Women singing at public events or commemorations

The following is from the Jerusalem Post.

“A row has broken out after Bar-Ilan University earlier this week banned women from singing during its Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Wednesday night.

Female students were told they would be allowed to read passages of text for the ceremony and play musical instruments.

Rabbi Shlomo Shefer, Bar- Ilan’s campus rabbi who is responsible for the ceremony, told Channel 10, which first reported the story, the decision was made because women singing in ceremonies on campus was not the customary practice at the university. Jewish law, in general, prohibits men from listening to women sing in person, although some rabbinic authorities are more lenient on this issue.
The university faced criticism from several quarters, including the national-religious organization Ne’emanei Torah V’Avodah (NTA), which said that singing at national ceremonies is an Israeli custom and stringencies in Jewish law should not be imposed on the general, non-religious public.

“Even if within Jewish law there are different opinions regarding women singing at public events, there are enough opinions [in Jewish law] that do not prohibit this at public ceremonies, for religious ceremonies and other events,” the organization said.

“NTA holds that women can and should appear on stage at public events. Those who have a stricter approach are free not to attend these events, but they cannot impose their strictures on the general public.”

Separately, NTA also criticized the Israel Association of Students for inviting singer Eyal Golan to perform at its annual Student Day celebrations.

Golan was accused, in 2014, of having sexual relations with underage girls, although the police investigation against him was closed due to lack of evidence. During the investigation, the singer had told the police that there was a difference between sleeping with a girl of 17 compared to a girl of 16, saying the latter was a criminal act and the former was not.

“It is difficult to accept the indifference in which performers who are caught up in moral controversy are invited to such events,” said NTA.”

My view (Note very carefully that I am not stating any more than an opinion. Halachic rulings should only be given by Rabbis of recognised high calibre unless they are an “open and shut” case as per Shulchan Aruch, which this is not, as per the parameters in Responsa on similar questions e.g. Women singing Zmiros in the Sridei Eish 2:8 especially near the end of that responsa, and reciting Krias Shma in front of a female who is not wearing a head covering these days as per the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 75:7) cf. Mishna Berura (Orach Chaim 75:10) who disagrees.

Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein ז’ל, the Aruch HaShulchan
  1. It is proper for a University of this type to have a Rabbi to whom it refers Halachic questions and advice.
  2. It is proper for such a Rabbi to proffer his opinion on such matters, as well as providing these to students who consult him.
  3. On weighty halachic issues, I would expect any Rabbi, unless he is a recognised Posek and/or who writes Responsa which leave them open to peer review, to confer with Poskim of note who already have no halachic issue with attending this type of University establishment
  4. I think I have been at Bar Ilan once; I do not know the University except for some academic Computer Science issues (e.g. its responsa project) and some academics who publish Judaism-oriented articles.
  5. The issue of women singing (many consider this a Rabbinic prohibition) together with men at a formal ceremony, as in a remembrance ceremony or the singing of an anthem, is one which is not new. Although one may be sitting or standing relatively close to a female and hear her particular voice clearly despite a group setting (מגילה כא, ב), I would be inclined to respond as follows (assuming the questioner was free to make their own decision 🙂 ):
    1. If this issue is one which you personally feel is halachically problematic, do not attend.
    2. If your own Posek has advised you that you may attend or may not attend, then follow his Psak Din.
    3. I would consult with a renowned Posek and suggest to that Posek that, perhaps based on the Aruch Hashulchan and those who quote his interpretation, it can be argued that it is highly unlikely that anyone who is already attending Bar Ilan, and today might be sexually aroused from this group form of singing, might be permissible.
      Either way, I would suggest though that they look straight ahead or up at the sky while singing, or close their eyes (looking and “staring” are two different things halachically). In my opinion, any permissive ruling should be accompanied by a qualifier to remind the person of the fact that there is always a prohibition of a male listening to a female singing. [I was privy to a permissive ruling for my band, Schnapps, from Rav Moshe Feinstein ז’’ל. Schnapps offered a male singer only for many years, but over the last few years (in my opinion this changed when certain Rabbis did not, and some still do not, leave a Simcha when a female was singing) now offers either a younger new male singer or a male and female combination).]
    4. I would offer to discuss parameters that are inviolable according to Orthodox opinion (I exclude Open Orthodoxy and Shira Chadasha from such, as they are not considered Orthodox by Orthodoxy.)
    5. An interesting sub-question that came to mind is the case of a male who had a homosexual disposition and קול באישה ערווה. I’m reminded of one of my teachers of Halacha, Rav Yosef Efrati שליט’’א  many years ago who would answer such questions when asked publicly (on Thursday evenings when he gave his packed Halacha Shiur at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh) with: “Nu, Is this a question להלכה ולמעשה?” I don’t doubt that it is a question for some, however, my inclination is that it would be not advised to advertise such a disposition, despite the reality that those in this category are more vocal, and ask for acceptance. On the issue of acceptance, there should be no barrier placed which causes them to feel disenfranchised to the extent that they feel uncomfortable in a largely heterosexual Shule.

What would I do personally? I come across this each year at Yom Hashoa events where the partisan song and the Israel national anthem are sung (according to a Psak I received many years ago, I replace להיות עם חפשי with להיות עם תורה). I do not leave the Hall. I sing these, and usually concentrate on the lyrics, looking straight ahead. On the other hand, if a female sings alone, which is much rarer these days, I look to leave the hall earlier (there is a printed program) as if I need a bathroom break, and return some time after. I have found myself in the company of Orthodox Rabbis who attend such events and do not enjoy bothering people in the row that I sit if I don’t get an aisle seat. I attend because my father ע׳ה, a survivor, attended and my children attended with him together with my mother, עמו׳ש, who is also a survivor. I won’t digress into a discussion of forms of commemoration and Halacha, though, there are substantive views on this from Mori, VeRabbi, Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ז’’ל.

I want to repeat: please do not under any circumstance treat this blog post as anymore than Pitputim. In practice, if you have such a question, please consult your Posek.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

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