Thursday, October 27, 2011

Combating Israel’s Gender Segregation

The modern state of Israel usually maintains its image as a country where women enjoy full equality with men. However, incidents involving gender segregation have been surfacing more frequently recently. Now, women are ready to fight back. A sing-in protest has been organized to remind everyone that women are people.

Last month I wrote how the ultra-Orthodox residents of the town of Beit Shemesh were trying to impose their extremist ways on the women of their community, including violently attacking a religious girls school which they felt imposed on their interpretation of modesty.

The ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim was in the news when residents divided their streets into men-only and women-only sidewalks, separated by fences and cloths that would prevent the opposite sex from being seen.

Israel’s High Court of Justice discussed Mea Shearim again this year, upholding its ruling that the segregation was illegal, however it ruled that enforcement of the law would only begin next year.

Israel Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish, said of the situation: "It seems all we are seeing is a radicalization trend. It began with buses, continued with supermarkets, and has now reached the streets. It doesn't look like we're headed to moderation, but rather the opposite.”

About six weeks ago, nine cadets walked out of a formal IDF officers’ training corps event because women soldiers were among those singing. The cadets believed they were prohibited from hearing the female voices based on their strict interpretation of Jewish law. The incident at the military event led to four of the cadets being dismissed from the course. 

According to Orthodox Jewry, the singing voice of a woman is considered sensual and possibly stimulating to males. 

The IDF allows religious soldiers to refrain from participating in recreational activities that contradict their lifestyle and faith. Authorities make efforts to consider the sensitivities of the religious public, but does anyone consider the effect such actions have on women?

Hila Benyovits, a Tel Aviv woman with a master’s degree in gender studies, says that the Halachic prohibition on hearing women sing “implies that the very essence of women is lustful and indecent.”

“When people make a show of leaving the room when another person is singing, they are expressing disgust and rejection, as though the singer were leprous, unclean, not legitimate. When a man advocates for ‘the singing of males’ only, he is disgracefully dehumanizing 51% of the population and saying that women are not human. He determines, in effect, that women are the sum of their sex organs, and denies us a basic form of self-expression.”

Benyovits has decided to do something to protest this latest example of gender segregation. She has announced a protest sing-in, in which women would stand in public and sing, making their voices heard. Organized as an event on Facebook, the protest sing-in is now scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beer Sheva on Friday, November 11th at 11:00.

“We’re not going to stage a provocation, but rather to maintain sanity,” she says. “We are here to remind everyone that women are people.”

It is not yet known how many women will participate in the sing-in protests, or whether they will change anything. One thing for sure is that the ultra-Orthodox who don’t hesitate to segregate women will not be listening.


  1. If I were there, I'd go sing! Thanks for posting this. What's next, burquas? House arrest?

  2. Come on over and join the singing!

  3. Amazingly that this just as relevant today, two years later