Jan 29, 2013

Religious female singer puts fulfilling her dreams over her religious beliefs

A religious teenager named Ophir Ben-Sheetrit went to sing and compete on Israel's reality TV singing competition show, The Voice. Her performance and the responses of the judges is available on Youtube. She is obviously very talented, both with her voice and her ability to perform and stay sharp under pressure.

The big story of this is that Ophir is a religious young woman in a religious moshav called Nir Galim in southern Israel. Her school, also religious, in Ashdod was less than pleased with her decision to perform in the competition on tv. Other parents complained that she had done something so blatantly against halacha, singing in public. The shool, worked it out with the parents an a mutually acceptable "punishment" was agreed upon - the school would suspend Ben-Sheetrit for two weeks and she would have to take some courses on Judaism, and this serve as a deterrent for other girls from trying to follow her footsteps.

I am not sure what the "courses on Judaism" is all about - isn't that what they are supposed to be doing in school at her age? Regardless, it seems the other girls in her class are all equally talented and parents are concerned they will all embark on singing careers via television shows, so her punishment must serve as a deterrent for them. I don't know that they had to punish her so that it would be a deterrent for other girls. They needed to punish her because she blatantly broke the school rules and went against what the school tries to teach their students. If a kid breaks a rule quietly, it can be easier to get away with it, and it can be easier for the school to ignore. When a student breaks a rule (eve though it is probably not an official rule, it is more likely a rule that is a given and is expected of all parents/students without having been said) so blatantly and publicly, and in such a big way, the school cannot ignore it.

Interestingly enough, according to NRG the Ministry of Education could not allow her to officially be punished because there is a rule that says students cannot be punished for performing on a television show. Because of that, the parents of Ophir had to be the ones initiating the punishment, despite their position that she was perfectly ok in her performance.

The Forward had another interesting piece of information in their write-up of the incident:
Back at home at Nir Galim, a religious moshav near Ashdod, many in the community are reportedly fully behind Ben-Shetreet. On the other hand, Rabbi Zvi Arnon, the moshav’s rabbi, said he was understanding of Ben-Shetreet’s situation and praised her for being “a girl with strong morals,” but he reiterated the Halakhic prohibition against her singing. “There is not a single rabbi who will permit a woman to sing in front of men, especially on television. It is simply not permissible by Jewish law,” he said in an interview with Channel 7.
In terms of the punitive action taken by Ben-Shetreet’s school, the rabbi basically said the school, which deals with hundreds of girls and their families, had to do what it had to do
I don't know if she was compromising her ideals for the potential success and fulfillment of a dream, or if she, and her family, really consider it to be within the halachic framework in which they live. They justify it by saying kol isha is disputed as to when and how it is applied, as well as by saying that she loves singing so much and the Torah wants people to be happy...

I think the school handled it well. I think she got off with a fairly light punishment. Maybe the school does not see the performance as being quite as badly as is being made out. I think the parents cooperating with the school, albeit after the fact, was also a good move and showed integrity and honor on their part, along with goodwill.

I wish her success, not because I think she is doing the right thing or that she hasnt compromised on something a religious girl should not compromise on, but because we are given free will and free choice - I always wish everyone well when they choose to do something knowing the consequences, even if from a religious perspective it looks to me like they are making the wrong choice. That is how God created us humans - with free will, and with the ability to make mistakes and put other priorities higher on the scale. She has decided that fulfilling her dream is higher on her list of priorities than certain religious practices. But this is just going to be the first of many challenges and clashes between religious beliefs and career choices.

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  1. I don't think she has such a fantastic voice, but wow is she beautiful.

  2. Wow, this is so wrong. Please God, if my children fail, I will have the strength to show that I do nto support this yet keep loving them and have them understand.

    Maybe someone can use the 'kula' to sing on the radio but can she really justify singing live in from of the audience and judges? Replace this issur with breaking Shabbat. Is following dreams a legitimate reason to break a Torah mitzvah? Baruch Hashem for the mute button, she chose Aviv Geffen as a trainer and well, she simply does not seem like coming from a 'frum' family...

    This is another example of the religious people emerging into Israeli pop culture and failing, yet I do not deny that we are all from the same cookie cutter. This religious segment has a major inferiority complex, is usually put down in the media, and has a combination desire to be liked as well as this inherent want to do kiruv, almost at all costs. The Haredim have strict social pressure that would prevent something like this, but in the lite-sepharadi segment, I guess not unexpected. Yes, I can make that superficial judgement by the length of her skirt and the female relatives watching backstage not wering head coverings. My heart goes out to these Sepharadi families with such a rich, pure Jewish history, yet have assimilated badly into Israel secular society to the point of many not being religious, even with choosing to do some particular mitzvot to keep traditional.

