[I]n recent years a new ritual that divides rather than unites has become a part of this season of ceremony – angry public confrontations over women singing in these public events.

The debate centers on whether forbidding women to sing is an insulting act of unacceptable discrimination, or a gesture of sensitivity and consideration to Orthodox Jewish men who believe that listening to a woman’s singing voice is, for them, a violation of religious law.

Once again, this year the issue has galvanized feminists who believe such policies represent creeping religious fundamentalism aimed at hiding and silence women in the public sphere. […]

In Israel, the issue of women singing, unlike other gender discrimination issues, has not yet reached the courts, although Orly Erez-Likhovski, who heads the legal department at the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, said that her organization had sent a letter to the Sderot municipality stating that the policy in place banning women singing was “clear discrimination.”

“It is illegal to bar the singing of women in memorial services,” she said. “Municipalities often don’t believe that something is illegal if it’s connected to religion.”

The Bar-Ilan case, she said, in which a policy of no singing in ceremonies by members of either gender has been in place for several years, would be more difficult to challenge, even though the reasoning behind it is “problematic.”