Haredi women 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘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.
“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
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.
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
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)