‘Reconciliation’ talk, but 2 sides poles apart

  • Kol Isha HOME
There have been a number of significant developments in the kol isha matter - an Equality Court action brought by Gilad Stern and others against the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies over refusing to allow women to sing in front of men at secular events (with the emphasis on the recent Yom Hashoah commemoration) over the past week. But despite some conciliatory gestures, the “moratorium” doesn’t look very solid.
by ANT KATZ | Jun 01, 2016

Last week Stern wrote a piece in Jewish Report titled: “It’s not over ‘til the lady sings”, explaining his position on the matter. This week, Mary Kluk, national president of the Board, writes in a response - see article below - that the Board recognises that it would be preferable to have a sustainable and acceptable compromise between these two competing positions. 

Other major developments this week indicate that there may be a softening of the previous seeming intransigence of the parties which highlight the fact that the majority among South African Jewry would prefer to see the issue settled within the community rather than through the courts. 

Rhodes Mary Kluk chairperson SAJBD - LONG - CopyKluk writes that to achieve this “sustainable and acceptable compromise”, South Africa’s “diverse and vibrant community (must) be integrally involved in finding a resolution”. The community colloquium will take place in Cape Town on Monday, June 20, and the Cape High Court, sitting as the Equality Court, have named a judge and set down the court matter to be heard on August 22 and 23.

This week Stern and his advocate, Anton Katz SC, told the Jewish Report that they “have unilaterally declared” that over the next two months they will refrain from public comment on the matter. They have opened a website for community engagement, at
http://www.shalombayit.co.za, and have listed a new set of proposals from their side, including what they believe are “Options which will solve the problem”. 

Literally translated, “shalom bayit” means “peace in the home” and is a strongly reconciliatory term. Stern went one step further towards reconciliation, saying that “the applicants are open to hearing from the SAJBD directly”.  

How the whole brouhaha came about

Stern and Sarah Goldstein are two Orthodox Jews from Cape Town who are suing the Cape Board on the basis that the Board’s policy (forbidding women to sing solo at communal events under the Board’s auspices, because of an Orthodox view that this would transgress their halachic beliefs and prevent them from attending such functions) amounts to “discrimination of women on the basis of gender”. 

Sacred lodoThe proposed court action was later joined by SACRED (a Progressive-affiliated interfaith group, the SA Centre for Religious Equality and Diversity).

Last week both parties were recalcitrant in their positions. But this week both sides appear to be much more moderate in their stance.

“If we had to choose between the two options, the welfare of the Jewish community, or the importance of women singing, it’s a no-brainer: we choose our community’s well-being,” says Stern “We think that going to court is not going to be good for the Jews.”

“The SAJBD has consistently been supportive of attempts to resolve this issue through conciliation,” Kluk told SAJR this week. On the colloquium, Kluk said the Board is “deeply encouraged by the support from the community towards this process”.

She believes a solution can only be reached if “the diverse stakeholders commit themselves to finding an outcome that will include all sectors of South African Jewry”. While the Cape SAJBD met with the complainant on March 23, says Kluk, “the key here is for everyone to participate in this forum committed to finding solutions with no preconceived outcomes or conditions”.

Kol Isha“Of course, we differ on how to achieve shalom bayit,” admits Stern. “We respect that the other side has good intentions.”

Stern says that since lodging their papers in March, the complainants have “received no communication from the Board at all”. They made three separate proposals to try to settle the matter and not go to court, but the Board “had only answered us through their lawyers”.

This, he said this week, was tantamount to saying: “We’ll see you in court”. Stern says his claimants have indicated a number of ways (on www.shalombayit.co.za) to settle the matter.

But, despite his apparently toned-down attitude, it appears that Stern is still full of fighting spirit. He notes that “it’s extremely unlikely that the Board will win in court” and that, should it go to court, “it’s likely that a number of prominent human rights NGOs are going to join as amici curiae - friends of the court.  

“It does not serve any of our interests for the Jewish community to be humiliated by a court loss on a human rights issue,” says Stern this week. “We don’t want to ‘win’, and we don’t want the Board to ‘lose’.” The Board’s loss “will be all our loss”, he says.




  1. 3 Phill 02 Jun
    There can be no compromise when it comes to matters of Jewish Law. The issue is best understood as an infestation of ''reform theology' on the Orthodox point of view; to the point that 'orthodox' is by SA standards a generic term for those who do not believe in the reformation of religion as a means to achieve ulterior motives continuously researched by 'reform theology'. The extent of the research which has many Jewish and Non - Jewish donors will stop at nothing to change a Jews view of G-d and godliness. Nonetheless, Judaism as the religion of the Orthodox - to the exclusion of all and any other derivative, 'reform theology' included, is the only acceptable practice.
     Should the decision of the Orthodox Community to
    participate in future events hinge on a woman singing or not - then perhaps two separate events should be held on different dates to satisfy the other religions views.
  2. 2 Rav Shalom 06 Jun
    Phill - there MUST be compromise.
    The whole of Jewish history – our sacred tradition – is one of compromise, innovation and adjustment to new realities. This is why we have survived as a group and a culture.
    This is how and why the State of Israel was created and survives.

    Whenever we park our heads in the sand and refuse to adapt – we suffer.
    Jews missed the entire renaissance period of visual and artistic creativity because we were avoiding creating a Golden Calf equivalent.
    When we were released – physically and mentally – from the ghettoes the outpouring of creativity and innovation was unprecedented for the relative size of our population.
    And continues to this day.

    Fundamentalists argue that they are the keepers of the flame, only they retain the authentic tradition.
    The actual Jewish tradition is to be alert to societal advancement and to find support within our faith for moral and ethical progress.

    I am saddened by your prescription for compromise involving separate ceremonies.
    That you do not see yourself as part of the whole community but rather stand apart as one of the authentic traditionalists whose observance is the only “acceptable practise”.
    I feel you have been misinformed by the same attitude that determines and prescribes Halacha as a system of inviolable statutes interpreted by themselves.
    Do you not feel the lack of creativity – the dead end of decisions reflecting societies of times past?

    Revere leaders who seek to unite rather than divide.
    Rabbis who put aside ecclesiastical arrogance for the sake of shalom bait and community coherence.
    Leaders who do not need exclusion to feel justified.

    Please join us all – Jewish women, men and children – when we celebrate, mourn or commemorate our shared history on an equal, communal and respectful basis.
  3. 1 David B 24 Jun
    @Phill -  intolerance and arrogance seems to be in your religious D&A - I can't help thinking that your attitude is more than half of the problem , and very little contribution to any kind of solution that may suit the community as a whole
    People like you make me feel 'half a Jew'  -  and you simply do not have that right - you need to use your heart and not your religious zeolot-ship to keep us in the fold 


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