Time to Sing a Different Song

Indeed, there is nothing that has done more for the prostitution of the art of singing in our country than forcing it, on the grounds that it's 'official,' upon both those who want it and those who do not want it.

My God, may the polemic over women's singing and the religious soldiers never end! Or at least let it continue a bit longer, until it wears everyone out. And then, perhaps, Israeli culture will succeed at long last in weaning itself from the automatic custom it adopted - who knows when - of singing at every solemn occasion, whether military or civilian.

At Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Memorial Day ceremonies people sing with a mournful mien. And at the Memorial Day for the Israel Defense Forces fallen, they sing with a sorrowful countenance. At demonstrations of the left, they sing with a worried look. At a women's rally against rape, they also sing. And at the social protest demonstrations, they certainly sang - and woe to a certain singer who didn't look kindly at the protest movement: She got what was coming to her.

Ziffer illustration

The military entertainment troupes have hoarsely bellowed out the songs of all the wars, one after another. And caroled the settlements and the outposts. The songs sung by soldiers both female and male, as befits an army that practices gender equality, were the most effective means of brainwashing that a young state could think up to persuade its citizens that its path was just. The songs were also a "living" guarantee that the IDF was a liberal and progressive army, which allocates precious resources to nurturing the art of music.

Then, all of a sudden - boom! - the beautiful illusion is shattered because of a handful of skullcap-wearing soldiers, whose rules do not permit them to collaborate with this melodic niceness. Barbarians!

Indeed? Well, maybe not. Because unintentionally - by means of their protest, which comes across as totally uncivilized - they have in effect brought to life one of basic myths on which Western culture is based: the myth of Ulysses and the song of the Sirens. This early Western myth, exactly like Jewish rabbinical law, was meant to warn against the destructive, bewitching power inherent in the lewd singing of women, which can drive the male out of his mind. In good time, the brave hero Ulysses understood the inherent danger, blocked his soldiers' ears with wax, and ordered them to stop him at all costs from following the Sirens' song into captivity, even at the price of disobeying him. In the end, after a hard struggle with his soldiers, Ulysses managed to withstand the temptation without falling into the trap posed by the singing of those witches.

It was unrealistic to expect the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate to look back at the stories of Greek mythology before she made the decision that was announced on Tuesday, which unambiguously compels every soldier, religious as well as secular, to attend official military ceremonies at which women sing. In an absolutely paradoxical way, it is her decision that comes across as crude and culturally insensitive - whereas the demonstrative exit by Orthodox soldiers from that miserable Sukkot celebration was, at least in my opinion, a constitutive moment in the history of Israeli culture, when a basic Jewish value and a basic Western universal value met and became one.

Indeed, there is nothing that has done more for the prostitution of the art of singing in our country than forcing it, on the grounds that it's "official," upon both those who want it and those who do not want it.

And here I must confess a personal childhood trauma: I was raised at home on classical music, which in our house was considered to be the only music fit for civilized people. But the outside world, school, the youth movement, the bus, the public squares on holidays - all were ruled by the tyranny of Hebrew song, from which there was no escaping. It poured out of loudspeakers and radios and steered people's mood according to what the mood was supposed to be at a given time.

And now the "left" finds itself unable to formulate a position on what to do in the face of this singing dictatorship, because on the one hand it is, after all, a dictatorship of the Zionist narrative, and on the other hand it is a way to wax nostalgic about the good old days of socialism.

And in the midst of all this dithering, along came succor from a most unexpected direction: Jewish Ulysses in skullcaps arose and reminded us that all singing by women inherently, by its very nature, contains a magical, sensual element. That listening to a singing voice is something intimate and sacred, and no one has the right to use the human voice in a mass and cheap way.

My God, my God, may it never end, as poet and parachutist Hanna Szenes wrote in her anthem "Walk to Caesarea" ("Eli, Eli" ), for perhaps out of the shock that has occurred, we will awaken to a more civilized life. No longer will the deadly weapons of sound amplification equipment need to be dragged from demonstration X to memorial Y. Singers of both sexes and entertainment troupes will no longer screech coercively into our ears songs representing the dictatorship of the appropriate mood, and anyone who wants to be enchanted by the sounds of the Sirens' singing will please be so kind as to listen to them over their home music system or though earphones from a portable device.

The solidarity rallies, as well as the protest demonstrations of all stripes, will perhaps suffer a bit from a dwindling of their audiences of supporters, who without the raucous vocal performances may no longer feel the need to hoof it to the public squares. True, in this way this nation's social solidarity is liable to be harmed. But from a different angle, its artistic taste will become more refined, and the level of vulgarity and crudeness will diminish and we will become like the most civilized of all countries, where suddenly setting up a stage, amplifiers and speakers, and deafening perfectly innocent citizens will be considered the same as coerced intimate relations - even if a choir of a thousand segregated women sings there.