Orthodox Singers Find Creative Voice by Performing for Other Women Only

Cultivating Female Musicians Within Constraints of Halacha

Courtesy of Talia Lakritz

By Leeor Bronis

Published April 03, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Lakritz said her first encounter with both kol isha and negiah, the Jewish law that forbids touching a person of the opposite sex — with the exception of one’s spouse — came when she had to hold a boy’s hand and sing together in her second-grade school play.

“After that, my parents sat me down and said maybe I should stop performing with boys onstage,” Lakritz said. Despite that incident, she said, her parents always supported her singing career.

Most rabbis believe that kol isha is open to interpretation. Some authorities forbid a man from hearing a woman’s singing voice at all times; others permit it when the voice is on the radio and the listener does not know what the singer looks like. Some forbid it even then. Kol isha has recently become a source of controversy in Israel; last year, a teenage girl, Ophir Ben Shetreet, was suspended from an Orthodox school for her performance on Israel’s version of “The Voice.”

According to Adena Blickstein, the 31-year-old founder of the JeWTA, most Orthodox artists who belong to her organization say their rabbis deal with kol isha on case-by-case basis. The organization includes singers, comedians, actresses and dancers — like Blickstein herself — who all struggle to perform within the confines of Orthodoxy.

“They have to deal with observing the Sabbath, dressing modestly and making sure men don’t see them perform, so it can be limiting,” Blickstein said. “These women are determined to reach an artistic level without compromising what they believe in.”

So far, Blickstein’s agency has signed seven artists. Each performer has a headshot taken, is given a mentor and is set up with gigs based on her level of observance.

While most of the artists choose to abide by kol isha, one of the agency’s dancers, Anna Schon, 28, recently toured the United States as part of an African-American dance company, The Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group. Though she doesn’t dress conservatively onstage, and dances with a male partner for a gender-mixed audience, Schon, who is Modern Orthodox, said she makes sure there is a divide so the art world never enters her “real” life.

“I’m blessed to be able to live out a totally different personality onstage, and that keeps me following the Jewish faith,” said Schon, who grew up in Riverdale, a neighborhood in the Bronx. “Where I grew up, my rabbis gave me other options. I know it’s not like that everywhere.”

When it comes to singing, many people like Schon believe it is the man’s responsibility to leave the room and close himself off from the female voice. But Elana Sztokman, an Orthodox feminist writer, said she thinks that, like women, men should make their own decisions about kol isha.

“Maybe there will come a time when a man can say, ‘I can be in the presence of a woman and not view her as a sex object,’” Sztokman said. “It’s a voice that says, ‘I can see a woman as not the opposite of religion, but just as a person singing a song.’”

Leeor Bronis is a multimedia journalist living in New York City. She recently graduated from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.