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Kol isha dispute is settled out of court

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a six-month long episode in the life of SA Jewry ended last night when the applicants in the Equality Court case where two Orthodox Jews (later joined by an interfaith group affiliated to Progressive Jewry) took up a position against the Cape Board over the issue of women singing at secular functions, reached an amicable out-of-court settlement. The spat ended when all parties in the hard-fought saga signed off on a negotiated settlement agreement. It is over, finish and klaar!
by ANT KATZ | Jul 27, 2016

The applicants in the Equality Court case in Cape Town, where two Orthodox Jews (later joined by an interfaith group affiliated to Progressive Jewry) took up a position against the SA Jewish Board of Deputies Cape Council over the issue of women singing at secular functions, reached an amicable out-of-court settlement on Tuesday evening.

The spat, which became known in the community as the “kol isha” dispute, was set down to be heard in late August, but ended when all parties in the hard-fought saga signed off on a negotiated settlement agreement. In practice the outcome may see a two-part ceremony, with women being allowed to sing in the first part.

Kol Isha GILADAccording to the text of the agreement, “the Board shall restructure future ceremonies so as not to exclude a woman singing solo, while still ensuring that the event is inclusive for the entire community, including those observing kol isha.“

RIGHT: Gilad Stern, the observant Orthodox Capetonian who led the march for secularism to respect women's rights

This puts to rest almost six months of discussions, negotiations, proposals and even a community colloquium on the issue and effectively lifts the ban on the halachic principle of kol isha (women singing in front of men) at secular events hosted by the Board.

While the settlement is between the Cape Board and the applicants, the Board’s national executive director, Wendy Kahn, told Jewish Report on Wednesday morning that the agreement applies not only to the Cape, but is “a commitment on all regions to address the same issue”.

The applicants are not insisting that the settlement be reduced to an order of court, said the source. Stern confirmed this, saying: “We trust the Board to honour their agreement.”

The text of the agreement also says: “The forthcoming Yom Hashoah ceremony, unlike previous ceremonies, will be conducted in two parts, the one following the other, and separated by an event such as candle-lighting, the time of which will be publicised. The first part will be a musical/cultural/educational part, including a woman singing solo, while the second part will follow the traditional ceremony including at least the speakers and a choir. For so long as the Board arranges the ceremony, it will determine the programme and content thereof.”

Kol Isha websiteSomeone close to the negotiations who could not be named told Jewish Report on Wednesday morning that “this was not a victory for Gilad Stern and his co-applicants, but rather a victory for the principle that women should be treated with equal dignity and not be unfairly discriminated against”.

Stern, himself an observant Orthodox Jew, said on Wednesday morning that he had launched his case against the Cape Board in defence of the “egalitarian principle of Judaism” and he was satisfied that this had been achieved. “The Board should be commended for recognising the principle of gender equality,” said Stern.

 “The settlement agreement recognises the Board’s defence, that they needed to make events they host as inclusive as possible,” said the source referring to the Yom Hashoah ceremony that triggered the dispute. For example, he said, if the Board wanted to restructure an event to ensure inclusivity of both religious and secular communities, “the agreement would allow them to have a two-part ceremony”.

There will be no award as to costs in this matter, meaning that both sides pay their own legal fees.

Stern, who is thrilled with the outcome, says that he has “always maintained that it’s more appropriate for men to regulate their attendance or participation, rather than to muzzle and silence all women”.

“This is a victory for the proposition that civil courts were not asked to decide on a matter of religion,” Jewish Report’s source close to the discussions said was a principle that had driven the negotiations all the way.

Jewish Report understands that the latest proposal, which has been under discussion all week, was tabled by the Board.

The Equality Court action was originally instituted by Stern and his sister Sarah Goldstein and later joined by the SA Centre for Religious Diversity (SACRED) whose chairman, Rabbi Julia Margolis, told Jewish Report on Wednesday that SACRED was “delighted”.

Goldstein told the SAJR that: “As a mother of girl children, I say, please G-d, may generations of woman to come not need to threaten court action in order to be heard!”

SEARCH HERE to see all 25 previous posts related to this story as well as the relevant PDF documents


  1. 3 Joan 28 Jul
    We are not living in the dark ages, wake up people!!!!
  2. 2 Marc Lipshitz 28 Jul
    personally I see this as telling Orthodox Jews that they must stay away from such events as they cannot attend it in full.  I call on the chief Rabbi to organize an appropriate alternative event which actually does not tell Orthodox Jews that we are not good enough to come to the full event!
  3. 1 Dave 29 Jul
    Gilad (Known to me as Gerald) if he such an observant jew,were is his kippa in the picture supplied


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