midst and that You will guide me to avoid them,so as not to desecrate the holy memory of our martyrs, and to avoid dilution of all Jewish values.

    How about a JR survey:

    1)are you male or female?

    2)Are you Orthodox or Reform?

    3)Would you attend a Holocaust memorial if women sang.?

    4)Would you attend a future commemoration if women singing were excluded?

    5) Should the mainstream have its own commemoration without progressives?

    The constitution of RSA has 2 requirements for hate speech:

    a)advocacy of hatred and

    b)incitement to cause harm

    The plaintiffs don’t have a bimah to stand on,and it should go to court.These neoBundists should respect that.’

  2. Rav Shalom

    Jun 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    ‘What was not mentioned here was the selection of the Kol Isha prohibition as the specific inhibiting factor. Why this particular gender discriminator rather than others?  After all,  there is a vast selection.

    Orthodoxy holds gender discrimination as a core value – perhaps starting with who is to be counted in a minyan.

    If you de-legitimise women’s qualification to be counted in a prayer quorum (and consign them to the background physically by a michitza) then it becomes far easier to legitimise stigmatising in social spheres and justifying their disruptive distraction to men’s serious work, study and prayer.

    So what is the intention of those finding offense in Kol Isha (temporarily?) while subjugating other gender discrimination practises as being not so offensive so as to warrant boycott?

    After all a married woman’s hair is also ervah, but this has not been raised as an issue to preclude communal participation.

    The answer is found in the political realm.

    kol Isha is a dog whistle issue for the Haredi leadership to pronounce it’s power and influence over the entire Community. It is relatively simple to enforce – requiring pressure on function organisers rather than convincing an entire community. This happens with increasing frequency in Israel with varying degrees of success.

    The Board bent to this pressure and cannot find a way out.

    The Colloquium is one way of diverting their responsibility.

    The Equality Court is another.

    It is important to maintain pressure on our Board to assist them in their ultimate communal responsibility and to not bow to divisive boycott threats hypocritically raised for sectarian interests.

  3. Reb Moshe

    Jun 23, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    ‘Our enemies must be waiting for the outcome should this get to court…as it is pretty obvious who will win in a secular case…I can think of the SPCA wrt shechita, BDS wrt Jew vs Non- Jew rights, \”human rights activists\” will try get our holy texts banned due to discrimination, LGBTQi+ will take Judaism to court wrt gay rights…who knows Judaism might get banned in SA…this will explode into a very dangerous situation….is that what Stern et al want? I would like to know where is all the money coming from? Is there no better use for it? This is definitely not a cause to waste millions of Rands which could be put to better use! Stern et al are misguided, especially with this gett issue coming to light and them being pretty silent about it. Reform took a pretty hypocritical stance, they do no believe in a gett, yet will enforce the sanctions. Which means they do not mind Jews birthing mamzerim, which means reform does not care about preserving the future. Where will Stern et al stop once they win against Judaism? Will they demand the court sanctioned reform? The bottomline is Jewish law is Jewish law and people obey it at different levels and you will never satisfy everyone…if singing is such an issue, I agree with the Chief, stop all singing. You are not attending the ceremony for the singing, go to an opera or theatre if that is what you are looking for…YOU ARE THERE TO ELEVATE THE SOULS OF THOSE MURDERED BY THE NAZIS!!!!  

    There have been so many reformers throughout the ages…can anyone point to a sect which is still around? Even the Karaites do not have enough members to make a minyan, that is if they still consider you need one! Current reform is less than a few decades old and has been reformed over and over again to sustain it…just go check out what reform looked like in 1869 wrt Philadelphia platform…where Hebrew was removed as the language of prayer, Israel was removed as the nation state, that because the 2nd Temple was destroyed it meant that it was the end of Judaism and it had to be reformed for convenience from then, will that never lasted…what about 1885 wrt Pittsburgh platform…where the \”superiority\” of Jews was envisioned, that reform Judaism was more of a brotherhood club than a religion and anyone could join if they had the same vision and social progressiveness … Those never lasted either…the Holocaust slapped reform through the face eventhough some of their members gave donations to Hitler and his \”socialist\” ways! Not only have all these tenets of reform Judaism been denounced, they have been replaced by skewed versions of the orthodox laws…If only Judaism was that easy…Which brings the question…if Judaism is such a burden to these reformers why continue to follow the religion? To show you how bad it has become to be a reform Jew nowadays, you do not need to be Jewish, you do not need to follow any laws, your rabbi does not even need to be Jewish… if the religion was sacred to you…why the need to reform it? Just rather be a secular orthodox Jew and do exactly as you please…you not going to be excommunicated for doing or not doing what you want. Reform Judaism has lost the plot and is allowing itself to be hijacked and transformed into cult which has no connection with Judaism except for the label! 

    When you reform something…it is not what it used to be, it something brand new! Reform Judaism is not Judaism! Especially the reform Judaism which is and was round nowadays and yesteryear! 

  4. Marc Lipshitz

    Jul 1, 2016 at 11:17 am

    ‘I call on the Chief Rabbi to hold an Orthodox Yom Hashoah commemoration in the future.  Let Reform have their secular and meaningless ceremony, let the Orthodox community have an appropriate commemoration that is a Kidush Hashem for all those who died in the holocaust!’

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