BY EDEN FARBER / AJT//
I wonder if Ofir Ben-Sheetrit, a 17 year-old Israeli girl, knew what she was getting into when she auditioned for Israel’s version of the singing competition show “The Voice.” If she did – Ofir, I salute you.
After making it onto the show as a mere 12th grader and being named one of the strongest singers by the judges, you’d expect that she would be met with admiration, respect and appreciation for her talent and courage. But you’d be wrong.
Instead, she was suspended from her school for violating the prohibition of kol isha, hearing women singing in public. Her punishment was due to complaints from parents at the school and a general fear of protecting the school’s name.
So what’s the deal with this bit of halachic law? Technically, it is not a prohibition against the physical act of women singing; it is against men listening to women singing, lest they be aroused. Nowadays, there is even a movement for women to keep kol ish, meaning they would no longer listen to men sing by the very same reasoning.
But in either case, it is not the singer is not liable for a violation of the prohibition; it is the listener. Speaking specifically of kol isha, Rabbi Dov Linzer says oh-so eloquently:
“The Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.”
So if it’s as cut and dry as it seems to be – that the responsibility is not that of someone who sings but someone who listens – then why was Ofir blamed?
This is not a girl deciding to give up on her life’s opportunities and become a prostitute. This is a girl who loves the arts, is gifted in music and wants to share it with the world. And she has a right to, just as much as any other person on this earth.
In an interview, she was quoted as saying:
“I think the Torah wants us to find ways to be happy. The Torah wants music to make people happy, and I think it’s possible to do both, which is why I came to the show.”
She quite obviously has no rebellious or anti-religious intentions. Her actions were not taken to spite the men of her community or to make a nasty name for her school (who have done just that to Ofir). No, this was purely to combine her love of Judaism with her love of the arts, and to give it to the world she loves so much.
In this instance, it seems to me kol isha is no longer a boundary used to protect men from women’s attractive physical characteristics or talents. Instead, it is a ploy to shut women up. It is a taboo that can be cited when convenient to get rid of females in the public eye. It is a device that can manipulate women back into the shadows of the pre-1920s housewife role.
What does it mean to be a normal, religious and extraordinarily talented teenage girl who was suspended from her school because it was deemed a disgrace that she competed on a television show to share her talent and love of music to the world? It means to be in a community that wants girls to be neither seen nor heard.
I don’t know how I’d handle this kind of rejection from a community I stood for. I don’t know how Ofir Ben Sheetrit handles it either.
What I do know is that there is a Jewish community out there sending away a bat Torah, a proud and dedicated Jewish woman, because of her femininity – and that can’t happen anymore.
Women cannot be hidden away in kitchens, and women as talented as Sheetrit cannot be expected to keep her gift to themselves if they don’t want to. That’s what it means to be liberated.
And if someone decides to take step outside onto the balcony to say “Hello, world!” the worst thing we can do is turn out our lights and lock our doors from them – because that’s not being a community.
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 15, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.