Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kol Isha: A Woman's Perspective

At the Orot College of Education (where I work in the admissions office and also teach), I teach a class on Halachah called, "Hanichnas Lapeh v'Hayotzei Mimenu", meaning, "What Goes into the Mouth and What Comes Out of It" - giving me free reign to teach kashrut, laws of prohibited speech - it's a pretty wide range of topics. When the controversy surrounding The Voice erupted, I decided to study the issue with my students.
The classes, given over two weeks, were volatile and invigorating. Orot students are, by and large, Religious Zionists (that's why they study here), but they also represent a broad spectrum within the RZ community.
None, to a person, agreed with the choice to perform on The Voice. But while some couldn't understand why performed in violation of halachah, others expressed a sense of identification with a lack of venue which would allow her to express her God-given talent.
In response to my first post on this issue, I share (with permission) the following email from Sarah Maslowe (formerly of Silver Spring, now of Jerusalem!)
When I was 16 yrs old, a millennium ago, I was very confused about the kol isha issue.  I had an especially beautiful voice & loved singing.  I went from Rav to Rav to get an understanding why I could not sing on stage or in front of any man.  I never got an answer, why G-d created me with a beautiful voice, but I couldn't use it.  The best I got was that I will be able to use it to sing to my children (who only enjoyed it when they were little.  Teenagers have no interest in it.:-)).  Of course that answer made me angry!  When I was 17 I had the opportunity to perform with a semi professional group.  I made the decision to go against that prohibition.  At the end of the program, I was very depressed because I saw that if I were to continue to perform, my shmirat Shabbat was going to be compromised.  
There is no greater thrill to sing well to a large adoring audience.  Of course, I made the right choice & now the grandchildren enjoy my voice when the sons-in-laws are not around.  
I am very moved by this young girls situation & I wish there was a better explanation why G-d would give such a gift that cannot be used fully.  Of course there are plenty of mitzvot without clear explanations that we must follow, & that was what convinced me as a girl.  Of course that advice did not come from the Rabbis, it came from my wise mother.  Perhaps, getting the Rabbis to address the issue better could help this girl.
Lastly, at least now there are women performing groups that young women can showcase there talent.  I even tried out for a show, & my daughter & grandaughter were very impressed with my skill.  I was not as good as the "Broadway" talent of the women who got the parts. But, I felt a part of the sisterhood who found the acceptable place for their talents.  They are amazingly gifted. 
This issue has deep ramifications, from the stage all the way to the Shabbat table.I recognize that I cannot understand or appreciate the restrictions of Kol Isha. I love to sing and do so whenever I choose, while my wife (and now daughter) always think twice before singing if anyone else is around. I recognize that I cannot fully appreciate Ofir ben Shitrit's struggle, having been born with a beautiful voice halachah prevents her from showcasing in public.
But I also challenged my students to be the ones to create those venues. 
Here in Israel, the religious community is large enough to create singing venues and even perhaps competitions that would allow women of all ages to sing, in public, for other women.
A PR Pic from the Noga Dance Company
Over the past ten years, Orot has built the only religious School for Dance Education in the world. Our graduates teach in schools across the country, and have created a dance company that performs for women-only audiences to rave reviews. At the day-long programs that I coordinate for visiting Sherut Le'umi students, Orot's dance students have given dozens of performances, of which I have never seen a single one, as well I should not.
If we can do it for dance, we can - and must - also create the venues to allow women and girls with beautiful voices to express themselves in a manner fully consistent with halachah. 
I am sure that one day soon, someone will.

1 comment:

  1. While I don't have the kol ishah restriction on performing per se, I can certainly relate to the difficulty in finding performing arts venues. This Purim marked the first time I was actually able to find a role on stage since 2000, before I was fully observant. Acting and choral music (and church liturgical music), my main outlets, almost invariably involve at least listening to kol ishah or some other cross-gender problem like touch. I envy a friend who plays in the community orchestra near our home town, but I don't play any orchestral instrument. It's a shame that Orthodox communities don't have more opportunities for performance of the more classical genres like theater and "traditional Western art music." I accept that the critical mass of talent and time is scarce, but it still hurts. (Anyone see the YU production of 1776 a couple years back?)


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