    The school did give a very light punishment but then again, maybe they didn't have any policy in place in the first place.

    I have nothing wrong women singing, and very much support שירת נשים when done modestly and for other women, but going after the dream publicly is just not proper.

  3. Besides the singing, there was so much that is amazing going on in the original video (link far below) that everyone is ignoring. It reveals so many things about Israeli society: Moving up in society; sincere interactions between religious and secular people; how they are perceived by the audience; how permitted behaviors become prohibited for the convenience of others, etc.

    (1) The panelists are a mix of performers coming from both the European and the Middle Eastern/North African/Central Asian traditions. A generation ago, only the Europeans got air time. Some of the panelists are known to be very secular, while others are Jewish tradition-friendly.

    (2)One panelist sensed some religious music influences in the girl's singing, then asked if she is from a religious background. She replied yes, that her background is of singing piyutim (liturgical songs), coming from the Andalusian musical tradition. (That is a Jewish musical path leading from Moorish Iberia, starting in the 700's. How many on American Idol or The Voice talk about building on musical traditions stretching back to the beginnings of plainchant?) OK. So what? One big deal is that the other panelists and the audience find nothing surprising that the question was asked. The bigger deal is that they found nothing surprising about her answer, except to ask her to sing an encore.

    Each panelist argues why [s]he should be picked as the singer's mentor going forward.

    (3) Secular pop icon panelist Aviv Geffen claimed to be somewhat inclined toward religious tradition. The singer sweetly told him, "En zman m'uchar lachazor bitshuvah," "There is no time when it is too late to return in repentence [to religious observance.]" He said that whenever he gets too close to observance, at the last moment he runs away; then the conversation continues. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE? On a super popular reality Israeli TV show, a beautiful religious young woman tells the famous singer/songwriter/musician/producer twice her age that anytime is a good time to become observant! In a good humored pleasant conversation! He, the other panelists and the audience are all very happy with this! This is not how the religious and secular groups in Israeli are reported in the press as behaving toward each other, but maybe this is the reality. I think the Messiah is finally coming!

    (4) Not everybody was pleased by her performance. She was suspended from her high school, for singing where men might hear her. SOMETHING IS WRONG here. She has every right according to Jewish Law to sing and perform. It's the men who are prohibited from listening. According to many current Orthodox rabbinic authorities, Jewish men should not have been in the audience, been panelists, or watched the program on TV. A man being present does not force her to not sing when it is her venue. (Of course she can't barge in to a man's house, start singing, and expect him to vacate his domain.)

    She has freedom of expression. The men have freedom, and indeed the obligation, not to listen. This is similar to the US Constitution's Freedom of Speech. It guarantees freedom of speech, not hearing, as Pat Paulsen reminded us about 45 years ago: text: http://www.paulsen.com/censor.html and audio http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuJStuIU_DY

    (5) The girl, Ofir ben Sheetrit, chose Aviv Geffen as her mentor, passing over Sarit Hadad and Shlomi Shabat, both of whom come from the Sephardic/Mizrachi music traditions. Maybe Ophir has two projects: one to succeed as a performer and another to get Aviv to become religious.

    The video clip is at http://www.myspace.com/video/vid/109130807
    Men who are are careful to avoid hearing recordings of women singing need to mute the sound during 00:15..01:59 and 03:35..04:08.
    Don't worry, your hearing the singing is not what is important here. Most of the important interplay starts at 04:20.

  4. I'm no posek, but isn't the prohibition on men prohibited from listening to the female singing? What are religious men doing listening/watching this tv show anyway? Shouldn't they be the ones punished, not the songstress?

  5. Harold,

    The "voice" of a woman is (in certain situations) considered an "ervah". So compare this case to other cases of ervah. If a woman is running naked through the streets, a man is not allowed to look at her. But is she blameless since the issur is only on the man to look? Come to think of it, is the issur only on the man, or on her for exposing herself in public?

  6. Dvora's voice wasn't an erva. Neither was Miriam's. Or the women who sang and danced with her at the sea shore. And, King David said in his old age he wanted to see the young men and women singing and dancing in Jerusalem at the festival one last time before he died. And, before anyone gets uppity, the Talmud makes it clear David meant exactly what the verse's plain meaning is. The "prohibition" is a medieval inference taken from a discussion of the social mores and attitudes of chazal. There was never a tekana that women not sing in public. It was merely a custom of the sages rooted in their milieu. We aren't in their milieu, and even the meanest of understandings can grasp that context and content and singing style are critical to judging such matters. A woman raising her voice in praise, or singing classic religious songs, or reading the megilla, or singing folk songs and the like is not doing anything inherently erotic and should be told not to express herself in such a fundamental, charismatic, and powerful way.


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