Tel Aviv Mayor under fire over city's first sex-segregated concert

Ultra-Orthodox singer Yaniv Ben Mashiach granted request to have women seated in the balcony during his performance.

Haaretz, Israel/January 12, 2011

Ultra-Orthodox singer Yaniv Ben Mashiach is planning to give the first sex-segregated concert in the 53-year history of Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium, making the hall the latest site of clashes between Haredi customs and secular sensibilities.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was asked this week to ban sex segregation at next month's concert, and any other performances, in municipal venues.

"The Mann Auditorium is one of the most important civic symbols of Tel Aviv," said Yifat Zamir, who heads WePower, one of several women's groups that asked Huldai this week to refuse to allow segregated performances. "I don't think any of the city founders thought that someday someone would say, 'Men sit here and women sit there.'"

But Huldai said that as a democratic and pluralist city, Tel Aviv respects all people and their ways of life, and therefore allows municipal buildings to be rented out for various events.

The Tel Aviv municipality provides much of the funding for the Mann Auditorium.

Ben Mashiach, who sings songs with Jewish themes, had previously asked the auditorium for separate seating at the concert, meaning that men would sit in the main section and women would sit in the upstairs balcony. His concerts are usually overseen by "modesty guards" who enforce the segregation.

'Fundamentalist circles'

Tamar Zandberg, a city council member who heads the municipality's committee on women's rights, also asked Huldai to ban such a "chauvinist and primitive practice."

"It's inconceivable that this humiliating, chauvinist and primitive practice will take place in a municipal concert hall, in Tel Aviv," Zandberg wrote in a letter to the mayor. "It's a custom that has nothing to do with Jewish or religious life. It has sprung up suddenly in dark, fundamentalist circles and it has been growing ever wider. These methods of excluding women should not be accepted even in ultra-Orthodox society, most certainly not in municipal institutions in the heart of Tel Aviv. There's no consent to speak of in a society that oppresses and humiliates women. These women lack a real free choice."

Ben Mashiach's manager, Eli Melamed, said separate seating was a norm among the ultra-Orthodox, and that the singer's audience demanded it. He also asked why the petitioners didn't make the same demand of Orthodox synagogues, where women sit in balconies or behind barriers.

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