Ban Dropped on Women Singing at Holocaust Memorial in South Africa

Cape SA Jewish Board promises to restructure future ceremonies to include women singing.

Dani Machlis

Women will no longer be banned from singing at the annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in Cape Town after the South African Center for Religious Equality and Diversity agreed to drop the complaint it filed in April.

The complaint, filed in the Equality Court of the Western Cape High Court, was directed at the Cape Town chapter of the South Africa Jewish Board of Deputies. In exchange, the board promised to restructure future ceremonies in order to include women singing, SACRED and the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies announced Wednesday in separate statements on Facebook.

The Cape SA Jewish Board said it will “restructure future ceremonies so as not to exclude a woman singing solo, while still ensuring that the event is inclusive for the entire community, including those observing Kol Isha.”

Kol Isha is a practice observed by many Orthodox Jews prohibiting men from hearing a woman singing because it is immodest.

In the SACRED statement, Rabbi Julia Margolis, the group’s chair, said, “We are glad to know that all future SA Jewish Board of Deputies ceremonies and events will be infused with respect for the equal treatment of all on grounds of sex and gender and that no members of the community will be treated as second class Jews. SACRED became involved in this issue as it is deeply committed to the values of our Constitution and ensuring the elimination of unfair discrimination within the Jewish community of South Africa (and beyond).”

Although the agreement has been reached only with the Board of Deputies in the Western Cape, Margolis said her group “expects all chapters of the Board of Deputies across South Africa to include women singing in their Holocaust memorial ceremonies.”

James Lomberg, executive director of SACRED, said in the Facebook statement: “It is our fervent hope that young people, women and others who were alienated from the Holocaust Memorial due to the recent ban will once again feel able to participate in a manner which reflects their values and the lessons of the Shoah. We also have affirmed that our Jewish communal structures must affirm in all their actions the key constitutional value of equality – which is also a foundational principle of Jewish tradition.”