Fury at ‘male-only’ concert


V The decision to cancel a fundraising concert at which only men were allowed to perform has triggered a toxic debate involving Israelis who argue Strictly Orthodox sensitivities should be tolerated.

The event, organised on behalf of Ezra LeMarpe, a non-profit organisation providing medical advice, was due to take place at a central Tel Aviv venue and involve mainly secular musicians from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

But only male performers were allowed to sing out of consideration for Ezra LeMarpe’s Rabbi Elimelech Firer, who refuses to hear women sing in public.

The resulting public uproar led many artists to withdraw. Rabbi Firer subsequently cancelled the event, saying: “we have never and will never agree to be dragged in to a discourse of needless hate. Our objectives and very existence derive their strength from the Halachah, passed to us from generation to generation, symbolise the absolute opposite.”

But a debate raged not only been religious and secular Israelis, but those on the left and the right. Former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, herself a secular woman, said it was “a pity that because of a handful of preening purists, an evening dedicated to those who need help from a non-profit that gives to everyone, regardless of faith, race or gender, has been cancelled.”

But the issue extends beyond simply the question of whether women can be heard singing. Some Strictly Orthodox rabbis have endorsed gender segregation on public transport serving Charedi neighbourhoods, while others have questioned whether publicly-funded events serving a mostly Orthodox audience can be separated.

In August, attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit allowed local authorities to hold gender-separated events under some conditions.

The Ezra LeMarpe concert was privately-organised, but the fact it was taking place in central Tel Aviv, with the participation of famous secular singers and an overwhelmingly secular audience expected, helped ensure the debate will not go away.

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