Media Comment: Rachel is weeping

The ‘Kol Barama’ radio station claims that its programs are based on listening to the public and creating a dialogue with it.

By ELI POLLAK
August 10, 2011 22:36
4 minute read.
Orthodox women sitting at computers.

Haredi women 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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‘Thus says the Lord: A voice was heard in Rama... Rachel weeping for her children.”

That verse, from Jeremiah 31:14, is one of the more powerfully poignant biblical images. The Matriarch Rachel cries as her descendants suffer exile after the Temple’s destruction.

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“Kol Barama,” the Hebrew for “a voice in Rama,” is the name of a radio station that began broadcasting on January 1, 2009, and whose concession is supervised by the Second Authority for Television and Radio. It advertises itself as the only haredi radio station broadcasting nationally.

Indeed, it uses three different frequencies, covering the North, Center and South. This occurs at a time when a major problem for the expansion of broadcasting, it has been claimed, is the limited number of bands available. Another station, Kol Hai Radio, which is celebrating 10 years of broadcasting, is also haredi but identified as Ashkenazi in character. Its concession is limited to the central region of the country.

A plethora of radio stations, known as the “holy channels,” used the airwaves illegally for many years. They filled in the need for those segments of the population that were not interested in the more secular public and regional radio stations. As they were dominated by Sephardic figures, many viewed them as “belonging” to the Shas Party. Attempts at legalizing them failed. The public pressure to close them down increased, especially after the Supreme Court ruled that the national religious radio station, Arutz 7, was illegal, forcing it off the airwaves.

Ultimately the illegal stations stopped broadcasting, and a well known anchor of the now defunct Kol Ha’emet Radio was sentenced to jail. The communications minister in the Sharon government, Shas senior member Ariel Attias, succeeded in establishing the legal national Sephardi-haredi radio concession that became Kol Barama, which is owned by Gabi Edri and and Zvi Amar.

Kol Barama’s website boasts that it is obligated to provide a social contribution to the community. It strives to assure the well-being of the “little people,” and to help the needy and the weak in the population. It claims that its programs are based on listening to the public and creating a dialogue with it. It characterizes itself as following the leadership and supervision of leading rabbis and public figures in the haredi community.

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WHAT IT doesn’t advertise is that women are barred from its programming. While Kol Hai Radio does not have women singing, in accordance with the accepted custom in haredi circles, Kol Barama outdoes it. Women are not allowed to be program hosts or anchors, they cannot be interviewed, and they cannot call in to the station. They are allowed to work behind the scenes. This includes schoolchildren: Boys may express their responses on air, but girls are relegated to the fax machine or text messages.

Is this legal? Does the concession given Kol Barama include permission to ignore and silence half of the population? Of course not. The Second Authority law states that the authority will “foster good citizenship and will strengthen the values of democracy and humanism.” Israel has a law that forbids discriminatory practices in public services. Is this in accordance with Jewish law? It is sufficient to note that the Sephardi rabbinical leader Ovadia Yosef has been cited as saying there is no Jewish prohibition against women being heard on the airwaves. His daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom, appears on television.

What is the Second Authority’s response? Israel’s Media Watch petitioned it to impose equal rights for women on the station almost a year ago. The authority, however, is dragging its feet. After some pressure from the Attorney-General’s Office, the station grudgingly agreed to allow limited women’s broadcasts. It suggested one weekly program, in addition to allowing women to be heard in “special cases.” The chairman of the Second Authority, Dr. Ilan Avisar, noted that he “did not understand what the difference is between women not being allowed to recite the blessing over the Torah in the synagogue and women not being allowed to talk on the radio.”

Dalia Zelikovitch and Dr. Aliza Lavie, members of the authority’s executive board, were appalled by the comparison. They have been demanding equal rights, to no avail. The attorney-general has not found it necessary to intervene any further. One wonders why the owners of Kol Barama are so insistent on this issue. It would seem that thus far, society has shown a deep respect for haredi feelings, by accepting that women’s singing is considered by some rabbis to be halachically prohibited.

Society has not yet demanded equal rights for women singers on these stations. But if Kol Barama continues to insist that women do not participate fully in its vocal broadcasts, it will ultimately find itself facing a petition to the Supreme Court.

Such a petition will not necessarily limit itself to demanding that women speak; it may lead to the demand that women be allowed to sing. If the Supreme Court were to rule in favor of that demand, the Kol Hai station would be forced to comply as well. Extremism may well breed extremism, to the detriment of all. The last word goes to Rachel. What would she say if she knew that Kol Barama Radio forbade her to weep in public?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

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