A teenage girl was told she couldn’t sing in a municipal show on Sunday because it would offend an ultra-Orthodox man in the audience.
The head of education at the Merom HaGalil Regional Council later apologized for his decision to remove a singing performance by Eliyana Hayut, 13, in a musical interlude during an education conference organized by the council, and said it was a wrong decision made under pressure.
The council, which administers an area of northern Israel, said the incident was due to a “misunderstanding,” and also apologized.
Under Israeli law, gender discrimination is prohibited in the public arena or at municipal events.
“It really upset me that I was canceled from the conference,” Eliyana told Channel 12 in a Monday report. “I feel that it’s wrong to discriminate, it’s wrong that I couldn’t go to sing.”
Her mother, Avigail Hayut, explained that her daughter attends a local music conservatory and is “something of a star” at her school where she is known for her singing talent.
Last week, her teacher asked her to perform at the conference held in the conservatory and the teen spent time preparing for the event. But just before the family was set to leave home for the conference, Avigail received a Whatsapp message telling her that Eliyana could not sing due to a “halachic problem.”
Orthodox Jewish law prohibits men from hearing women sing in many contexts, considering the female voice immodest. The issue has previously created uproar in Israel, specifically when it comes to public performances.
“To my regret, they haven’t approved of women singing,” the teacher wrote to the mom in the WhatsApp message.
“That is not normal,” the teen’s mother told Channel 12. “It can’t be that at the school she attends they take her off the stage because she’s a girl.”
Avigail said she quickly organized a few women to turn up at the conference where they confronted the head of the council’s education department, an ultra-Orthodox man who told them he had not approved for women to sing at the conference.
The education chief, identified by Haaretz as Avi Chipnik, explained that an ultra-Orthodox man was expected to attend and he didn’t want Eliyana to be offended if the man got up and left when she started to sing. Instead, he decided to drop her from the show.
Eliyana’s father who described himself as “traditional” said such incidents only push people further away from religion.
“We respect religion and traditions, but what happened was not decent,” he said.
Chipnik sent an apology Monday to the family saying that “in the heat of the moment” while organizing the event he was told that Eliyana would be singing.
“Since I knew that the audience would also include ultra-Orthodox [members]” who would leave the room when Eliyana began to sing “I was afraid that Eliyana would be offended and hurt by this and I wanted to spare her that.”
“I was wrong, it would have been more correct to enjoy Eliyana’s talent and see at the time if anyone from the audience would leave,” he wrote. “I hurt a precious and talented girl and I’m sorry for that.”
The Merom HaGalil Regional Council said in a statement that “in last night’s event, there was a specific and unfortunate misunderstanding that is in no way… the council’s policy.”
“We apologize to everyone who was harmed,” the statement said. “[We] will continue to maintain a policy of inclusion, acceptance and mutual respect between all the different sectors that live in it.”
The Israel Women’s Network activist group tweeted the Channel 12 report about the incident with the remark “reading but not believing. Again we are removed from the public space because of a ‘halachic problem.'”
The council covers an area along the northern border with Lebanon that includes 24 communities spanning the spectrum from ultra-Orthodox to national religious, and secular.