Sisterhood Blog

Leave 'Voice' Contestant Alone

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Ophir Ben-Shetreet sings for her coach on ‘The Voice,’ Aviv Geffen

By now, readers of The Sisterhood are aware that 17-year-old Israeli singer Ophir Ben-Shetreet was suspended from her religious girls’ high school for appearing on Israel’s “The Voice,” a televised talent competition. The suspension was a punishment for defying the halakhic injunction of “kol (b’)isha,” which prohibits a woman’s singing voice from being heard by men. It was also meant to serve as a warning to other students who might have been thinking of following Ophir’s example.

As might be expected, the story has been covered in the Israeli press. Among those offering their opinions on the matter is Rachel Azaria, the religiously observant Jerusalem councilwoman and leader of the Yerushalmim political party. Azaria has been profiled several times in The Sisterhood, particularly in regard to her leading efforts to fight against discrimination against women, and for a diverse and pluralistic future for Jerusalem and Israel.

After reading a popular column she wrote on Tuesday about her take on the Ben-Shetreet story, we asked her what she thinks is really behind the suspension, the rightward shift of religious public schools, and what devoutly secular rock star Aviv Geffen’s mentoring of the religious teen singer might mean for Israel’s future.

THE SISTERHOOD: You are an incredibly busy politician and mother. What prompted you to take time out of your packed schedule to write an opinion piece on Ophir Ben-Shetreet’s competing on “The Voice”?

RACHEL AZARIA: I wrote it because I used to sing, just like Ophir. For me, music is the road not taken. I immediately saw myself in her.… I and my friends from the religious Zionist schools and youth groups used to wear dresses like the one she wore on TV; we wore our hair in a braid like she did. She just seemed so familiar to me, like who I was at 17.

What is your response to those who say that the school was justified in suspending Ophir, since she knew ahead of time what its religious rules were?

Those who are saying this are missing the point. Maybe the school had the right to punish her, and maybe it didn’t. Who cares? We need to look at the bigger picture. Something wonderful is happening here with her singing on the show. Look at how much good is coming out of her presenting herself with charm and grace and talking about her love for traditional Judaism… Shouldn’t we be proud of and celebrating — not punishing — her?

What do you think is really behind the suspension?

People want ulpana [religious public girls’ high school] girls not to be out there. They want them to be segregated and to stay within their own tribe, so to speak. Someone who wants to cross boundaries and share and collaborate with another tribe can be considered a threat. People get scared and punish this person to try to bring things back to the way they were.

Ophir is crossing boundaries and trying to be part of something larger, more pluralistic and collaborative. Young people like her don’t want to live with these fences anymore.

Are religious schools putting pressure on students and their families to be more observant?

Definitely. There has been a rightward shift. I wrote in my piece about how when I was in ulpana, I sang in front and with boys all the time. Ophir has said that in her family it was never considered a sin to sing in front of men.

This strictness is an issue we are dealing with in other aspects, not just the singing. Kids are coming home from school and questioning their parents’ level of observance. How do you raise children when they are getting two different messages — one from home and one from school?

You wrote that music is perfect medium for bringing Jews of different streams together. Do you think that the arts in general can be a means to that end?

Definitely. Nowadays, there is so much art all along the secular-religious spectrum. But I think that the possibility with music is the strongest, simply because there is so much to work with. With music, it’s just happening all over the place, like with popular musicians such as Kobi Oz singing traditional piyutim (liturgical poems).

What do you think of Ophir’s choosing Aviv Geffen as her mentor on “The Voice?”

In my day, it would have been unthinkable for a religious girl to choose Aviv Geffen as her mentor. I couldn’t have even imagined speaking to him. He was the antithesis of everything we identified with. But, as I said, Ophir is part of this new generation that wants to celebrate one another, and that gives me reason for optimism.

If you were able to go to the studio to meet Ophir and Aviv, what would you say to them?

To Aviv, I’d say: We are looking forward to seeing what will happen, where you are going with this collaboration.

To Ophir, I’d say: Continue what you are doing. We are very proud of you. We see the hope for a better future for Israel when we see and hear you singing on “The Voice.”

Watch Ophir sing for her coach, Aviv Geffen, on Israel’s “The Voice.”


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

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!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • 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.