Politicians Demand More ‘Inclusive’ Selichos in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv

Erev Yom Kippur slichos as the Kosel, September 20, 2015. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90
Erev Yom Kippur Selichos at the Kosel Hamaaravi in 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In an interview, Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri slammed a Jerusalem municipality edict forcing organizers of a Selichos event in the Gilo neighborhood this week to feature a female singer, among the chazzanim who were leading the event. “How far will this go? We cannot allow the municipality to use our tax money to ‘secularize’ the public and Yerushalayim,” Rabbi Deri said in an interview on Kol Chai radio.

The decree that a female must be among those leading the privately organized public Selichos event Wednesday night was made by the head of culture issues in the municipality, Yoram Braverman. According to Braverman, “It is not proper for a municipally supported event to pass over discrimination.” Since the city was a partner in the project, women must be included in the bill, he ruled.

The ruling generated indignation among many groups, including those not necessarily associated with religious lifestyles. Deputy Mayor Chanit Moshe on Wednesday called on Braverman to cancel the order, saying that the municipality was “overreaching. The program had been set a long time ago and no one complained. Now, hours before the event, in an apparent effort to generate headlines, pressure is being generated for the forced inclusion of a female singer. I am in favor of female performances in public, and I have never called for the banning of a female singer from any event. But this is unfair intervention and coercion in an event where such coercion does not belong.”

Meanwhile, planned large-scale recitation of Selichos that had been planned for Sunday night in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv has been canceled by its organizers. The decision came after the municipality, a week earlier, banned a concert that had originally been planned for the evening, claiming that organizers had prevented females from performing.

Cancellation of the event became a cause célèbre among leftist politicians, who mounted media and political pressure to ban the event from Rabin Square. The concert, a free event, was an attempt to “bring together, for the first time on a single stage, well-known and loved artists with a secular orientation who will sing songs from Jewish tradition and folklore and promote a message of forgiveness and unity, apropos of Erev Yom Kippur. Thus we will all take advantage of this special period for all Jews.”

While the bill included some of Israel’s top musical artists, none of them were female – and the municipality, which had originally signed on as a sponsor of the privately organized event, quickly disassociated itself from it as MKs and local politicians, many of them associated with Meretz, railed against the event because it “discriminated against women.”

In response, the organizers canceled the concert, replacing it with an evening of Selichos, but on Friday the group canceled that as well. No reason was given on the group’s social media page.

Mickey Gitzin, a Meretz member of the Tel Aviv City Council, called the cancellations “a great accomplishment. The cancellations show once again the power of public pressure. There is no justification in today’s society for discrimination against women, whether for religious or other reasons. The time has come for organizers of events like these to learn that the only way to instill true unity is to include all segments of Israeli society.”