West Bank Rabbi Hosts Female Musicians to Protest Israeli Women's Exclusion

Rabbi Menachem Froman tells the large audience of men and women at the Tekoa synagogue, he sees humiliation and exclusion of women as 'darkness.'

Rabbi Menachem Froman of the West Bank settlement of Tekoa hosted two musicians - a man and a woman - at his class at the settlement's synagogue on Sunday, to protest the trend of excluding women from the public square. The guests played music together before a mixed audience.

Froman, who heads an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, said this was the opening shot in his campaign to introduce the religious public to Western, secular culture. His wife was also present at the class.

Menachem Froman Oct. 5, 2010 Reuters
Reuters / Ammar Awad

Froman told the large audience of men and women at the synagogue that he sees the humiliation and exclusion of women as "darkness," and in situations like that, "you don't drive darkness away but spread light. You have to know what the main thing is - strengthening the bond between man and wife."

The musicians, Neta and Ariel Gonik, play the flute and guitar, respectively.

For the past year, ever since he came down with cancer, Froman has been holding regular meetings he calls "Torah-singing." Young people flock to these sessions, in which he combines his mystic ideas with Torah and live music performed by a guest artist.

Ehud Banai, Barry Saharov, Erez Lev Ari, Eviatar Banai, Kobi Oz and many other artists have performed at Froman's synagogue.

Froman was hospitalized in Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center earlier this month due to a deterioration in his condition. Until last Friday, he shared a room with a soldier suffering from leukemia. When the hospital sent a female singer to their ward, the soldier's father protested, anxious not to annoy the rabbi in the bed beside him.

"You have a problem with women singing, don't you?" the father asked Froman. "Yes, but I've solved it," Froman replied.

He said the ban on listening to a woman's voice depends on cultural norms and he does not give much weight to it.

Froman calls his wife, Hadassah, "my outstanding teacher and rabbi," while she uses only one of the two Hebrew words for "husband" - ishi (literally, "my man" ) rather than ba'ali ("my master" ). She criticizes the religious public for "shutting itself off and denying itself the fertilization that comes from encounters between men and women."

At the same time, she objects to the secular public's loss of boundaries. "Something has been lost," she said. "You want to give woman her place, but ultimately she loses it because of the loss of boundaries."

Froman is blunter. "As a student of Rabbi Kook, I think there are secular values that are very relevant for me, and women's place in modern society, even in modern religious society, is much closer to God than in classical society," he added. "This goes way beyond women's singing ... Secular people ask religious ones, 'Do you see nothing but the sexual aspect of a woman's singing? Why can't you see a woman as a human being?' That is what the secular public is crying out, and it's extremely important. A woman is not just an opportunity for temptation.

Both Fromans object to ordering a soldier to violate his beliefs by listening to women sing, as this will deter conservative religious men from joining the army. But they also object to Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of Elon Moreh, who said it is preferable to face a firing squad than to listen to a woman sing.

"Rabbi Levanon fell into a deep hole," Froman said. "Today the whole concept [of observing Jewish sexual precepts] has turned into keeping away from women." But in truth, he said, the prohibitions "were meant solely to protect the main thing, which is the connection" between man and wife.