The “Unsung” Heroines

Rafi at LifeinIsrael has an interesting post about a young religious woman who has competed in the singing competition The Voice here in Israel. For those of you who don’t know, women singing in front of men is prohibited by halacha (Jewish law) as it is seen as immodest and provocative. (For those who doubt that this is so – just look at this beautiful girl and listen to her sing. I can’t think of anything more provocative than that – even if she is dressed modestly).  A woman is allowed to perform for other women.

What concerns a lot of people is that her decision to go against halacha in this case is very public, and other religious girls will see this and perhaps follow her example.

What bothers me is the fact that there are literally thousands of girls who may be as talented as she is, but choose to follow the halacha and either channel their talents in other ways (performing for women only, for example) or who focus on other things in their lives. These girls do not have a public “heroine” who represents them, and perhaps they think that they are alone.

We need to let these girls know that it is praiseworthy to follow the law and keep to values that have sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years. They need to hear that they are heroines for resisting the temptation of temporary fame.  They need to be recognized for being modest – in the truest sense of the term. Real modesty is not measured only by skirt or sleeve length, it is measured in a more holistic way – by the choices a woman makes and her behavior.

I for one salute all of the “unsung heroines” out there. Kol haKavod!

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9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Miri
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 10:59:35

    I absolutely 100% agree with you, especially when it comes to real modesty being measured by behaviour rather than skirt and sleeve length. ( Though I do dress modestly as does my daughter.) I imagine , though, that those girls know and are proud of their choice, so that makes me happy. :)

  2. fred
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 23:06:20

    you really cant think of anything more provocative than this girl singing?!

  3. westbankmama
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 11:38:20

    Ok, ok, there are more provocative things out there….but in the context of Orthodox Jewry this is very immodest.

  4. Bracha
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 12:49:33

    There’s no halacha that says a woman can’t sing in front of men. If men believe that they shouldn’t hear it, they should turn off the TV. Just as if men believe that a woman is dressed immodestly, they shouldn’t look. It’s time for religious men to take some responsibility for their actions and stop trying to make women disappear so they don’t need to think about controlling themselves.

  5. westbankmama
    Jan 31, 2013 @ 17:30:39

    Bracha – There is also no halacha that says a woman can’t walk down the street with her shirt open down to her navel – after all, if the men can’t handle it they shouldn’t look right? An Orthodox Jewish woman would not do this because it is not modest – and in the circle that this young woman grew up in it is also considered immodest to sing.

    In addition, noone said that religious men are not responsible for their actions, and noone is trying to make women disappear. Your argument is not appropriate to this context.

  6. rickismom
    Feb 03, 2013 @ 10:00:38

    A role model for the “unsung” girls could be Chedva Levi. She gave up her singing career and now sings only for women.

  7. Shira Salamone
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 05:55:36

    “. . .in the circle that this young woman grew up in it is also considered immodest to sing.”

    Not so. According to this Forward post, “Ophir has said that in her family it was never considered a sin to sing in front of men.”

    As someone who’s published a number of posts on the subject of the issur/prohibition of kol ishah (a woman’s [singing] voice being heard by a man), I’ve done some homework. (For example, see my Onan’s real sin and kol isha.) In my reading, I’ve found that there is quite a broad spectrum of Orthodox rabbinic opinions regarding this halachah/Jewish religious law, ranging from kol ishah being (a) absolutely forbidden under all circumstances (b) permitted in the case of religious music (such as z’mirot/Sabbath songs) and lullabies or (c) permitted unless the woman’s singing is intended to be sexually suggestive.

    It is my sincere opinion that the tradition of “dan l’kaf z’chut,” judging a person favorably,” should apply in the case of a woman singing in the presence of men. I would hate to think that a girl or woman could be considered to have gone “off the derech”/off the [Orthodox] path” simply because her hashkafah/religious perspective and/or that of her family is not as machmir (strict in interpreting halachah) as that of some other members of the Orthodox community.

