Israel: Women sing out in musical protest against orthodox prohibition



Women sing out in musical protest
against orthodox prohibition

In response to the orthodox prohibition against women singers. Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman has announced a Tel Aviv street protest in which a group of women will stand in public and sing, to make their voices heard.

On Friday 11 November 2011, Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman and a group of women activists plan to meet near the western entrance to Jerusalem to perform an act which is seen by a large and increasingly influential part of the local population as a provocation: singing in public. Members of Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community Haredi believe that men should not listen to the female voice in song, because it may arouse impure thoughts.

Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman has a master’s degree in gender studies, works as a technical writer and blogs about women’s issues. She decided that someone had to take action against discrimination against women in public spaces, politics and the army.

‘Conjures up lustful thoughts’
In September, nine religious soldiers walked out of a military event because women vocalists were performing — an act that extremely devout Jews claim conjures up lustful thoughts. The military expelled four of them from an officers’ course because they refused to apologize for disobeying orders to stay. Some weeks later, the organisers of a military ceremony to mark the Simchat Torah holiday forced female soldiers to sit separately from their male comrades. It was then stated in the Israeli press that the army, which traditionally seen as a powerful force for national unity, is bowing to religious pressures.

Segregation of men and women is common on several Jerusalem public bus lines, despite a recent court ruling that banned the practice. The custom has spread to the public health system, with medical practices offering separate entrances and waiting rooms for men and women. In parts of the city orthodox Jews imposed separate sidewalks for men and women during the Jewish feast of Sukkot, forcing the police to intervene and to dismantle the roadside barriers.

Analysts point out that tensions between Israel’s secular mainstream and the ultra-orthodox minority are as old as the state itself. Yet the conflict is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The ultra-orthodox population doubles roughly every 12 years because their families have at least three more children than the Israeli average.

Nir Barkat, the secular mayor of the city, however insists that secular-religious tensions are waning. Unlike previous years, female singers and dance troupes were now regularly appearing at public festivals and ceremonies, Financial Times quoted him as saying.

Shahar Ilan, vice-president of Hiddush, an Israeli pressure group for religious pluralism, told the Financial Times, “The battle is about whether women still have a place in the public sphere.”

Wave of protests
Hila Bunyovich-Hoffman announced the Tel Aviv street protest on her Hebrew-language blog and on a Facebook event page she created, and the response to her initiative has been “unexpected and overwhelming,” she says. Shortly after she announced the Tel Aviv event, simultaneous protests in Jerusalem and in Haifa were organized, and a fourth event, in Beersheva, is also being put together.

‘Don’t stop singing’

More information

Facebook page (in Hebrew) for the protest event in Tel Aviv:

ככה לא נראית ערווה! מחאה מוסיקלית של נשים שרות


Financial Times – 6 November 2011:

‘Israel’s secular activists start to fight back’

The Jewish Daily, Forward Blog – 27 October 2011:

‘Singing Across Israel for Women’s Dignity’

Ha’aretz – 26 October 2011:

‘Musical protests planned to counter taboo on female singers’

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Zimbabwean gospel diva Fungisai Zvakavapano denied UK visa
The singer was last week denied entry into the United Kingdom where she was billed to perform at three concerts.

Zvakavapano was refused admission to the country by British Embassy officials despite getting a work permit from the Home Office in Britain.

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