Sisterhood Blog

Keep Singing, Girlfriend, But Obey the Rules

By Simi Lichtman

  • Print
  • Share Share

I read Renee Ghert-Zand’s post on the Sisterhood earlier this week, and then made the mistake of reading the comments under the article (51 of them as of this afternoon). I was disturbed for many reasons, but not, like everyone else, because a high school girl was suspended for singing in public

For starters, let’s clarify something: It simply can’t be that everyone hearing this story is actually upset that the school suspended Ophir Ben-Shetreet. From what I see, the real anger comes from those who view all Orthodox laws pertaining to women as automatically sexist, demeaning and backwards. But let’s get to that in a minute. First, if you believe that the school is in the wrong, take a moment to think about this situation as objectively as you can.

A private high school has the right to suspend its students for breaking the rules, whether that student disagrees with the rule or not. Of course, not every suspension is fair, but in an openly Orthodox institution that does not hide its affiliation with Orthodoxy, where parents are aware that they’re sending their children to a school that adheres by halacha, how can one argue with the school’s right to act in accordance with those very laws? It certainly seems as if the parents support the school’s decision, as Ghert-Zand states in her article: “The 12th grader has been suspended (with the agreement of her parents).” Unless the laws in Israel are wildly different, wherein a student can flout school rules and cannot be suspended — which I suspect is not the case — the school did nothing to warrant this uproar.

Now, I can’t say I’m personally a fan of the notion that schools demand certain behaviors of students outside of school hours and grounds, but this is a legitimate philosophy, whether I agree with it or not. The Bais Yaakov in my hometown had “spies” that would report to the school if a girl was spotted hanging out with boys. Do I agree with that practice, or that rule? No. But the school had a reputation for this behavior, and every student understood the repercussions of hanging out with boys in public. In the school’s view, and likely in the students’ view too, it had a right to punish any student who did so anyway. If the school in Ashdod was clear that it required Orthodox behavior of its students in the public domain — and I say if because I know nothing of this school’s rules — then it has every right to act on those rules.

Which brings us to the real reason readers are upset: Orthodoxy and its laws. It’s no surprise to anyone, least of all us Modern Orthodox Jews, that the practices of Orthodox Jews are deemed patriarchal and ridiculous. The very tone of Ghert-Zand’s article was sneering and dismissive. “Heaven forbid” a girl should want to sing in front of men, she mocks. Surely, to many sects of Judaism, singing in front of men is not a problem. But to most Orthodox Jews, this is seen as a violation of kol isha. Do all Orthodox Jews agree with this law in theory? No. But we try to keep it anyway, in whatever way we understand the law to mean.

Not every Orthodox Jew believes singing in front of men is even a problem, as long as certain restrictions are met: The woman sings with a microphone, or there are many women singing at once, or if the song is recorded in a studio and then played on the radio or digitally. In other words, Orthodox Jews are not opposed to “encourag[ing] young people to develop their natural talents and follow their dreams.” We just try to do it within certain boundaries. That, to Modern Orthodox Jews, is what Judaism means: living in the world within the guidelines of the Torah.

One commenter pointed out that this law of kol isha does not exist in other sects of Judaism, and that’s certainly true. That, to me, is the beauty of Judaism — there are so many sects to choose from, and all of them worship God and practice religion in their unique ways. Does that mean one is more “right” than the other? No. Does that mean we should judge and mock the other sects simply because we don’t agree with their way of believing? Of course not. That defies the very beliefs of Judaism: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

In the case of this one seventeen-year-old, who I am sure is a talented woman with exceptional drive, it’s hard for me to say the school did something wrong. A student has to follow the rules of its school even if it means pushing off a dream. Ben-Shetreet seems to be sticking to her plan of singing, and that’s admirable. But if she doesn’t want pushback from her school, then she should wait the last few months of her senior year to sing publicly, or she should switch schools. And if she does want to stay in her school and sing anyway, then no one can fault a school for following its own rules. This is not a case of public humiliation, but of a school punishing its student for stepping outside the school guidelines, and the entire Jewish world blowing up for, once again, disagreeing with an Orthodox halacha.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: the voice, ophir ben-shetreet, israel's the voice, modern orthodox rules

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.