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In Israel, Segregated Concerts Are the Very Least of It

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Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how the organizers of the gala fundraiser concert for Rabbi Elimelech Firer’s non-profit Ezra L’marpeh, which was planned for November 20 in Tel Aviv, thought they could get away with it.

The program – songs of mega-popular crooner Shlomo Artzi; the musicians, some of the top names in Israel, including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; and the venue were selected to reflect the fact that Ezra L’marpeh gives medical assistance to hundreds of thousands of Israelis, without regard to their religious affiliation.

There was just one stipulation. No women would be allowed to sing in the rabbi’s presence. Because “Kol be’isha erva.” I challenge any linguist out there to translate that term. The first two words are easy. Kol be’isha – the voice of a woman. But erva defies translation. Most Orthodox translations simply use the word “nakedness” – but of course that’s not it. An erva is not necessarily naked. It’s a body part, specifically the genital area (technically of a man or a woman, but the term is in the feminine) and in the Bible and Talmud it’s used to describe an abomination, a terrible and obscene sin, the worst thing you can do. And yes, also the voice of a woman.

I’m not going to delve here into the halachic argument over whether when the Talmud writes “Kol be’isha erva” in two separate places, it actually means that women are not allowed to sing in the presence of men, as it is interpreted today by ultra-Orthodox rabbis. It’s a tawdry debate anyway which makes a woman responsible for a man’s forbidden sexual thoughts and urges. The point is that many people, including a large number of secular Israelis, thought that the good deeds of Firer and his organization made it legitimate to impose it on a mainstream audience at a mass event........

© Haaretz