“This isn’t specifically an issue to the SAZF,
the SAJBD also ban women from singing”
Charlotte Fischer - SACRED
Womens' rights under scrutiny
“Near-exclusion of women irks SA group,” read the headline in A JPOST ARTICLE published this morning. “Charedi groups believe that men are prohibited from listening to women sing in public.”
The group referred to in the J-Post story is SACRED (the SA Centre for Religious Equality & Diversity) which was formed last year by the Progressive Jewish movement together with various other interfaith bodies. Charlotte Fischer, the executive director of SACRED, said that the group had chosen “to celebrate Freedom Day in part by beginning a campaign for women’s freedom. We’re launching a video with eleven prominent female members of our Cape Town & Joburg community explaining why they oppose the exclusion of women from singing in secular events.”
Several women’s groups had objected to the SA Zionist Federation’s plans to ban female entertainment at the Joburg celebrations of Yom Ha’atzmaut for the third year in a row – before WIZO and the FED agreed to a last minute compromise last month.
“SACRED has been working hard to get this video out, and have embarked on an integrated campaign to spread this as wide as possible,” they said in a media release over the weekend. “We have our page up on Face Book, and the hits on Youtube have been phenomenal to say the least.”
The video (SEE BELOW) aims at “treating women with respect, and dignity, while offering them constitutionally guaranteed equality, is in the best interest of a democratic South Africa,” says the group. While they accept and respect that “some within the Jewish community are free to choose to interpret Jewish law to mean that they should not hear women sing,” says SACRED, “they do not have the right to impose such restrictions on the broader community.”
The video below was filmed by Gill Benjamin and Kyle Ferguson, edited by Gill Benjamin and produced by SACRED:
J-Post said that “Women were almost barred from singing at a Jewish ceremony in South Africa last week on religious grounds,” and that “SACRED, a Jewish organization linked to the Reform movement, said women were allowed to sing at the Independence Day event organized by the South African Zionist Federation in Johannesburg only after a last minute compromise was made that they would be part of a mixed-gender choir.”
“The original ceremony for the three previous years had all male performers,” said Rabbi Robert Jacobs, who is affiliated with the group. “This year we learned the Zionist Federation was approached by Israelis and other residents and we wanted to make sure they would have that opportunity.”
Jacobs told J-Post that Jewish women in SA have been increasingly sidelined from communal events in recent years due to opposition from the Charedi community.
SACRED said women had sung at Israeli Independence Day events in the country for 60 years until three years ago. “There is a clear shift,” Jacobs told J-Post, referring to opposition to women singing at the recent Independence Day event. J-Post said that the Fed, which organized the Independence Day event, “did not respond to an inquiry before press time.”
“This week in South Africa we have celebrated Freedom Day, which marks 18 years since we became a democracy,” said Lynton Travis of SACRED. “Our Constitution places a duty upon us to promote equality in all spheres of our lives. Gender equality is central,” said Travis.
“Please sign up on our website www.sacred.org.za or ‘like’ our facebook page if you are interested in being part of our campaigns,” Travis asks.
The South African Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity (SACRED) was formed in September 2011 to provide a progressive Jewish voice on relevant social, moral, ethical and religious issues in South Africa: to counteract religious discrimination in all its forms; to advance freedom of religion and to promote fundamental rights and freedoms through advocacy, activism, scholarly contributions to public discourse and public interest litigation. Whilst they are motivated by their Jewish values, they say they aim to be working for civil rights and social justice throughout South African society. They model their work on that of their parent organisation, the Religious Action Center, based in Washington, in whose office the Civil Rights Act was drafted, and the Israel Religious Action Center, based in Jerusalem.