I bought the tickets to the concert the first day they went on sale.
Being a mother of five daughters, empowering them in their love of Torah and femininity is upmost on my priority list.
And the annual Tzama concert is our favorite place to draw on this inspiration.
Chances are you have never heard of Tzama until now, but you did read about Yonatan Razel pasting duct tape on his eyes to screen out the sight of dancing women.
So let me tell you the real story.
There is nothing more inspiring for my girls than seeing thousands of women coming together for a festival of Jewish learning, music, and plain fun.
Here my daughters have a chance to browse through hundreds of Jewish books to find topics that speak to their minds. And even more importantly, the girls imbibe the love of learning, simply by watching the seriousness with which other women search out books, the excitement they share when they find a new title, and the satisfaction on their faces as they walk out with supermarket carts filled with enough books to keep them going for a year.
Here my daughters and I get to share our love for music at a concert featuring the latest in Jewish music, with both upbeat and soulful tunes, set to the words of Torah and prayer. Unlike many parents, who are cut off from their kids’ playlists by the invention of earbuds, these concerts help me and my kids understand each other’s tastes in music and then play family favorites on a boombox in the middle of the living room for everyone to enjoy. Together.
Here we get to join 5,000 other women in joyous dancing, celebrating our immense fortunate of being Jewish, having a connection with God, and following a path of spiritual growth. Together, the women create the energy in the hall that is very different from any of the other events I have ever been to. It’s electrifying. And the vibe stays with us for weeks.
So, it is with this in mind that you need to look at the duct tape story. Razel had been given the privilege of contributing to a powerful experience for his audience. Unfortunately, he did not handle that opportunity with the care it deserved. And while his music was powerful, the duct tape was hurtful.
An old adage says that while the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law) has four sections, the fifth section is the most important. It’s called “common sense.” I hope and pray that Razel’s decision was a momentary lapse of judgment.
It is certainly not the Torah way.
Jewish law is called halacha, because it is a real, practical path to follow. The word Torah comes from the word hora’a, a teaching, since it teaches us the ways of life. Plastering duct tape over one’s eyes to screen out women is not a way to live. It’s not a way to show respect for the audience. It’s not the way to guard oneself.
People have been asking what rabbis encourage this behavior. You would be hard-pressed to find a rabbi telling people to engage in such extreme behaviors. The overwhelming majority of rabbis will tell their followers to pursue religious observance pleasantly and with consideration for the needs and the feelings of others.
Razel has the right to set his own behavioral standards. It’s admirable that he sticks with his values. And he could have done any number of things to remain true to himself, without drawing any attention. He could have chosen not to appear. He could have sat with his side to the audience or concentrated on his keyboard. He could have worn sunglasses a la Stevie Wonder under a health pretext. Nobody would have been the wiser.
Fortunately, the thousands of women in the hall had better judgment. After the initial surprise and some raised eyebrows, they disregarded the obvious mistake made on stage and went back to the business at hand.
That’s the point really, isn’t it? Real empowerment means refusing to define oneself by the actions of others. It means knowing what you have, understanding what you want to achieve, and pursuing that goal.
My daughters and I came to the concert with the goal of drawing inspiration and we walked away with the goal achieved.
Oh, and that duct tape would have been useful for taping the carton of books we took away.