Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I am so tired of this Kol Isha in the IDF business.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying that one should in any way violate Halacha. It is Halachicly forbidden for a man to hear a woman sing. Kol B’Isha Erva- the (singing) voice of a woman is considered ‘nakedness’.

I never quite understood that Halacha, because the laws pertaining to Erva – nakedness – are designed to prevent men from having lascivious thoughts about women. To my mind, unless there is sexual content in the song, or provocative moves on the part of the singer - I don’t see this being a problem for normal people.

Be that as it may, it is nonetheless Halacha that a man may not listen to a woman sing. But there are variations on this theme. The Halacha is not universally interpreted in the same way by all Poskim. It varies from very strict to very lenient.

The strictest interpretation forbids hearing a woman sing in any incarnation – even in a recording or on the radio. On the lenient side of this issue there are Poskim that permit hearing it even in a live performance if one cannot see the woman directly and one hears it only through the amplification system. So that a theater performance might be acceptable. I recall back in the sixties that one of the religious schools here in Chicago had a fundraiser by selling tickets to a live performance of Fiddler on the Roof using that Heter.

The most common Heter, however, is that a man may hear a recording of a woman singing if he does not know what she looks like. 

Some permit men to listen to women singing Zemiros at the Shabbos table since that will never generate lascivious thoughts.

There are some Poskim who allow a man to hear women singing as part of a group with men  as in a choir.  Some permit men listening as a group even if they are all female as long as the men don’t look at them.

I recall being told by a former student in Beis Yaakov of Detroit that Rabbi Sholom Goldstein (the renowned Talmid of Reb Sharga Feivel Mendlowitz who helped pioneer Jewish education in America) used to train the Beis Yaakov all girl’s choir in Detroit so that they could perform for various Jewish women’s groups. He instructed them and then left the room during the actual singing during rehearsals and listened outside the room. Then he would go back in and continue instructing them. 

But I digress.

The issue has once again made the media. It is being reported in the Jerusalem Post that last week a group of approximately 10 Hesder soldiers in basic training and serving in a field intelligence unit requested using earplugs or MP3 players during ceremonies to solve the problem of listening to women singers in performances during Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Israel’s Independence Day.  They were denied.

Earplugs are a bad idea. Can you imagine how a singer might feel when they begin singing and some members of the audience take out their earplugs and start listening to their MP3s?

I know the standard response to this is that the singers will know that it is for religious reasons and not be insulted. Maybe that’s true in most cases. Maybe. But I can easily see a scenario where a singer not so knowledgeable about Kol Isha will see it and be insulted.

While it is true as stated above that Kol Isha is a Halachic issue - this has never been a problem in the past, despite the fact that there have been seriously religious soldiers in Hesder units since the earliest days of the State - many of whom I'm sure had challenges like this along the way. 

Why is this now suddenly such a hot button issue? Based on the history of natural antipathy the religious right has against all things 'Medina' I believe that this attitude is what fuels this whole thing.  Any opportunity to bash the evil Zionists is quickly pounced upon in these circles.

Those who will retort that the protesters in this case are actually not from the religious right but from the Hesder program – I nevertheless stand by what I said. These soldiers are certainly not the first Hesder boys to be faced with Kol Isha. Hesder has been a part of the IDF since the earliest days of the State. Has the IDFonly now begun having female singers at these ceremonies?

 Hesder boys have comprised some of the most dedicated soldiers in Israel -both in religious and military terms. I do not recall this ever being an issue until very recently. Why now?  

My guess is that the new religious fervor in Hesder boys is the result of religious Zionist leaders not wanting to be out-Frummed by Charedim. Now that Charedim are coming into the army via their own programs like NachalCharedi and  taking issue with things like this, Religious Zionist Rabbis will not be outdone!

So now comes the Religious Zionist Rav of Kiryat Arba and Chevron, Rabbi Dov Lior:  

(He) ruled on Sunday that men should not attend theater performances in which women perform, even if the women do not sing and are dressed modestly.

See how Frum we are? Take that, you Charedim!

The question remains - what to do about Kol Isha problems? I don’t know but earplugs are not it. Why not just look and see how it was handled over the past 64 years?