Halacha for Friday 26 Av 5774 August 22 2014

Question: May one listen to the voice of a woman singing when this is not in person, such as if one listens to a recording or the radio?

Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained the halachic status of a sound heard over the radio and that although one must answer Amen to a blessing heard live on the radio, for regarding answering Amen, one need not actually hear the blessing from the individual’s mouth and merely knowing that this individual  is reciting a specific blessing is sufficient, nevertheless, one cannot fulfill one’s obligation to hear Megillah reading and the like over the radio since this sound is not a human voice and is merely an electronically-generated sound which sounds similar to the person’s voice. Clearly, one may not answer Amen to a blessing recorded on a cassette or other device, for one may not answer Amen to a blessing emanating from an electronic device alone. One must also bear in mind when answering Amen to a blessing recited over the radio that sometimes, sounds heard on the radio are delayed several seconds from when the blessing was actually recited in which case this becomes similar to a recorded blessing upon which one may not answer Amen.

Regarding hearing a woman singing on the radio, the Gemara (Berachot 24a) states that any non-immediate family members may not hear a woman singing, for this constitutes immorality.  (Female singers and performers who have since repented fully and have stopped performing in front of men shall surely be handsomely rewarded by Hashem, for this is truly a tremendous test to endure.) This is especially true when reciting words of holiness, such as Keri’at Shema while hearing a woman sing, for it is forbidden to recite Keri’at Shema while hearing a woman singing, as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 75) rules. Clearly, the prohibition to hear a woman singing only applies when one hears the woman’s actual voice; however, hearing a woman’s voice in a recorded format or over the radio does not constitute the prohibition of hearing a woman singing. It is for this reason that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules (in his Responsa Yabia Omer, Volume 1, Chapter 6 and Volume 9, Chapter 108, Section 43) that according to the letter of the law, one may act leniently and listen to a woman singing over the radio and certainly in a recorded format from a while before. Additionally, this is especially true if one has never seen how the woman singing looks since one has never looked at her or her picture. Nevertheless, even if one has seen the woman singing, since this is not the woman’s actual voice, this is not prohibited. There are other great Poskim who rule likewise. On the other hand, Hagaon Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l  took issue with this ruling on Maran zt”l, for although even according to his opinion, hearing a woman’s voice over the radio is not prohibited, nevertheless, how is it that Maran zt”l ruled so leniently for the public (as a blanket ruling)? Certainly, listening to women singing would cause individuals to have improper thoughts which is a Torah prohibition itself! Thus, according to Rav Waldenberg, one must rule stringently and not allow room for leniency when there is cause for the public to stumble.

Although it is certainly good that Hagaon Harav Waldenberg’s opinion was stated on this matter, halachically speaking, there is no prohibition to hear a woman singing on the radio or on a cassette, CD, or any other recorded material, for this is not an actual, human voice. It is nevertheless obvious that if the song contains forbidden words or connotations (such as immorality, coarse, or vulgar language and the like), it would likewise be forbidden to listen to these songs even if a man were to be singing them. Similarly, if it is possible that listening to a woman singing may cause one to have improper and immodest thoughts, this is likewise a grave Torah prohibition. However, if these concerns are not applicable, the ruling on this matter is that it is permissible to listen to a woman singing over the radio according to the letter of the law but one who abstains from listening to this is especially praiseworthy.

To conclude, we must add that although we have written that one does not fulfill one’s obligation of hearing Megillah reading and the like over the radio, nevertheless, regarding the order of the “Annulment of Vows” recited on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur, one does, in fact, fulfill one’s obligation of participating in this annulment when reading along with the congregation and listening to the annulment recited by the rabbis on the radio or over the phone, for one need not actually hear an actual voice here as the law of “one who hears is tantamount to having recited” does not apply in this case; rather, knowing what the rabbis performing the annulment are saying and them knowing the individual’s words is sufficient.

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