  8. westbankmama
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 08:37:57

    Shira – I cannot comment on what her family might think, but this young woman attends an Orthodox ulpana – a high school for girls only. In this environment women singing in front of men is considered forbidden. As you point out there may be a range of Orthodox rabbinic opinions about kol isha, as there is for most halachic issues, but most Orthodox peoplei(in Israel) follow the majority of the rabbis, and not the minority opinion. You also cannot ignore the fact that her singing in front of men in this instance is an extremely public display. The Voice is a very popular television show, not to mention the Youtube exposure and the huge live audience. This means that her “going against the stream” is not just a quiet personal decision but a very public one.

  9. Shira Salamone
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 20:53:19

    ” this young woman attends an Orthodox ulpana – a high school for girls only. In this environment women singing in front of men is considered forbidden.”

    True, and out of respect for the school, the family agreed that Ophir would be suspended for two weeks. This arrangement serves to accommodate both the school’s hashkafah/religious perspective and the family’s, which is, in my opinion, an admirable approach on both sides.

    “You also cannot ignore the fact that her singing in front of men in this instance is an extremely public display. . . . ”

    Granted, but I’m still of the opinion that the same principle applies–her family’s hashkafah is that singing in the presence of men is not a sin.

    “This means that her “going against the stream” is not just a quiet personal decision but a very public one.”

    I can only say that I sincerely hope that Ophir and her family took all of the possible reactions to her public appearance into consideration, and that she and they are prepared to deal with the disapproval of many in the Orthodox community.

    “We need to let these girls know that it is praiseworthy to follow the law . . .”

    As far as Ophir and her family are concerned, she *is* following the law.

    My concern with some of the reactions to Ophir’s choice is that some reflect what I describe as a kind of “all Orthodox Jews fill-in-the-blank” approach. I’ve run into the same issue at work, where one of the women from my Tehillim (Psalms) Group is fond of saying things like “That’s not done in an Orthodox synagogue,” as if every Orthodox synagogue and every Orthodox Jew follows exactly the same practices and holds exactly the same hashkafah. Yes, I *have* been in Orthodox synagogues–both Sefardi and Ashkenazi–in which women and men sat together and sang together for Seudah Shlishit/the Third Meal. In fact, a few years ago, my husband and I attended a (mechitzah) Kabbalat service and (mixed-seating) Shabbat/Sabbath dinner at an Orthodox synagogue in which the rabbi himself announced, in no uncertain terms, that the women were permitted and encouraged to sing z’mirot/Shabbat songs with the men.

    I’ve also run into this issue on other blogs. Heshy, from the Frum Satire blog, got a polite earful from me some months ago when he asserted that any man who didn’t wear a black hat to shul (synagogue) just wasn’t frum (Orthodox) enough. I commented that I’d always been under the impression that the mark of an Orthodox Jew was shmirat ha-mitzvot/observance of the commandments.

    If there’s anything I’ve learned in over eight years of blogging–especially after having had my head politely handed to me (on more than one occasion, I’m embarrassed to say)–for tarring the entire Orthodox community with a Chareidi brush–it’s that there’s a much broader spectrum of hashkafot/religious perspectives in the Orthodox world than I had thought. As others have asked, why is an Orthodox Jew still an Orthodox Jew no matter how far to the right s/he goes, but not still an Orthodox Jew if s/he goes a bit to the left? Can the Orthodox world, on the one hand, still consider Orthodox the few extreme right-wingers who spit on eight-year-old Orthodox girls whose modest clothing doesn’t meet their extreme modesty standards, but, on the other hand, toss out Rabbi Avi Weiss as no longer Orthodox?

    Again, it’s just a matter of “daf l’kaf z’chut/judging others favorably.” Given the broad range of opinions regarding “kol ishah,” I sincerely hope that Ophir’s performance, however controversial and/or “minority-opinion-based” it might be, does not become the sole litmus test for her identity as an Orthodox Jew.

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