Most Jews have heard about Kol Isha, the proscription against women raising their voices in song. But discussions about the voice of a woman were broader than whether or not she could sing and in what context, and in whose presence. The discomfort men had about women, not just singing but also speaking, has never been simply an issue of a voice, but rather of a voice embodied in a particular body, a female body, whose physical presence has traditionally presented a problem for Jewish men. These days, this is not solely an uncomfortable problem within the Orthodox Jewish world, but also within the progressive Jewish world, where women's voices and women's presence are still challenging and discomfiting to people. Nor does it remain solely a source of Jewish anxiety; women and their voices affect women in all aspects of secular life as well.
Rabbi Dr Barbara Borts was ordained at Leo Baeck College and has worked in synagogues throughout the UK, Europe and North America. In 2014, she completed a PhD thesis entitled Mouths Filled with Song: Anglo-Reform Judaism through the Lens of its Music, at Durham University. She is the author of various pamphlets and articles and is the co-editor of Women Rabbis in the Pulpit: A Collection of Sermons.