Near-exclusion of women irks S. African group

Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) groups believe that men are prohibited from listening to women sing in public.

May 1, 2012 01:56
1 minute read.
Women pray at the Western Wall.

women praying at wester wall 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

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.

The 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.

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