Kol Isha returns, with a vengeance
The Cape Applicants (two observant Orthodox Jews and an interfaith movement) have now reduced their agreement with the SAJBD’s Cape Council to an Order of the Cape Town Equality Court and issued an ultimatum for the national Board to get cracking with its undertaking to have their other regions discuss the issue to the Applicants’ satisfaction or face being sued again, this time in the Johannesburg Equality Court, in January.
The original Applicants in the Equality Court case took up a position against the Respondent over the issue of women not being allowed to sing at secular functions, specifically the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration.
“The applicants are not insisting that the settlement be reduced to an order of court,” SAJR was told at the time of the Cape Town settlement late in July. This was confirmed by the leading Applicant, Gilad Stern. “We trust the Board to honour their agreement,” said Stern at the time.
But that position of trust must have changed quickly as the agreement did, in fact, become a Court Order which was signed off by the parties just five days later (read it on our website).
RIGHT: The face of the Applicants – Capetonian observant Orthodox Jew, Gilad (Gerald) Stern used to teach at Herzlia
At the time of the settlement, however, Jewish Report was unable to establish from the Applicants or the Respondents whether this agreement applied nationally. Stern & Co likely felt it would, while the national Board only agreed that the matter would be discussed on a region by region basis and that the decisions would be made at this, community, level.
Now it seems that the Applicants want to press their hard-fought gains hoping to reach a negotiated national settlement. “If it’s not sorted by 15 January, then we (the Applicants) in Cape Town, will go to the Equality Court in Johannesburg with the same case, the same Applicants (and a few others),” Stern insists. He told Jewish Report this week that “Wendy Kahn, Jeff Katz and Mary Kluk (national executive director, chairman and president respectively), of the SAJBD have said publicly that it’s important to settle these matters in future through discussion, and not by going to court.”
LEFT: The South African Jewish Board of Deputies’s national executive director, Wendy Kahn
In response, Kahn told the SAJR this week that the various “regions of the SAJBD will work together with their affiliate bodies to find solutions that accommodate all sectors of our community, for whom commemorating the Holocaust in a spirit of unity is of such importance.”
This is unlikely that the future tense and lack of a timeline will impress the Applicants. They “have suggested that the next four or five months be spent applying the same principle” as adopted in Cape Town, nationally, they are not convinced that this will be the case.
Stern has made it clear that if no consensus is reached this year, the Applicants are prepared to launch their action in Johannesburg using the same advocate (Anton Katz SC), and attorneys (Fairbridges). While the Applicants had all agreed, said Stern, they were “all convinced that there will be no need for this.” But he says their decision will be informed by the SAJBD sticking “to the agreement we made with the Cape Board, and lets a woman sing.”
RIGHT: Rabbi Julia Margolis of Bed David chairs the Progressive affiliated interfaith group, the SA Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED)
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SACRED (without the support of the Progressive union, the SAUPJ), later joined the Cape Town application as the Third Applicant – and will do so again if there is a any future action, they say.
Positive and confident -Stern
Stern remains positive: “I’m confident that the Board will sort this by January,” he says. The Applicants have made an early “formal request to sort this all out this year, and avoid a public spat again.” Stern said he had personally handed a letter to the Board’s national executive director, Wendy Kahn, “at a debate on this matter at Limmud on 28 August.”
In his letter, Stern said: “I am writing to suggest and request that the Board removes the ban on women singing at functions such as Yom Hashoah.”
Stern says his letter also suggested that “the formula which we are using in Cape Town is an ideal one,” and offered Kahn that he was “willing to engage in discussions with you at any time in order to achieve this outcome.”
However, says Wendy Kahn, the national Board’s position remains that “every region is unique” and that “while the principles of inclusivity remain the same, it is incumbent on each region, in consultation with its constituents, to arrive at their own unique solution through which Yom Hashoah can be observed in a meaningful and inclusive manner.”
The halachic principle of Kol Isha is correct and a respected local rabbi who asked not to be named told Jewish Report that: “There are a number of dispensations,” that Orthodoxy had relied on in the past to exclude certain events.