Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The Beth Din of the Eidah HaChareidis of Jerusalem issued a reaffirmation of the prohibition by leading rabbis of Jerusalem throughout the ages forbidding the playing of musical instruments at a wedding or simcha in Jerusalem throughout the whole year. An exception was made for the use of a drum. This enactment has been in force and accepted by the Jewish population of Jerusalem since the destruction of the Holy Temple.
The statement by the Eidah HaChareidis Beth Din addresses certain leniencies that some have recently taken by having music played at the kabbalas panim and at the mitzvah tantz at first and second weddings. The leniency some have applied was for recorded music, thus bypassing the use of a live band, which is plainly forbidden. The matter of recorded music, however, was addressed and forbidden by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt’l (1848–1932), chief rabbi of the Eidah HaChareidis and author of Salmas Chaim, who discussed the innovation of the gramophone (phonograph).
Thomas Edison, amongst his many inventions, created the first viable recordings and played them on a phonograph in 1877. In the early 1890s, a flat disc with a spiral groove running from the periphery to near the center was introduced and was the main audio recording format throughout most of the 20th century.
The Beth Din explicitly reaffirmed “the prohibition of the use of musical instruments at weddings, from beginning to end, as well as the use of recorded music, all of which were forbidden by the Rishonim for all who reside in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”
Most interesting is that we do not find any prohibition of music in the halachos of the Shulchan Aruch for the Three Weeks or during the mourning for a next-of-kin or spouse.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, chapter 560, contains the laws regarding commemoration of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Paragraph 3 discusses the prohibition of music all year long: “Similarly the rabbis decreed not to play music with instruments, and musical devices (mashmia kol), and all things that make music to rejoice with them.” The Rema notes that some say the prohibition is specifically for those for whom music is regularly played, such as for nobility or kings. The Shulchan Aruch continues: “It is forbidden to make music heard, because of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash.” The Rema notes that for the needs of a mitzvah, such as for a groom and bride, all is permitted. (Tosfos, Smag, and Hagahos Maymoni).
In Jerusalem, particularly, the commemoration of sorrow over the loss of the Beis HaMikdash by restricting music is observed by all of its residents as an additional dimension of our lamentation of the great loss.
The Shulchan Aruch’s prohibition of music applies everywhere, all year round, including during the Three Weeks as well as during aveilus, i.e., during the shivah, sheloshim, and 12-month mourning periods. The Shulchan Aruch does not find it necessary to repeat the year-round prohibition of music everywhere specifically for Three Weeks or for aveilus.
Taped music, permitted by those who interpret these restrictions leniently, is not, in and of itself, understood by them as an instrument of music. Nevertheless, most leading rabbis consider it as mashmia kol, and forbidden. Songs that are orally vocalized without the accompaniment of musical instruments are permitted. However, if the songs are recorded, even without the accompaniment of musical instruments, the playing of that recording is prohibited since it is no longer oral singing but rather mashmia kol, through the instrument of phonograph, tape player, MP3, etc., which is specifically forbidden. This prohibition has recently been reiterated by the revered centenarian Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, author of Shevet Levy. No one can deny that today’s digital recordings and the devices by which they are played and amplified are of such superb quality that they can easily be accepted as of the same quality (or better) as sounds originating from actual musical instruments such as pianos, harps, violins, flutes, drums, etc.
Another question regarding possible permissible music would be a sheva berachos celebration during the week after a wedding that took place before the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. If the sheva berachos is held during the days after the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, one might assume that music would be permissible, since such is the halachah during Sefirah. If a marriage was held before Rosh Chodesh Iyar and the sheva berachos is after Rosh Chodesh Iyar, then the sheva berachos is being celebrated on a day on which music is forbidden to everyone. However, because it is a sheva berachos, those attending are permitted to hear music.
Nevertheless, the intensity of mourning for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash overrides the use of music at a sheva berachos.
The recent ruling of the Beth Din of the Eidah HaChareidis reminds us of the universal prohibition of music by the Shulchan Aruch and that it did not need to specifically prohibit music during the Three Weeks or during aveilus. Such a prohibition would have been a redundancy. Through the centuries, however, music was gradually accepted everywhere outside of Jerusalem in spite of the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. The lack of specific prohibition of music during the Three Weeks and during aveilus is not, and was not, ever understood as permitting music during those times. ϖ
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.