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A Kolot Midrash

Kolot (ko-lót) noun pl. masc. [singular: kol: takes a fem. plural ending] Modern Hebrew: 1. voices; 2. votes. Biblical Hebrew: thunder. As in kol isha: the “woman’s voice” that was not to be heard in public; and as in bat kol: “’daughter’ of The Voice,” which refers to the Divine Voice as expressed in human community.

According to the Torah, God tells Moses to prepare the people for Divine communication at Sinai by having them sanctify themselves for two days. They must wash their clothes and not touch the mountain. When Moses repeats these injunctions to the people, he adds: Do not go near a woman.

Many have noticed that Moses thereby presumes a male-only congregation at Sinai, even though Jewish legend elaborates that everyone was present for this revelation, including the unborn Jews of future generations. On the third day in the morning, God sends kolot uvrakim (thunders and lightning) and a cloud of smoke and a powerful kol shofar [Exodus 19:16]. One might say that God sends kolot partially in answer to Moses' presumption.

By calling ourselves Kolot – voices, votes, thunder – we imply that the Divine itself carries the voices and casts the ballots on behalf of those who have been silenced by history. These voices – voices that were surely present, though unacknowledged – thunder and find brilliant illumination in the lightning that accompanies them.

As Kolot, we blend the recognized and the unrecognized. Our kolot harmonize kol isha, bat kol, and all of the kolot mythically present at Sinai.

Kolot honors the variety of Jewish voices, adds harmonies to traditional melodies, and recovers unheeded voices from our shared past. We contribute contemporary variations on classic Jewish themes and create new melodies, thereby strengthening the chorus of our collective Jewish future.

Borrowing from midrashic reading strategies, we notice that differently vocalized,   may also be read as KOOLot, which refers to lenient rulings of Jewish law, the principle of humane practice that often guides Talmudic legislation. Kolot contains this hint within to remind us that our tradition is a generous one and has been adaptive to the needs of Jews in each generation.