By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
What would you say if you were informed that “treif” has been served at thousands of Orthodox Jewish weddings for the past decade or more? It is likely that you would be pretty upset.
Yet if you have gone to a religious Jewish wedding recently, it is highly probable that you consumed this tarfus. What is perhaps more scandalous is that numerous people are aware of it. And until now, most of those people have done nothing about it. If the catering hall, chasan, kallah, any parent, or the rosh yeshiva would want to, it could be stopped almost instantly.
The issue is the noise-induced hearing loss brought about by the earsplitting music. Recently, this author measured the sound of the band at a wedding with a decibel meter. The noise levels were not just at the low end of the danger range but far, far, past it.
The tarfus being referred to is an abnegation of three mitzvos. There is the mitzvah of “venishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem (Devarim 4:9), that of protecting our health and well-being. The verse later says (Devarim 4:15), “Rak hishamer lecha” and is understood by most poskim to comprise a second mitzvah (see Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, Shaar HaTeshuvos #25) to take special care. There is also a third mitzvah, “V’chai bahem, And you shall live by them” (Vayikra 18:5).
Lest the reader think that the danger is exaggerated in this article, we must understand how it is that we hear anything in the first place.
When people talk or make any noise, sound waves are created in the air. When we hear, we are, in essence, turning these sound waves into electrical signals. These electrical signals are carried into our brains by the auditory nerve by a complex method. The sound waves enter our outer ear and bounce through our ear canal, ultimately hitting the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates from these sound waves and channels the vibrations to three crucial bones in the middle ear. The bones are called the malleus, the incus, and the stapes.
These bones in the middle ear change the vibrations from air vibrations to fluid vibrations. This is done in the snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear. The cochlea is filled with fluid and is divided into an upper and a lower section by an elastic partition called the basilar membrane. This membrane has hair cells on it that are actually sensory cells. These cells move up and down as they ride the fluid wave. The hair cells have even smaller hairs on top of them called stereocilia. When they hit the top ceiling, they bend and open up a pore in the cell. Chemicals then rush into the hair cell, causing an electrical signal. This signal is carried by the auditory nerve into the brain. The brain understands the signal as a familiar sound.
Loud noises over a certain decibel reading can damage or destroy these hair cells. Human hair cells never grow back. That number can vary, but it is clear that damage is done above the 85-decibel mark. Often the damage does not show until later on in life, but is a clear and present danger.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Sounds of less than 75 decibels, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss. However, long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for noise-induced hearing loss to happen.
“Noise-induced hearing loss can be immediate or it can take a long time to be noticeable. It can be temporary or permanent, and it can affect one or both ears. Even if you can’t tell that you are damaging your hearing, you could have trouble hearing in the future, such as not being able to understand other people when they talk, especially on the phone or in a noisy room.”
How many decibels are typical sounds? A refrigerator hums at 45 decibels. Human beings speak at 60 decibels. A rav can speak at about 80 decibels. Manhattan city traffic can hit 90 decibels. A revving motorcycle can hit 100 decibels. A siren screeches at 120 decibels. An Uzi submachine gun is about 140 decibels. So what level did the band reach?
Near the band at the actual wedding, my unit measured 142. That’s right, above a submachine gun. Deafening. At the tables, where you could not hear normal conversation, it was above 110. Now it could be that my unit was not calibrated well, but after having purchased another unit and measuring other readings against each other, it seems that the calibration was accurate.
At a wedding, the distance from the band and the length of time that one is exposed to the earsplitting music are important factors in assessing the long-term damage done. (In the past few months, I have not seen one player in any wedding band that did not wear earplugs.)
We should make every effort to reduce the noise to tolerable levels that do not damage the ears of Klal Yisrael. It is this author’s opinion that every chasan, kallah, parent, and caterer should instruct the band to make sure that the noise level does not exceed 85 decibels at the tables. We should actually measure this to ensure compliance. What rationale is there in the world to permanently harm the hearing of our guests?
The Ben Ish Chai writes that a person should make every effort to ensure the general safety of himself and those around him (Parashas Pinchas year cycle #2). The Turei Zahav, in his commentary to Choshen Mishpat (427:10), cites a Midrash on Shir HaShirim that when one does this and protects himself from danger and damage, not only is he protected, but he receives extraordinary credit for the mitzvah. v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.