I'D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING... - KOL ISHA PART II
The Acharonim introduce several important criteria concerning the prohibition of listening to a woman's voice. Maharam Schick (E.H. 53) makes an interesting inference into a gemara in Megilla in order to pull out one such idea. The gemara in Megilla 15a says that anyone so much as mentions the name of Rachav (who hid the spies that Yehoshua sent to the Land of Israel) would become aroused, due to the fact that she was a prostitute by profession. The gemara continues to list other women in Tanach with particular features that would prove to be sexually stimulating. Among these women is Yael, wife of Chever HaKeini and murderer of the Canaanite general Sisera, who was known for her beautiful voice. This section of the gemara concludes with the gemara saying that anyone who says the name of Rachav would instantly have a seminal emission, however, this is only if he actually knew her and recognized her. Maharam Schick extends this final line to all of the woman included by the gemara, and concludes that it is only forbidden to hear a woman's voice if one knows what that women looks like. Based on this, there are many poskim who want to claim that listening to a woman on the radio, provided that one does not know her, would not be a problem.
Rav Ovadiah Yoseif (Yabia Omer 1:6) limits this idea. He rules that if one knows what the particular woman looks like, there is no reason to be lenient, since he can imagine what she looks like while hearing her voice, and thus come to have improper thoughts. Rav Yoseif ends his responsum by noting that one should not claim that nowadays we are more used to hearing women's voices and thus we should be allowed to be more lenient in this regard. Going one step further, the Chelkat Ya'akov (1:163) says that it is completely forbidden to listen to a woman singing on the radio, since the voice itself is an ervah, and therein lies the prohibition. Thus, even if one does not recognize her and does not know her, it would still be forbidden to listen.
Before we continue, we should note at least two overarching approaches to this debate and some of the others that we will cite. Rav Getsel Ellenson suggests that the debate concerning listen to a woman sing on the radio is over whether the real prohibition is due to the voice itself or whether it is because we are afraid that one will come to do something with the woman he is listening to (as was the case with Yael, who lured people with her voice). If the problem is the actual voice, then even on the radio there will be an issue. However, if we are concerned specifically that one will attempt to commit a sin with the woman who is singing, then the fact that a radio removes her physically may provide us with some breathing room. Of course, this makes things interesting in terms of watching a woman sing on television, where one can say what the woman looks like even though she is not present (Rav Yoseif would almost certainly forbid watching a woman sing on television).
A second approach would be to see the difference between the forest and the trees of this issue. The big picture, the forest, is that it is forbidden to hear a woman's singing voice due to its sensual nature. Thus, it is irrelevant how that voice is transmitted, since either way the effect will be similar. On the other hand, we can look at the technical details, the trees. When one hears the voice of a woman that has been recorded or transmitted via some form of modern technology, he is hearing either an echo or some other form of reproduction of the voice. Thus, if the whole problem is that the voice of a woman is technically defined as an ervah, there would not necessarily be the same issue here (this comes up as well in the context of using a microphone for Megilla reading and in shul in general - if one has to hear a human voice in such situations, does a microphone fulfill that requirement, or is it merely an echo of the original voice that falls short of meeting the halachic standards?).
An additional offshoot of this latter approach would be that if we are concerned with the presence of something that is technically an ervah, then there should be no problem with listening to one's wife while she is a nidda, or with listening to the voice of an unmarried girl who is not a nidda (of course, Jewish girls do not go to the mikveh until marriage, so this is essentially a moot point for girls who have menstruated). As such, the To'afot Re'eim (note 130 to Yere'im 26) claims that one may listen to his wife sing while she is a nidda, since it is permitted for him to look at her at that time and thus this should be no different. On the other side of the coin, yet utilizing the same logic, the Pitchei Teshuva (O.C. 195:10) forbids one to listen to his wife sing while she is a nidda since the gemara in Shabbat 13a compares that status of a man's impure wife to that of another man's wife, both of whom are forbidden to him. The Ben Ish Chai adopts somewhat of a middle view, siding essentially with the Pitchei Teshuva, but ruling that if one's wife is impure but she is singing to comfort a child or to put the child to sleep, the man may remain in the room if he effectively has no other place to go.
One of the most common situations in which it is likely that a man will hear a woman's voice is at the Shabbat table while zemirot are being sung. The Be'eir Sheva claims that the fact that in this case the songs being sung are in the context of quasi-worship is irrelevant, and a woman should not allow her voice to be heard by men while singing zemirot (this may also apply to women singing loud in shul). On the other hand, the Sdei Chemed claims that since zemirot are sung for the purpose of praising Hashem, a woman may sing loud enough to be heard by men so long as they do not strain to hear her voice and derive benefit from it. In other words, the nature of the song can at least soften the hard-line view of kol isha.
One of the most famous rulings issued regarding the singing of zemirot on Shabbat comes from the Seridei Eish (2:8). A German rabbi in the late 1800's and early 1900's, he was asked about some of the practices of the French youth group "Yeshurun." Among the questionable activities that they engaged in was the singing of zemirot on Shabbat in groups made up of boys and girls. In the first part of his response, he offers the halachic aspect of this issue. While he first was aghast at this practice, he came to rely on the views of the great German Rabbis Samson Refael Hirsch and Azriel Hildesheimer, who allowed such singing based on the principle that "two voices cannot be distinguished" (based on a gemara in Rosh HaShana and elsewhere). In other words, since there are many people singing, it is hard to pick out one specific voice and thus there is no worry that any of the boys will be aroused by any one of the girls. He then goes on to cite the aforementioned view of the Sdei Chemed, noting that our source for the permissibility of men and women singing songs of praise to Hashem in unison comes from Shoftim 5, where Devorah and Barak sing to Hashem after their defeat of Sisera.
However, there is a second part to the responsum of the Seridei Eish. He notes that his answer is being written in the context of a crisis period of Jewish history. The Reform movement emanating from Germany was strong, and many people were being lost to Jewish observance. Furthermore, since there were few opportunities for girls to get real Jewish educations, they were often sent to state run schools, a practice that had a deleterious effect on the Jewishness of entire generations of mothers. Given all of this, the Seridei Eish writes that he feels that permitting kol isha by relying on these leniencies is a small price to pay in exchange for the preservation of the Jewish people in the face of an overwhelmingly secular society. He thus invokes the concept of "there is a time to act in the name of Hashem, and thus the Torah must be violated" (based on Tehillim 119:126) - if this small concession is not made, he felt that the potential losses would be far greater. However, it should be noted that this concession was made in accordance with accepted views, and not that he felt that halacha could be ignored because "it is too hard to keep."
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