Women were almost barred from singing at a Jewish ceremony in South Africa last week on religious
grounds, a South African Jewish group said on Monday.
The South African
Center for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED), a Jewish organization
linked to the Reform movement, said women were allowed to sing at the
Independence Day event organized by the South African Zionist Federation in
Johannesburg only after a last minute compromise was made that they would be
part of a mixed-gender choir.
“The original ceremony for the three
previous years had all male performers,” said Rabbi Robert Jacobs, who is
affiliated with the group. “This year we learned the Zionist Federation was
approached by Israelis and other residents and we wanted to make sure they would
have that opportunity.”
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups believe that men
are prohibited from listening to women sing in public based on a passage in the Talmud.
In Israel, the issue of female segregation on religious grounds
periodically flares up, causing tension between secular and haredi Jews. Last
September, controversy flared over a group of religious soldiers who walked out
of a military ceremony where women were singing.
Jacobs said Jewish women
in South Africa have been increasingly sidelined from communal events in recent
years due to opposition from the haredi community.
SACRED circulated a
video this week arguing the exclusion of women from the public sphere in South
Africa was a new phenomenon. The group, which was launched in 2011, said females
had sung at Israeli Independence Day events in the country for 60 years until
three years ago.
“There is a clear shift,” said Jacobs, referring to
opposition to women singing at the recent Independence Day event.
rabbi said he did could not name individuals who opposed the inclusion of women
in the ceremony, but pointed towards the “haredi population within the community
[in South Africa] that pushes buttons.”
The South African Zionist
Federation, which organized the Independence Day event, did not respond to an
inquiry before press time.