Female members of the Knesset’s choir were excluded from a plenum performance in deference to fervently Orthodox sensibilities.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was treated to a rendition of the Israeli national anthem while visiting the Knesset on Monday, but the singers were all men.
It emerged that three female lawmakers who are also part of the parliamentary choir were left out to avoid offending fervently Orthodox colleagues. Under strict interpretations of Jewish law, a man must not hear a woman singing lest the sound stir up lust.
One of the shunned vocalists, Marina Solodkin, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that the decision to reduce the choir to basses and tenors only was an affront to music and secular morality. Zevulun Orlev, the choirmaster and himself modern Orthodox, argued that the Knesset represents the various streams of Israeli society and that all of their sensitivities should be respected.
According to Avi Balashnikov, the Knesset’s director-general, women never sing in the plenum, though girls under the age of 13 did perform there for the recent visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Women singers do, however, regularly perform in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall, where religious lawmakers can freely leave if they feel uncomfortable.