Michael Boyden
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‘A woman’s voice is lewd’

Ordering female IDF conscripts not to sing infringes on their rights. No one would impose a similar restriction on men

This week, female soldiers undergoing basic training at the IDF’s Machaneh Sh’monim army base were forbidden from singing as they waited to carry out their kitchen duty roster.

We read in Talmud tractate B’rachot 24a that Shmuel stated that a woman’s voice was lewd, while Rav Sheshet added that the same was true of her hair. Will we soon see the IDF ordering women to hide their hair?

The very thought is reminiscent of the Sirens of Greek mythology in Homer’s Odyssey, who symbolized temptation and desire, and who lured sailors to their destruction through the sweetness of their voices.

Women’s voices are so lewd that, when a female relative of mine joined a minyan to say Kaddish early each morning following the death of her father, whose only son had been killed in action in southern Lebanon, there were those who chose to leave the minyan rather than hear her voice.

Now the issue at Machaneh Sh’monim, as is so often the case, is one of competing value systems. To what degree should we be expected to restrict individual rights so as to respect the sensibilities of those whose views differ from our own?

Should women be forced to sit at the back of the bus, so that men do not have to see them? Should the liberals always have to concede to the conservatives out of respect, or should the conservatives have to accept that not everything will be as they would wish? After all, that is the basis of life in a democracy.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence speaks of ensuring “complete equality of social and political rights … irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

When the IDF orders female conscripts not to sing, it infringes on their rights. No one would dream of imposing a similar restriction on men!

Now one can appreciate the army’s wish not to offend the sensibilities of some of its dati soldiers, but at what point does such an order negate the very doctrine of the IDF being a people’s army in which the principle of “live and let live” governs its actions?

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.