iOS app Android app More

Ashira: Orthodox Jewish All-Girl Rock Band Refuses To Play For Men

TARA TODRAS-WHITEHILL   05/28/09 12:27 PM ET   AP

Mideast Israel Music

RAMAT GAN, Israel — On a fog-filled stage, as the six women of the Ashira band rocked before their die-hard fans, a man entered the auditorium _ and was promptly asked to leave.

The band has been playing together for three years, and the crowds have grown steadily in numbers. But the band has held fast to one golden rule: No men are allowed.

The band's members are all Orthodox Jewish women, and guided by a rabbinical injunction that says it is immodest for a man to listen to a woman's voice in song, they perform only before other women.

The band's members say they are answering a dire need in the Orthodox Jewish community in Israel, where entertainment options for women are often limited. Orthodox communities sponsor activities like women's-only lectures, swims, dancing or traditional music, but modern day rock is a novelty.

"There's no other band that plays the way we play," Pnina Weintraub, the band's 24-year-old founder, said of Ashira's blend of rock, blues and Irish-style folk songs. "It isn't 'girls' music,' but it is an alternative that allows girls to perform in a kosher and proper way."

So Ashira has booked bars that lock out all men on nights they perform. Their Hebrew songs all revolve around biblical themes. Their forthcoming album will include a warning label against men opening the disc. Their business card says "with the help of God" in one corner and "for women only" on the other. They also decline to be videotaped because of the same religious modesty.

But Weintraub, who plays the violin for the sextet, says "the sky is the limit," and hopes to branch out to draw giant crowds of women.

She said the band represents a "new genre," and the chromosome-X crowd seems to appreciate it. By the end of their 90-minute gig at Bar-Ilan University, a religious-leaning university outside Tel Aviv, women in the audience were dancing, waving their arms over they heads and singing along to the words of the songs.

"Whoever invented rock did it for people to let loose," Weintraub said. "It's not just sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Our music is very liberating, and that is very important for our community."

The band also includes a lead singer, a drummer, a bassist, an electric guitarist and a flutist who is in her ninth month of pregnancy.

They are like the Dixie Chicks, with a major twist _ the three married members of Ashira have their heads covered for modesty's sake.

Ashira, Hebrew for "I will sing," has composed eight original songs and performs covers for other Israeli songs. They prayed before taking the stage before some 150 fans.

"It is a new thing, a new concept," said Navea Mashraki, a 29-year-old religious songwriter who came to Tuesday's concert. "What we, as religious girls, have to do is bring something new without breaking tradition."

The band insists it strictly abides by Jewish law, and has faced a surprised, but not disapproving, reaction from their strait-laced community.

"I would feel uncomfortable performing before men," said Inbar Presser, 22, the band's bassist. "I'm glad we can provide a venue for girls to come and sing and dance freely."

___

Associated Press correspondent Aron Heller contributed to this report.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST WORLD

Filed by Stuart Whatley  |