Community itself should resolve Kol Isha

  • 2a-Mary Kluk tightcrop
The question of women singing at Yom Hashoah or Holocaust Commemoration Day is one that has caused a great deal of heartache within our community. Unfortunately, the debate has been characterised by much emotion but little understanding of the facts and issues involved.
by MARY KLUK | Jun 01, 2016


This matter is one of complicated constitutional questions dealing with, among other things, freedom of association, freedom of religion, gender discrimination, fair versus unfair discrimination criteria and entanglement.

Due to the nature of the commemoration ceremony, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) makes a particularly concerted effort to be as inclusive as possible and seeks to ensure that every segment of the Jewish community is able to freely and comfortably participate. 

This entails that the full spectrum of the religious community is fully included, from Orthodox to Progressive, from secular to religious, from men to women, from young to old. The SAJBD is seeking to arrive at a satisfactory resolution of this matter. 

We have, over a number of years, been informed that the position of the Orthodox community is that were a woman to sing solo at Yom Hashoah, the Orthodox community would not be able to attend.

We do not, as the SAJBD, take a view on the religious aspect of this, nor can we. We are not a religious body and are not versed in religious law. Our mandate is to ensure that as many people in our community as possible can, and do, take part in our work and activities.

This means, taking into account the reality that were we to accede to requests that the Yom Hashoah programme be amended to include women singing solo, a significant portion of our community would inevitably be excluded from commemorating the Holocaust.

We recognise that it would be preferable to have a sustainable and acceptable compromise between these two competing positions, but we would require that this be determined through a process of debate among the various stakeholders in our community.

We believe that the only way for us to reach a sustainable solution is to allow our diverse and vibrant community members to be integrally involved in finding a resolution to this situation.

To this end, the Cape Jewish Board of Deputies has committed to facilitating a colloquium at which a solution to the Yom Hashoah issue can be found. The colloquium, which will take place in Cape Town this month, will provide a forum for the Jewish constituent bodies to come together in dialogue. 

The appointed facilitator is a well-respected South African with significant experience in the area of conflict resolution. 

This colloquium provides our community with an opportunity of working together to settle the matter amicably and internally. 

We believe our community itself should be allowed to determine the best way to resolve this impasse.  It should not be given over to the courts to deal with, and certainly not to single interest groups seeking to capitalise on this difficult internal issue for their own purposes. 

The SAJBD recognises, and indeed celebrates, the fact that South African Jewry is a heterogeneous and diverse community. Diversity and disagreement are symptoms of a healthy democracy and we expect that the colloquium will have a positive outcome for our unique South African community.

We encourage the community to fully support our efforts to find a constructive way forward through the conciliation process, and help ensure that all members feel a part of this kaleidoscope of beliefs and traditions. 


1 Comment

  1. 1 Rav Shalom 09 Jun
    Well put Mary Kluk!
    If only your wisdom was applied to the decisions of the Cape Board in the first place.
    Then the “single interest group” insisting on Kol Isha prohibition or else they boycott would never have prevailed.

    If the Board retains a secular, neutral stance by representing all of us it should not acquiesce to blackmail pressure from special interests who cannot tolerate diverse interpretations of our laws and customs.
    And in that process exclude “a significant portion of our community” (all females) from eligibility to perform.
    The silence of those so offended that they simply - without fuss and without a voice - do not show up seems not to be considered. Many Jews feel excluded, they are never heard and simply move on into different circles.
    The Board has failed them and our community is poorer for this loss of affiliation.

    The Orthodox Rabbinate does not consider these Jews. Let those people go is their attitude.
    Instead the Rabbinate uses their bully pulpit to prevail - hypocritically deploying a rigid, self-referential Halacha as justification. This trend should not be encouraged.

    There is an old Yeshiva story about a database of the Halacha.
    You input your question with the response you require and the database returns the names of Rabbis who agree.
    This is the type of flexibility that would inspire. The Wisdom of Solomon rather that the joyless authoritarianism of the modern Haredi.
    There is definitely a development amongst the Observant to enforce discriminatory practices against women. Not content to impose “modest” dress codes and occupational choices,  bicycle riding is now verboten for girls from as young as five in some Jerusalem neighbourhoods. The Kol Isha ban should be viewed in this light. 
    We – as a community – do not want to go there.  

    Let us rather be guided by Chief Rabbi Mervis who recently emphasised the importance of not excluding women from community. His remarks – although careful to reference Torah Law and Halacha – were clearly meant to guide us to decisions that are non-discriminatory and inclusive.
    It is not wrong to oppose discrimination wherever it occurs even from those that profess guidance from Torah wisdom. In fact we are commanded to actively oppose.

    Next year the Board should provide an inclusive ceremony with an appropriate dignified exit point for those with low tolerance.

    This will suffice until the Rabbis conjure up another offense to justify their exclusivity agenda.


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